In times of grave and unprecedented national security crises, the United States Armed Forces demands strong, unyielding, and effective leadership. Nowhere is this more apparent than within the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where sterling leadership qualities and impeccable strength of character are the foremost job requirements. Unfortunately, the United States Air Force (USAF) Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III embodies a different principle altogether, namely an unwise ‘laissez-faire’ leadership approach that can be accurately summed up as follows: “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” In more pedestrian terms: “gutless.”

How else to describe the fact that, despite the mountains of evidence regarding the slowly-simmering “frying pan” of searing religious repression frittering away at unit cohesion, morale, good order, and discipline within the Air Force, Welsh still seeks to find a “compromise” with the rabid dogs of fundamentalist Christian theocracy and extremist militancy regarding the watershed religious protections from chain-of-command proselytizing embodied by Air Force Instruction 1-1 (AFI 1-1)? Hello, Neville Chamberlain? By cowardly capitulating to the demands that the USAF amend AFI 1-1, Welsh will be opening the gates to the further degradation of the USAF’s collective integrity and character. As dangerously freighted as the Air Force already is with its universally tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic culture, the last thing it needs is to be yet further transformed into a stomping ground for free-range proselytizing, coercive religiosity, and fundamentalist Christian crusading.

The Air Force motto is “Aim High.” So, too, should the bar for exemplary leadership be set. Welsh’s refusal to apply any cognizable backbone to the defense of AFI 1-1 directly contradicts the subsequent Air Force Instruction 1-2 published on May 8, 2014, entitled “Commander’s Responsibilities” and signed by none other than Gen. Welsh himself. Among the various rules and regulations is item 3.2, which reads, in salient part: “A healthy climate ensures members are treated with dignity, respect, and inclusion, and does not tolerate harassment, assault, or unlawful discrimination of any kind.”

The bottom line of AFI 1-2 is that commanders have the responsibility to combat “unlawful discrimination” in all forms, clearly including religious discrimination. Commanders must foster inclusion, which includes religious diversity. Commanders must safeguard respect, foremost among which includes respect for religious beliefs and affiliations (or the lack thereof), religious and non-religious minorities, as well as sex & gender minorities. As was the case with the time, place and manner considerations of proselytizing as covered by AFI 1-1, AFI 1-2 should have decisively ended the “debate” about whether proselytizing and “witnessing” by commanders, supervisors, chaplains et al was allowed on USAF bases and installations.

Yet, seemingly, breath-taking negligence and ethical poverty still reign supreme among the Air Force top brass. Welsh appears impotently unwilling or unable to do anything to remediate it. Indeed, it is even alleged that Gen. Welsh’s own Number Two right hand, General Larry Spencer, the Vice Chief of Staff of the USAF, deliberately and defiantly keeps an oversized copy of the Christian Bible prominently displayed on his Pentagon office desk lest any of his hundreds of thousands of USAF subordinates doubt where his primary loyalty lies. Never mind that such an in-your-face, sectarian display violates the currently still-viable time, place and manner restrictions of AFI 1-1 concerning the promotion of one’s personal religious faith to those subordinate to them in rank. And the only person in the entire Air Force NOT subordinate in rank to Gen. Spencer is his boss, Gen. Welsh.

Witness further the narcissistic spectacle of Gen. Welsh patting himself on the back, crowing to the high heavens about how he’s “very happy with the ethical fabric of the United States Air Force.” This specious, self-congratulatory song and dance couldn’t be any more ill-timed, considering that under his watch numerous scandals have erupted, laying bare the internal decrepitude existing within the highest echelons of the Department of the Air Force.

“Do we have incidents? Absolutely,” Welsh coyly remarked about the appalling disgraces the world has witnessed under his watch. This past spring, 9 nuclear (yes, NUCLEAR) missile commanders were fired and dozens of officers were disciplined for cheating on a series of critical operational exams at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana. This shameful scenario at Malmstrom AFB included failed drug tests, failed inspections, and the unauthorized passing of answers to exams regarding the execution of emergency war orders. While Air Force leaders like Welsh lined up to formulaically denounce these violations of “basic Air Force values,” the damage had already been well done. The root causes of these failings? Pathetically low morale and a fatal failure in management.

