Friday, February 17, 2006

Claude A. Allen, the top White House adviser on domestic policy, said he is not leaving the post today to protest new military guidelines urging chaplains to perform only “non-denominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence.”

The Washington Times reported last week that Mr. Allen, the top black staffer in the White House, “resigned abruptly” just before the guidelines were released “to protest the White House’s refusal to lean on the Pentagon about the [chaplain] issue.”

“It’s simply not true,” Mr. Allen said in an interview this week from the West Wing.

“This truly is about family. There’s no protest,” said Mr. Allen, who has held the post for just more than a year. “If I could find a way to stay here and continue to serve our president and serve my family at the same time, I would that. It just hasn’t worked out that way.”

Mr. Allen said people “who want to bend [the resignation] that way unfortunately do a great disservice to our chaplains, who truly are fighting for and working to preserve their First Amendment rights.”

Although the guidelines, released Thursday by the Air Force, gave evangelicals more flexibility in expressing their faith, they did not address a key point: whether chaplains could pray in the name of Jesus at the many public ceremonies that are part of military life.

The only direction the guidelines gave was one sentence saying, “Non-denominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence may be appropriate” for such events.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Allen was part of a three-way phone conversation with Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, and the Rev. Billy Baugham of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers about whether military chaplains should be free to pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Baugham said Mr. Allen tried to head off a demand by Mr. Jones and 73 other members of Congress that Mr. Bush issue an executive order ending religious discrimination against evangelical Christian chaplains.

According to Mr. Baugham, Mr. Allen promised the congressman he would ask the president to intercede with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on the condition that Mr. Jones drop his demand for an executive order. But the new Air Force rules make clear that Mr. Allen was not totally successful.

Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, said the West Wing can be rough for people such as Mr. Allen, an evangelical Christian who attends Covenant Life Church, a large congregation in Gaithersburg.

“They don’t take kindly to someone serving too strongly the evangelical cause,” Mr. Cizik said. “The people in the White House want someone who will salute, no matter what. If you are an evangelical, you get special scrutiny. They know evangelicals are obedient to a higher principle.”

A known opponent of abortion, Mr. Allen and his wife, Jannese, home-school their four children. He is also on the board of the Billings, Mont.-based Peacemaker Ministries, which steers Christians toward “mediation” instead of lawsuits.

Mr. Allen said that despite citing his family for his departure — a common euphemism in Washington politics — he really is returning to being a father first.

“I guess if there was a regret, it’s that I’m a husband and a father, and my wife and children have sacrificed for me to enjoy what I love coming to work to do,” Mr. Allen said.

“So now it’s my time to sacrifice for them and to be a husband and father and someone who actually lives out what I’ve talked about for the past 10 years: strong communities, strong families, strong marriages, and fatherhood. That’s what I’ve worked for, and that’s what I have to follow through on and live out.”

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