FORT DRUM — Prayer videos posted by two Army chaplains were recently taken down from the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade’s Facebook page after some soldiers complained about their religious content.
Lt. Col. Kamil Sztalkoper, chief of public affairs, 10th Mountain Division, said command leadership agreed to remove the postings on April 20 after receiving complaints by an organization that ensures the separation between church and state. The organization, called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, contacted command leaders on behalf of eight Fort Drum soldiers who objected to the Christian nature of the Facebook messages, citing they are non-Christian.
MRFF provided a letter to the Watertown Daily Times from one of Fort Drum soldiers that objected to the religious content of the videos but did not reveal his identity because of concerns of retribution by his military superiors.
“...the posting of these videos by Christian Army chaplains was both hurtful and unprofessional,” the soldier wrote.
“And it was also unconstitutional. Not all Army personnel are Christians who would support these videos placed where they were before MRFF got them scrubbed off.”
Lt. Col. Kamil Sztalkoper said that 10th Mountain Division command viewed the videos and decided to remove them, stressing “that they were not deemed improper.”
He described them as providing soldiers with “faith building strategies in response to the coronavirus.” The videos were made by Capt. Amy Smith and Maj. Scott Ingram, two Christian chaplains who serve on post.
The command “took appropriate action and took them down,” the lieutenant colonel said.
Lt. Col. Sztalkoper said he didn’t know the meaning of “faith building strategies” and a chaplain was not available on Friday to discuss the topic.
An April 2 video showed Chaplain Smith talking along a fitness trail on post. The Times was provided with the transcript of the video in which Chaplain Smith describes the “spiritual fitness trail” and is “designed to be used as a prayer walk.” The walk is a “great way to connect with God,” she said.
In the other video on April 17, Chaplain Ingram quoted from the Bible.
The unidentified Fort Drum soldier wrote that he was “particularly offended by the one video telling Army personnel that they can ‘ask God’ about His whereabouts during this terrible pandemic. Not on our main FB page NO WAY!”
In a statement, MRFF President Michael “Mikey” Weinstein said the organization is solely dedicated to fighting for the constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state for all those serving in the U.S. military.
The group represents more than 67,000 active duty U.S. service personnel, with 95 percent describing themselves as Christians.
Saying that his group has seen an uptick in similar messages in the military since the virus, Mr. Weinstein told The Christian Post that MRFF had “to make these obviously valid demands to ensure church-state separation ... on behalf of aggrieved Army personnel who justly fear reprisal, retribution, revenge, and retaliation for taking their grievances up the chain of command.”
However, Lt. Col. Kamil Sztalkoper stressed that the Fort Drum Facebook page “is open to everyone and anyone.”