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Last updated on Wednesday, August 22, 2012
(INDIANAPOLIS) - The leader of the Indiana National Guard is under fire from a military watchdog group for a video he made praising an evangelical Christian group’s marriage counseling work.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said it believes Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger violated military rules and the First Amendment by promoting Indianapolis-based Centurion's Watch while in uniform in the 33-second video.
Group founder Mikey Weinstein told RTV6's Derrik Thomas that his organization represents 31 members of the National Guard, most of whom are Christians, and that they believe the general's message promotes one religious group over others.
"We don't judge the value of an American citizen through the prism of their religious beliefs," Weinstein said. "If (Umbarger) had done that same video to support a Muslim charity or a Hindu charity or to support Planned Parenthood, there would have been blood in the streets."
Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor David Orentlicher stressed that 15,000 men and women in the Indiana National Guard are affected by Umbarger's words.
"Now they know he has endorsed a particular religious view. It puts pressure on them to take the same view," he said. "They have to worry about what if they take a different religious view? Will that affect their chances for promotion benefits they receive while they are serving?"
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is asking that Umbarger be removed from his position.
"An example must be made. He needs to be swiftly removed," Weinstein said. "There should be a punishment so people know this won't happen again."
But Doug Hedrick, founder of Centurion's Watch, balked at the possibility of punishment for Umbarger.
"He's really an advocate for military families. I think it's unfortunate," he said. "I don't think it's necessary, and I hope he continues in his position for the foreseeable future."
Umbarger issued a statement apologizing for the controversy.
"I apologize for and regret the negative attention my well-meaning endorsement of an organization which so generously offered to help our soldiers, airmen and their families," the statement read.
Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday that if Umbarger made a mistake, it was an honest mistake and he will continue in his job.
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