KEEPING A BIGOT AT ARM’S LENGTH…. The Rev. Franklin Graham is known for a few key parts of his background. He is, of course, the son of legendary evangelical preacher Billy Graham. He’s also known for running a controversial evangelical relief organization called “Samaritan’s Purse,” which sought to enter Iraq in 2003 to convert Iraqis to Christianity after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

But perhaps most notably, Franklin Graham is known for hating Muslims. He famously denounced Islam as a “very evil and wicked religion” in 2001 — and then again in 2006. This week, Graham appeared on Fox News and said Muslims can only be free if they worship Jesus Christ.

With that in mind, it was disconcerting when the Pentagon invited Graham to speak next month at an event honoring the National Day of Prayer. It’s the kind of association between a notorious preacher and the U.S. military that sends the wrong signal to the Middle East.

Fortunately, Defense Department officials thought better of it and rescinded Graham’s invitation.

Christian evangelist Franklin Graham says the Army has withdrawn an invitation for him to appear at a special Pentagon prayer service.

In a statement Thursday, Graham said he regrets the Army’s decision and will continue to pray for the troops.

Right on cue, former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) denounced the Pentagon’s decision, defended Graham, and even lied about the context of Graham’s 2001 anti-Islam remarks, pretending he hadn’t trashed the entire faith tradition. The painfully unintelligent media personality went on to suggest Pentagon officials were being “hyper-politically correct” because a Christian minister expressed “his views on matters of faith.”

Except, Franklin Graham didn’t just express “his views on matters of faith”; he publicly denounced one of the world’s largest religions, home to nearly 1.6 billion people. He’s allowed to do that, of course; it’s a free country. But why should the U.S. government associate itself with an unabashed bigot, and give him a platform?

Put it this way: if a prominent Muslim leader denounced Christianity as a “very evil and wicked religion,” and then said Christians can only be free if they convert to Islam, would Sarah Palin and her cohorts be comfortable if the imam got an invitation to speak at a religious event at the Pentagon? I suspect not. Call it a hunch.

The Pentagon’s decision was the right call. Bigots are free to say what they please, but they don’t deserve officials’ imprimatur.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.