US Army Bans Honor Guard from July 4th Church Event

After providing a flag-bearing honor guard to Abilene Baptist Church, Georgia, for the past 20 years, the US Army canceled its participation this year, claiming the ceremony violated US Army regulations:

Officials at Fort Gordon say they will not be able to send an honor guard to a July 5th service at Abilene Baptist Church because it violates a military policy banning any involvement in a religious service.

“While there are conditions under which the Army can participate in events conducted at a house of worship, we cannot participate in the context of a religious service,” Public Affairs Officer J.C. Mathews told me.

The church describes the “Faith, Family, Freedom” event thusly on their website

Our choir and orchestra will present inspiring patriotic songs and we will recognize all armed forces members and veterans in attendance. Our guest speaker will be Fox News host and contributor, Todd Starnes.

Given that FoxNews commentator Todd Starnes isn’t a preacher, it is curious what criteria the Army used to determine this was a “religious service.”  The Army pointed Starnes to AR 360-1 (PDF) — a Public Affairs regulation — that says the Army cannot support events [emphasis added]

involving (or appearing to involve) the promotion, endorsement, or sponsorship of any individual, civilian enterprise (CE), religious or sectarian movement, organization, ideological movement, or political campaign.

That does not categorically say an honor guard cannot post the colors at a church-requested event. However, it is an Army regulation and the Army is free to interpret it as it chooses.

That said, many have pointed out the awkward contrast in the Army declining to support this church event while proudly continuing to support events affirming “gay pride” and homosexuality. Just as some argue a military honor guard “promotes” or otherwise endorses religion if it participates in an Independence Day celebration at a church, some could equally argue the military promotes or endorses homosexuality and its political activism when it participates in parades and other sexuality-focused events.

After all, the ultimate purpose of the Independence Day event is patriotic — that’s why it is occurring on the weekend of July 4th. By contrast, the ultimate purpose of a gay pride event is, by its very nature, sexual and ideological.

The significance of the US Department of Defense’s participation is recognized even by the DC Pride Parade, the event to which Starnes refers in his article.  The parade organizers featured a photo from the DoD color guard in last year’s parade on the front page of their website for this year’s parade:

Starnes asks:

If a military honor guard can celebrate gay pride in a public parade, why can’t they celebrate American pride inside a Baptist church?

It’s an interesting question.



  • “Given that FoxNews commentator Todd Starnes isn’t a preacher, it is curious what criteria the Army used to determine this was a ‘religious service.’”

    Maybe the fact that it is at the church at 1100 on Sunday morning and is said on the webpage to be a worship service.

  • @BC
    Perhaps you are correct. But you might concede that an activity does not become inherently religious merely because of its time and location.

    And to be fair, another reading of the church saying “one morning worship service” indicates they normally have two or more services, and they use the term “worship” as little more than a recognizable label to their congregants to explain a schedule change.

    Given that the guard was only going to post the colors (and then leave), one could even argue they weren’t participating in anything — in contrast with marching through a 1.5 mile “gay pride” parade route.