Another “incident” was the case of Major General Michael Carey, Commander of the 20th Air Force and direct overseer of the Air Force’s entire fleet of Inter-Continental Ballistic (again, NUCLEAR) Missiles. Tasked with representing America’s military at a nuclear security conference in Russia, Carey instead went on a drunken bender – to the bemused disgust and pity, no doubt, of his “colleagues” in the Russian Armed Forces. Hey, we all make mistakes, no? Even commanders involved in high-stakes international nuclear diplomacy who occasionally have their fingers on the triggers of all-out nuclear warfare are entitled to a free pass every so often, right?

Welsh, apparently, likes to draw the line between “bad behavior” on the one hand, and “bad ethics” on the other. To take a glaring example of this stupidity, look at the hugely expanding catastrophe of sexual assault and rape within the Air Force. In Welsh’s opaque, clouded mind, this epidemic is a mere “trend” in unlawful activity, yet it should still be somehow disingenuously distinguished from a precipitous and systemic degradation of ethics within USAF? Are you serious, Gen. Welsh? Is it any wonder why Welsh has been ignominiously lambasted by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for ignoring the plight of the Air Force’s countless sexual assault victims?

“[It’s] deeply troubling that he’s ‘very happy’ with the ethical conduct of his force,” commented Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel. “You have to wonder when he will finally get it… I hope his cavalier attitude to this crisis is not reflective of his superiors’ position.”

As the saying goes, “a fish rots from the head down.” As we can plainly see there is indeed a severe crisis within the military, not from the bottom-up but from the top-down. Attempts to blame the lower-level officers and NCOs rather than to take bold and comprehensive ownership of the issue incontrovertibly establishes Welsh’s downright lack of professionalism and his universal complicity in the crisis. One can envision a parent blaming their out-of-control children for being uncontrollable, rather than pledging to improve their own poor parenting skills.

As I’ve grown fond of saying over the years especially in relation to the United States military’s leadership culture and doubly-so in relation to the commanders at the head of USAF, from the Air Force Academy to Headquarters USAF in the Pentagon: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is completely indistinguishable from malice.”

Enough is enough.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

**Background: On July 21, 2014, I received a phone call from a female U.S. military fighter pilot. She happens to be gay. She is not “out”, despite the fact that the odious “don’t ask don’t tell” policy no longer burdens the American armed forces and has been justly abolished. She knows well that homophobia is still rampant in the ranks, which is why the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) currently has 863 LGBTQ clients among our current number of over 38,000 U.S. military members and veterans, 96% of whom are practicing Christians themselves. She related that she had just experienced a loud conversation in her squadron area where a number of her fellow pilots were robustly cheering on Tony Dungy’s comments about how he would never have drafted Michael Sam for a team for which he was head coach and why. Michael Sam is the NFL’s first openly gay player. She told me that her fellow pilots were effusively praising Dungy’s “honesty” etc. She was terribly distraught. She asked me what I thought about it. This Op-Ed is my response to her.

A maelstrom of extremism is battering the United States of America, weakening and eroding the fundamental values of tolerance and inclusion embodied by our beautiful Constitution. The name of this extremist threat? Fundamentalist Christianity or “Dominionism.” This disturbing storm trend has entailed the infiltration of all fields of social life in U.S. schools, military bases, and a plethora of other key fora. Indeed, the three branches of civilian government have become bloody battlegrounds for the advancement of a hateful and bigoted agenda of American Christian extremist exceptionalism and supremacy. Big-box retailers, chicken sandwich purveyors, school boards and school districts, police departments, fire departments, sewage workers, legislatures, celebrities, and sports figures have served no small role as pawns, masterminds, and auxiliaries in this seditious modern-day brutal Crusade. A case in point is former Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach, NBC commentator, and unabashed homophobe, Tony Dungy.

