A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

New Army Policy Against ‘Faith-Based’ Events?


Q: Did Obama issue a policy that “no U.S. serviceman can speak at any faith-based public event”?

A: This claim in a chain e-mail is false. Army officials say there has been no change in policy regarding “faith-based” events. And the event the e-mail refers to wasn’t a “faith-based” one.

FULL QUESTION

Any truth in this?

I wanted to give ya’ll [sic] some disturbing information on our wonderful president. I work with the Catch-A-Dream Foundation (www.catchadream.org) which provides hunting and fishing trips to children with life-threatening illnesses.

[EET ]It is a great program needless to say. This past weekend we had our annual banquet/fundraiser event in Starkville. As part of the program, we had scheduled Sgt. 1st Class Greg Stube, a highly decorated U.S. Army Green Beret and inspirational speaker who was severely injured while deployed overseas and didn’t have much of a chance for survival. Greg is stationed at Ft. Bragg and received permission from his commanding officer to come speak at our function. Everything was on go until Obama made a policy that NO U.S. SERVICEMAN CAN SPEAK AT ANY FAITH-BASED PUBLIC EVENTS ANYMORE. Needless to say, Greg had to cancel his speaking event with us. Didn’t know if anyone else was aware of this new policy. Wonder what kind of news we all will receive next?[/EET]

FULL ANSWER

This chain e-mail was provoked by the U.S. Army’s decision not to allow Sgt. 1st Class Greg Stube to speak at the Catch-A-Dream Foundation’s annual fundraiser in May. However, that decision was not based on an “Obama made” policy against “faith-based” events, as the author of this message claims. Previously existing policy prohibits military service members from participating in “fundraising” activities in an official capacity. Further, the event in question was not a “faith-based public event.”

“Faith-Based” Not An Issue

The Catch-A-Dream Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that, according to its Web site, “grants once-in-a-lifetime hunting and fishing experiences to children 18 years old or younger who have a life-threatening illness.” On May 16, 2009, the foundation held its 8th annual “Catch the Vision” benefit in Mississippi. The event included a “Shotgun Jamboree” hosted by the Starkville Gun Club and a banquet dinner. According to the letter publicizing the event, the funds raised would “go directly toward funding amazing hunting and fishing adventures, providing hope for children who meet the challenges of life-threatening illnesses.” The letter also listed Stube, a U.S. Army Green Beret who was badly injured while serving in Afghanistan in 2006, as the special keynote speaker for the event. But before the event took place, the foundation’s executive director, Dr. Martin Brunson, was notified that Stube, who Brunson said had verbally committed to participate, would not be allowed to speak at the event after all.

Brunson said that he received the following written response from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command in late March explaining that Stube would not be allowed to participate because “Army and Department of Defense regulations prohibit direct support to fund-raising activities”:

U.S. Army Special Operations Command: Sgt. 1st Class Stube forwarded your request to us for review. We regret that we cannot support the annual Catch-A-Dream Foundation Benefit Banquet with participation by SFC Stube. Army and Department of Defense regulations prohibit direct support to fund-raising activities. I’ve scrubbed the regs [sic] to determine if there were possibilities that we might apply to justify our support, but I found none.

The event is one we would truly like to support because of the wonderful work you do for children and their families. We extend our sincere best wishes for a phenomenal event.

Lt. Col. John Clearwater, a Special Operations Command public affairs officer, also told FactCheck.org that whether the event was, or was not, “faith-based” did not factor into the decision:

Lt. Col. John Clearwater: Our decision was based on the regulations as we read them. … There has been no change in policy by the Army or Obama administration regarding ‘faith-based’ organizations that we are aware of. We have no indications that the Catch-A-Dream Foundation is a faith-based organization. It never came up in the lengthy discussions we had with the director. Nor was it a factor in our consideration of the event.

For the Record

Some versions of this e-mail are signed by “Charlie Stokes,” whom Brunson has identified as a foundation volunteer. In an attempt to correct any misinformation created by the message, Brunson issued two statements, one on May 22 and another on May 27. While he expressed concern about the policy regarding charitable fundraisers, he made clear that the Army’s decision was based “upon strict interpretation of an existing policy” and that “[t]he decision was in no way related to issues regarding ‘faith-based’ organizations.” Brunson also cautioned to “never underestimate the power of a simple e-mail message”:

Brunson, May 27: Never underestimate the power of a simple e-mail message and its capacity to reach a broad audience in a short period of time. The circulation of one email message and its ancillary spin-offs has demonstrated the potential impact of a single stroke of the “send” key. It is our hope that this message is as broadly circulated and pondered.

There is an escalating swirl of misconstruction surrounding these issues. It is evident that the American public remains fervent and passionate regarding the liberties that we enjoy as citizens of this country. That fervor, as valuable as it may be, can also sometimes result in mis-directed passion; this appears to be the case in this situation. … Here are a few pertinent points:

• It is vital that we all first fully understand that the decision reached by the Department of Defense regarding our request for SFC Stube to speak at our event was NOT a function of any influence or directive from the President, nor was it a change in policy. It is my understanding that the decision was based upon strict interpretation of an existing policy regarding involvement of military personnel in “fund-raising” activities. Though it has been suggested, it is not clear whether that strict interpretation represents any change in approach or application of policy. Thus, I strongly encourage us to give any benefit of doubt to our military leadership.

• The decision was in no way related to issues regarding “faith-based” organizations. The consideration included only the question regarding “fund-raising.” The faith-based aspect was not an issue, since Catch-A-Dream, by charter, is not a faith-based foundation. …

• Although there was great disappointment when SFC Stube was unable to speak at the event, it is clearly recognized and understood that he was simply abiding by policy and orders, and in no way did SFC Stube abdicate any responsibility. We had, in fact, initially based our plans for the event upon personal verbal commitment and discussions, and the assumption that SFC Stube would ultimately be granted permission to honor the engagement. Regrettably, we were premature in assuming the commitment; that was our fault, not the fault of the military. …

I encourage you to pass this message along as rapidly and as rabidly as we have circulated other information in the previous week!

–D’Angelo Gore

Sources

U.S. Army Public Affairs Program. Army Regulation 360–1.

Department of Defense. DOD 5500.7-R.