- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Defense Department has no plan to rescind its invitation to the Rev. Franklin Graham to speak at Good Friday services at the Pentagon, despite Muslim concerns over the evangelist's labeling of Islam as "a very evil and wicked religion."
"One religion, regardless of the religion, does not have the veto right over another religion," said Army Lt. Col. Ryan Yantis, a Pentagon spokesman. "I know of no plan or discussion to uninvite anyone."
Three Muslim employees at the Pentagon complained about Mr. Graham's participation, Col. Yantis said.
"You had three people who sat down in a meeting with the deputy chaplain and said, 'As Muslims, we're concerned,'" he said. The issue was addressed from the standpoint of avoiding future problems, he said, but added: "We can't uninvite [Mr. Graham]. … He is a recognized religious leader."
Mr. Graham "has accepted the invitation from the Pentagon and is still planning to attend the Good Friday service," a spokesman for the Boone, N.C.-based evangelist said yesterday.
Mr. Graham, son of famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, is president of Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational Christian relief organization. He made headlines with his remarks at the dedication of a Wilkesboro, N.C., chapel a month after the September 11 attacks.
"We're not attacking Islam, but Islam has attacked us," the younger Mr. Graham said. "The God of Islam is not the same God. … It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion."
He refused to retract those remarks, and in response to demands for an apology said: "How come the Muslim clerics haven't gone to ground zero and had a prayer vigil and apologized to the nation in the name of Islam?"
He later told The Washington Times: "When people say [Islam] is a peaceful religion, don't tell me that. When a suicide bomber straps on a bomb, that's not a peaceful person. The Baptists are not doing that. Neither are the Pentecostals."
The Pentagon's invitation to Franklin Graham was the result of requests by Christian personnel, Col. Yantis said.
"These Christian congregants came to the chaplain and asked to have Mr. Graham speak," he said, adding that the Defense Department has a policy of "providing religious support across the spectrum of religions."
Christians of various denominations are about 98 percent of incoming troops who declare a religious preference, according to a 1999 study.
Friday's observance at the Pentagon chapel will be led by chaplain Ralph G. Benson, and Mr. Graham will "provide the homily about the death and resurrection of Christ," Col. Yantis said.
Mr. Graham's appearance at the Pentagon "sends entirely the wrong message to the Muslim community," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"This action would only bolster suspicions in the Islamic world that the war on terrorism and the war on Iraq is really an attack on Islam," Mr. Hooper said. "We can all guess what the reception would be for a religious leader who said that Christianity is evil or Judaism is evil or any other religion is evil."
Franklin Graham has been condemned to death by some Muslim clerics, including Ayatollah Mohsen Mujtahed Shabestari of Iran. Speaking of Mr. Graham, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Ayatollah Shabestari said last year: "In our opinion, to kill these three is necessary."
Julia Duin contributed to this report.

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