Dungy showed his true colors as a classic bigot when he suggested that, were he still a head NFL coach, he would have avoided drafting Michael Sam, the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL. In the interview, Dungy, now a well-known national sports commentator, opined on Sam: "I wouldn't have taken him. It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

The cruel irony and almost unbearable hypocrisy of the comment is obvious to those who’ve followed Dungy’s career, which was anything but “totally smooth.” Dungy was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl, and had personally dealt with the sometimes subtle, sometimes rabid racist impediments to his own career. “Things” happened, the dogs tore into the red meat, yet Dungy himself persevered – and in so doing, paved the way for a more prominent role for black coaches within a formerly hyper-insular, white-dominated fraternity of NFL coaching.

Political pundit and sports commentator Keith Olbermann perfectly punctured Dungy’s mendacious malevolence with characteristic astuteness: “‘I wouldn’t want to deal with it, things will happen,’ is remarkably similar to what football coaches and owners said until 1946 about players who looked like Tony Dungy. And it’s remarkably similar to what NFL owners said until 1989 about guys who wanted to become NFL head coaches who look like Tony Dungy.”

Things” tend to happen when people fight for access to places from which they were previously, unjustly barred – yet now this former poster child for equal access is placing more barricades on the road to freedom. One can only wonder if Dungy would have had similar “advice” in relation to the desegregation of public schools and the armed forces! Perhaps he would have the nerve to protest the “distraction” to learning represented by integrated classrooms and military service branches? Oh how Jackie Robinson must be rolling over in his grave.

Hey you military fighter pilots getting all fired up and applauding Tony Dungy’s “honesty,” would you like to hear what Tony Dungy REALLY “being honest” would have sounded like? Ignorant beyond belief though it is, try the following: I, Tony Dungy, am a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. As such, it is my genuine religious belief that Michael Sam, like all other homosexuals, has personally CHOSEN to be gay because no one is born gay. My fundamentalist Christian beliefs inform me that making such a choice to be gay is a grave sin against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This ‘gay choice sin' can be ‘corrected’ only through special, intense, Christian-based reparative therapy and only by those willing to so submit. Michael Sam has not submitted to this ‘gay corrective reparative therapy’. Michael Sam is a sinner because he has chosen to be gay and the NFL needs no more sinners.

Now THAT would have been Dungy’s true honesty here. As much as it would have nauseated me, I would have at least respected him for publicly sticking to his twisted religious beliefs of bigotry and having the guts to have been out in the open about it. Instead, we have Dungy’s pathetic lies, anemic excuses and transparent hypocrisy. You can’t walk this travesty back, Tony. You can’t put squeezed-out toothpaste back into the tube there, Coach.

Betraying their inimical attitude towards social progress, certain media outlets quickly leapt to Dungy’s defense. Cowardly kowtowing to the prevalent anti-gay prejudice lying extant across the sports world, these outlets reported Dungy’s inflammatory words as either the “opinion” of a “devout Christian” or an unfortunate gaffe. Thus, by spinning Dungy’s words as a legitimate “opinion” from a professional career sportsman who is simply participating in a “spirited debate” rather than bigotry of the most inhumane, and prejudiced sort, hateful intolerance becomes cravenly normalized. These media outlets have, in effect, given a pass to what amounts to an open declaration of war on equal treatment for LGBTQ professional athletes. There is no other way to say it, folks.

Dungy’s expressions of disdain for gay athletes comes from a horrific strain of American religiosity that represents an abyss of ill-will towards “the other”, including but not limited to religious, sex, gender, cultural, and (quite often) ethnic and racial minorities. This wretched abyss has unleashed the towering obstacles of Old School discrimination and prejudice transgressing the Constitutional civil rights of our fellow Americans. Further, torrents of death and hatred have emanated from this conflagration of “faith-based” odium in the form of truly hateful, homophobic atrocities, anti-abortion terrorism, anti-Semitism, free-range Islamophobia, monstrous misogyny and directly related domestic violence.

