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National Guard leader criticized for praising religious group's work

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

INDIANAPOLIS — The leader of the Indiana National Guard asked an evangelical Christian organization to take down a web video he made praising its marriage counseling following a complaint from a military watchdog group.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation argues that Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger violated military rules and the First Amendment by promoting a religious group in the 33-second video while in uniform, The Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday.

Former Air Force attorney Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Albuquerque, N.M.-based group, said Umbarger's message promotes one religious group over others and that such a show of support from a two-star general is intimidating within the military.

"He should be removed immediately and, from our perspective, court-martialed," Weinstein said.

Umbarger made the video in September 2011 on behalf of Centurion's Watch, a Christian group based in Indianapolis that offers marriage counseling to military families. It was posted on the nonprofit's website.

In the video, he says in part: "Any donation or resource that you can give this organization — it's faith-based, it's wanting to keep families together with the stresses and strains of being apart, being in harm's way, risking their lives for this, for this country. I can't think of a better organization that you can support."

Umbarger was appointed Indiana's adjutant general in 2004 by then-Gov. Joe Kernan, a Democrat, and has remained in the position under Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels as leader of more than 15,800 Guard personnel.

Daniels on Tuesday rejected calls for Umbarger's removal.

"He's a great soldier. If, and I don't know the military regs, if there was a mistake, it's obviously an innocent one," Daniels told The Associated Press. "It's one of the best appointments that I ever made, and I'm not making any changes."

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