An advocacy group that says it fights “church/state violations and noxious abuse” in the military said Friday it forced the removal of a banner advertising a Vacation Bible School program from the main gate at the Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said the banner’s slogan, “Jesus Pulls Us Through,” was objectionable when displayed at the base entrance.
“Which ‘us’” did the banner refer to?” asked Mikey Weinstein, a lawyer and founder/president of the group. He said advertising the program on the base’s chapel grounds or on a military religious services webpage was one thing, but to hang the banner at the gate entrance suggested what Mr. Weinstein termed “an unconstitutional sectarian endorsement of fundamentalist Christianity.”
Frontier Chapel Gospel Service, one of several ministries on the Army base, is holding the “Rocky Railroad” Bible school for children ages 4-11. The program’s curriculum is a product of Group Publishing of Loveland, Colorado, an evangelical Christian publisher. Such programs generally offer instruction in Christian teachings and often feature an invitation to participants to commit to follow Christianity. Parents must give permission for their children to attend, and many parents participate in the sessions.
Sarah Kline, who said she is the wife of an active duty service member at the base, learned about the Vacation Bible School sign from James M. Branum, a Lawton, Oklahoma, lawyer who defends military personnel in courts-martial and administrative actions.
“Due to the VBS being the only event that was being advertised, it gave the impression that events or individuals of other faiths, and those who have no faith, were not being equally promoted or valued. And it also appeared the U.S. Army was endorsing an evangelical Christian event,” Ms. Kline said.
On Tuesday, she sent an email protesting the banner’s location to Col. Rhett A. Taylor, commander of the Army’s garrison at Fort Sill. By noon on Wednesday, Col. Taylor wrote back saying that “after legal review … there is concern with the signage” and the banner would be removed, she said.
Ms. Kline told The Washington Times, “We were very happy with that outcome, to be quite honest. I was elated at how quickly and swiftly the Fort Sill command team acted to rectify this issue. I’ve been at other installations where we’ve had similar complaints. And I wish that all complaints have worked out within such a swift manner.”
She said she could not “actually confirm or deny” that other religious or non-religious events were promoted by the base at other times of the year, adding, “I have my own suspicions.”
Ms. Kline, 33 who said she’s the mother of 10-year-old triplets, said “we are a secular humanist household” when asked about her family’s faith affiliation.
Marie Pihulic, public affairs officer for the Fort Sill garrison, said via email the unit “has no comment at this time” on the matter. A representative of the Frontier Chapel Gospel Service was unreachable by phone and did not respond to an email request for comment.