In a manner similar to the “good Germans” of the 30’s and 40’s who greeted Hitler’s meteoric rise with placid complacency, sealing the doomed fate of tens of millions of human beings all over the world, a noxious cloud of denial and fear regarding an insidious and growing domestic extremist threat has paralyzed many of us. Hiding behind the dangerously disingenuous watchwords of “family values”, “home-schooling" and “tradition,” a spectrum of figures ranging from the soft-spoken to the obnoxiously bloviating are waging a relentless campaign against secular laws and trends otherwise designed to ensure equal rights for all Americans regardless of their faith, or no faith, traditions. Meanwhile, the U.S media has been pitifully remiss in sounding the clarion call alarm regarding this festering, open wound on the American body politic, allowing this sick sectarian infection of fundamentalist Christian fascism to appear “mainstream” and metastasize. Tony Dungy’s words regarding Michael Sam’s `drafting shouldn’t simply be interpreted as a feigned aversion to “controversy,” but as a blatant threat and a “dog whistle” for despicable anti-gay prejudice and universal homophobic hatred all of which emanates from the Mother Ship of unbridled dominionist Christian extremism basking and thriving in its protective camouflage of American callous indifference. 

Americans would do well to resoundingly reject Dungy’s malicious threats, incitements and, especially, his despicable hypocrisy. 

They would do even better to comprehend where it comes from.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at  helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of  “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and  “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”  William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar", Act 3, Scene 1, Line 273

“Justice delayed is justice denied”; these salient words apply in full to the conditions and prospects of religious liberty in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). What lies at stake is the alteration (and possible evisceration) of one of the only protective barriers restraining the brutal spread of ruthless fundamentalist Christianity spread throughout the U.S. military: Air Force Instruction 1-1, specifically Section 2 .11 (AFI 1-1).

Would the United States Air Force sooner throw the basic religious rights of Air Force personnel into a stinking garbage heap than “court controversy” with Tea Party bigots and religious extremists in the United States Congress and their incestuous gangs of fundamentalist Christian, parasitic parachurch organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), the American Family Association (AFA)Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Officers Christian Fellowship (OCF) to name only a few of these rapaciously religious extremist entities?

Sadly, telltale signs of dubious, constitutional queasiness and pathetically faux ambivalence by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III have clearly revealed that this may well be the case. The floodgates of state-sponsored evangelizing/proselytizing and fundamentalist Christian supremacy, exceptionalism and primacy by newly emboldened “Hobby Lobby”-style Christian fundamentalists within the Air Force are set to literally fly open, with devastating effect.

It should be a no-brainer: AFI 1-1 and similar protections and regulations on religious expressions should, if anything, be strengthened – not deliberately and so shamefully diluted. Instead, the changes being considered by the USAF, as it craters and cowers before these fundamentalist Christian lawmakers and their private sector parachurch persecutors, will authorize “witnessing,” preaching and proselytizing on the tax-payer’s dime provided the “tormentor” airman is projecting his/her “sincerely held” religious beliefs upon the “tormentee” airman. Prohibition on such “testifying” would ONLY apply if these expressions are determined to “have a real, not hypothetical adverse impact” (according, of course, to the subjective, arbitrary and clearly conflicted determination of Air Force leadership).

Look, let’s just call it what it is. “Spiritual rape” perpetrated by “fundamentalist Christian religious predators” is how we at the civil rights organization I lead — the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF)— describe the profound sense of vicious, personal violation that is being mercilessly inflicted upon tens of thousands of our MRFF military clients, 96% of whom are practicing Christians themselves.  Forced religious indoctrination, mandatory prayer sessions, active, abusive measures towards the promotion of one or another fundamentalist Christian sect, the shaming and savaging of freethinking, atheist, and agnostic service members – these barbaric tactics define the monstrous modus operandi of the Christian dominionist hegemony that lies as a cancerous plague metastasizing briskly across the whole of the Air Force and the U.S. Military.

