A slideshow presentation shown to US Army Reserve recruits classifies Christians, including both evangelicals and Roman Catholics, as religious extremists, placing them in the same category as skinheads, the Ku Klux Klan, Hamas and Al Qaeda.
The presentation also warned that members of the military are prohibited from taking leadership roles in any organization the Pentagon considers 'extremist,' and from distributing the organization's literature, whether on or off a military installation.
The opening slide warns that 'the rise in hate crimes and extremism outside the military may be an indication of internal issues all [armed] services will have to face.'
Citing a Southern Poverty Law Center report as evidence that extremism is on the rise, the Army Reserve presentation blames 'the superheated fears generated by economic dislocation, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories,the changing racial make-up of America and the prospect of 4 more years under a black president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country.'
Later in the slideshow is a list of groups that exemplify 'religious extremism.'
Included are 'evangelical Christianity,' 'Catholicism,' 'Ultra-Orthodox' Judaism, and 'Islamophobia.'
Most of the list is populated by more widely accepted examples of religious extremist groups, including Al Qaeda, Sunni Muslims, Hamas, and the Ku Klux Klan.
'Men and women of faith who have served the Army faithfully for centuries shouldn't be likened to those who have regularly threatened the peace and security of the United States,' retired Col. Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said in a statement.
'It is dishonorable for any U.S. military entity to allow this type of wrongheaded characterization.
Crews also took a shot at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
'It also appears that some military entities are using definitions of "hate" and "extreme" from the lists of anti-Christian political organizations,' he added. 'That violates the apolitical stance appropriate for the military.'
He noted that the Army Chief of Chaplains has investigated the presentation and determined that it was 'an isolated incident not condoned by the Department of the Army.'
The Army Reserve presentation defines religious extremism as 'beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, or strategies of a character far removed from the "ordinary."'
It concedes that 'ordinary' is a subjective term, but condemns religious Americans 'who believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only "right way" and that all others are practicing their faith the "wrong way," seeing and believing that their faith/religion [is] superior to all others.'
Many Christians and Jews, the presentation suggests, fit into that category, making them as objectionable as Muslim terrorists.
The U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services said it 'is astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist.'
'The Archdiocese calls upon the Department of Defense to review these materials,' the organization said in a statement, 'and to ensure that tax-payer funds are never again used to present blatantly anti-religious material to the men and women in uniform.'