By fatally handicapping and consciously crippling the hard-fought AFI 1-1, top USAF brass will be effectively legalizing hate speech, coercive proselytizing, and religious extremist extremism. It’s REALLY that damn serious, folks. Anti-LGBTQ bigotryanti-Semitism,Islamophobia, racism, and heinous misogyny – all will be gleefully allowable if the views of any and all superior ranking tormenting airman are (cue the harp music please) “sincere”, heartfelt, “and have a real impact”. To the well over 37,000 armed forces clients currently being represented by MRFF, it’s akin to stating that domestic violence and abuse aren’t “real” unless there are clear bruises, black eyes, scars, and broken bones. The word “unconscionable” comes immediately to mind. There are other (unprintable) words of unbridled outrage that also more than merit being screamed from every mountaintop.

In fact, the preposterous, proposed changes go even further and actually assert that EACH and EVERY one of the respective criteria constituting a USAF regulation violation must be fulfilled and proven before the restrictions come into effect. Thus, a superior ranking officer who regularly proselytizes his or her defenseless subordinates will only be potentially found in violation of regulations if it’s proven that the officer’s words deleteriously affect military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, safety, AND military accomplishment. One can violate without repercussions any combination of the foregoing, minus one, any one at all, of the above constituent elements – the health and morale of subordinates, to provide just one example. However, unless ALL of the other elements are likewise measurably breached, the matter at hand can NEVER rise to become even a possibility of a violation. Not enough yet to enrage you? How about we assume that a USAF leader has somehow managed to actually violate ALL of the above “new AFI 1-1” infraction criteria; can he or she receive ANY meaningful punishment even in such a nearly impossible-to-conceive of scenario? Ready to be thunderstruck, for the answer is a resounding NO!  Believe it or not, there is additional proposed language, being seriously considered by senior USAF leadership, which would actually bar or fully immunize any USAF supervisor or commander found guilty of exercising religious bigotry or prejudice under this “new AFI 1-1” from suffering any criminal and administrative consequences (to include that he or she may not be removed from their position as a supervisor or relieved from command.) Are you getting the picture now, my friends? The legions of the victims of fundamentalist Christian oppression in the USAF, the “battered,” in this case, know much better – hence the terribly critical necessity for such basic guidelines of “Do’s and Don’ts” that came in the form of layers of the original, unadulterated AFI 1-1 protective shield which went into effect on August 7, 2012.

AFI 1-1’s specious revision threatens to subsume and absolutely obliterate religious liberty in the Air Force, setting a horrific example for the other service branches. One can only imagine if similar policies were laid out regarding sexual assault, harassment, and racial discrimination. Unless USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Welsh makes the right decision, USAF airmen will be universally discouraged from filing complaints on the basis that their justified anxiety and grief will be shrugged aside as merely “hypothetical” rather than “real.” Then, oh my, my, my, just watch as the USAF chain of command “reprisal and retribution games” begin in earnest for those who had the temerity and integrity to try stand up and seek redress and help for their civil rights suffering in the Brave New World of the now gutted AFI 1-1, “as amended”.

The men and women who bravely serve in our Air Force deserve better than that, far better.

Hey, wait a minute. Has the United States Supreme Court ever ruled on the legality of “protecting” the First Amendment “right” of military leaders to freely proselytize their helpless subordinates? For that is the entire justification utilized by the fundamentalist Christian supremacists in Congress (and their adoring legions of parachurch organizations and Pentagon sycophants) for the obliteration of the formidable current AFI 1-1 protections. Surprise! Indeed our nation’s highest Court HAS so opined, and over 40 years ago, by one of the most conservative Chief Justices ever to sit on the Court. In a 6-2 decision in Parker vs. Levy (1974), written by the extremely “non-liberal” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and still considered to be unimpeachable law to this very day, the Supreme Court said the following about whether it’s permissible to place limits on the Constitutional rights of armed forces members (for instance, as presently appropriately exists with the not-yet-destroyed-but-about-to-be AFI 1-1) which might otherwise NOT belabor them if they were civilians instead:

“This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society. We have also recognized that the military has, again by necessity, developed laws and traditions of its own during its long history. The differences between the military and civilian communities result from the fact that “it is the primary business of armies and navies to fight or be ready to fight wars should the occasion arise. … An army is not a deliberative body. It is the executive arm. Its law is that of obedience. No question can be left open as to the right to command in the officer or the duty of obedience in the soldier. … While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it. …  In the armed forces, some restrictions exist for reasons that have no counterpart in the civilian community. Disrespectful and contemptuous speech, even advocacy of violent change, is tolerable in the civilian community, for it does not directly affect the capacity of the Government to discharge its responsibilities unless it both is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action. …  In military life, however, other considerations must be weighed. The armed forces depend on a command structure that, at times must commit men to combat, not only hazarding their lives but also ultimately involving the security of the Nation itself. Speech that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command.  If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected.”

Our United States Supreme Court and Chief Justice Rehnquist could not POSSIBLY be more clear: permitting “free-ranging”, limitless, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing by USAF superiors to their defenseless subordinates on the justification of the “free speech” and “freedom of religion” rights of those very same USAF superiors is simply and absolutely WRONG and ILLEGAL!The civil rights religious views (or lack thereof) of all USAF airmen must remain utterly inviolable, precisely as envisioned by those who drafted our magnificent United States Constitution and its beautiful Bill of Rights.

Civil “rights” indeed. They are NOT merely  “civil privileges”. Everyone who is a U. S. citizen gets them, especially junior and subordinate ranking members of the USAF. Particularly if they choose NOT to accept the fundamentalist Christian religious faith of their “Purpose Driven Life”, USAF oppressors who are tormenting them as mean spirited and/or even “Good News”, glad-handing leaders, commanders and superiors.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at  helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of  “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and  “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

 

General Mark A. Welsh III
Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670 

Re: Air Force Instruction 1-1 

General Welsh, 

I have just become aware that you have asked the leadership of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) for comments on proposed changes to para 2.11 and 2.12 of AFI (Air Force Instruction) 1-1 regarding USAF members' authority to exercise their right to religious expression. As I understand the specific proposal sent to USAFA, most unfortunately, it DOES attempt to significantly change the basic language currently contained in para 2.11 (original version), which very effectively limits commanders' and/or supervisors' authority to witness or proselytize to their otherwise defenseless subordinates (now contained in para 2.12).  

In what can ONLY be viewed as a staggering capitulation by the USAF to the fundamentalist Christian religious extremist/Tea Party Congressional members on Capitol Hill, your new AFI 1-1 proposed language totally eliminates the following words, specifically referencing USAF "Leaders at all levels," from this current regulation. To wit, "For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline.”

What a horrific pity to see that the USAF has abandoned the profoundly protective powers those words have had for thousands of Air Force personnel in the 22 months in which they have thus far been permitted to exist. I have already written you on May 29, 2014 concerning that most critical matter. Additionally, the proposal, on which you are presently seeking feedback from the Academy, attempts to most deleteriously change USAF member peer-to-peer religious expression. Therefore, the further issue here is the extent of military members' freedom to witness their personal religious beliefs to, or proselytize, other USAF members. This damage calculus presumably includes their military subordinates if one factors in the stunning exclusion of the most crucial language just denoted above vis-a-vis "Leaders at all levels."  Please refer to my earlier letter to you, in which I explained the United States Supreme Court's clarion-call decision in Parker v. Levy, 417 US 733 (1974), where the Supreme Court explained the FAR more limited scope of First Amendment freedoms available to military members, compared to other (civilian) citizens of the United States.
 
Sir, I know that you did not seek my comments, but please understand that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is obviously extremely focused on this precise matter and that our civil rights mission absolutely compels us to substantively comment.  Therefore, please seriously consider our most legitimate concerns and materially factor them into your decisions.  I hope our comments are not unwelcome; they are intended and designed to help inform your thinking.  Therefore, with respect, we submit the following.

The proposed change to USAF service members' expressions of religious beliefs, though, which includes witnessing and proselytizing fellow USAF members, authorizes such actions when the Airmen's words are an "expression of a sincerely held belief, unless the expression would be a real, not hypothetical, adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, and mission accomplishment."
   
MRFF's concern regarding the proposed revision is, first, that the test here is expressed as a cumulative, not the alternative, test.  Therefore, a USAF member cannot be restricted from such expressions unless ALL of the several adverse effects on the Air Force can be proven… i.e., an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, and mission accomplishment.  For example, it is regrettably not enough that ONLY good order and discipline is negatively impacted, if the proof does not ALSO demonstrate degradation of mission accomplishment.  That formula illicitly exceeds the clear test set out by the United States Supreme Court in Parker v. Levy.  In that seminal case, the Supreme Court specifically held that any ONE of the several adverse impacts upon the Service was sufficient to authorize the commander to restrict speech, to include religious speech. Therefore, the and must be replaced with an or. General Welsh, there IS no reasonable alternative, either practically or as a matter of foundational and controlling law.

Secondly, MRFF is terribly concerned pursuant to this revised standard, that a military member, who professes a "sincerely held" religious belief in conjunction with his/her expressed disdain or disgust for having to perform duties with a lesbian, gay or bisexual  (LGB), African-American, Muslim, Jewish, atheist/agnostic or female Airmen, for example, cannot be held accountable for his/her discriminatory speech--so long as the helpless target(s) of that denigrating speech are unable to demonstrate so-called "real" injury.  This stunning newly proposed policy would categorically reject decades of the development of law, beginning with President Kennedy's Administration, on actionable discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation.  In an Air Force that is instructed routinely to celebrate and promote diversity within our ranks, this boundless allowance of expression for "sincerely held" beliefs would incontrovertibly have disastrous consequences. General Welsh, I seriously question whether President Obama or Secretary Hagel supports this astonishingly prejudicial approach.  Thus, I effusively recommend that you do NOT authorize and protect those religious expressions, to include witnessing and proselytizing, which the United States Supreme Court specifically elected to NOT protect in Parker v. Levy as an appropriate exercise of First Amendment speech by military members.
  
Thirdly, we are (and so should you be) EXTRAORDINARILY concerned that the proposed revised language of AFI 1-1 requires that the cumulative negative adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, and mission accomplishment must be "real, not hypothetical."   This terrible draft alteration appears to require that, before an Airman may EVER be held accountable for religious expression, that same "expression" must have a demonstrable and measurable negative impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, health and safety, and mission accomplishment and also must be deemed actual ("not hypothetical") in the expression of the victim's (injured party's) concern.  We are deeply and decidedly troubled that this policy, if adopted by the USAF, will universally discourage military members from EVER filing complaints about religious witnessing and proselytizing for fear that their uncorroborated complaints will be considered merely "hypothetical," and not "real."  I think you would agree that the Department of Defense would NEVER adopt such a similar shocking policy shielding abusers regarding sexual assault, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination--or, for that matter, even aircraft maintenance standards. You, sir, would NEVER, for example, require that before an Airman is held accountable for sexual assault that the victim's sense of injury be "real, not hypothetical."  Why, therefore, General Welsh, would you even CONSIDER adopting such an excessively permissive and exonerating policy regarding religious witnessing and proselytizing? Indeed, sir, especially when the United States Supreme Court's test in Parker v. Levy does not in ANY manner require adoption of such a high burden of proof before a military member is held accountable for the negative impact of their actions as could be determined by any reasonable observer?

Lastly, we are acutely concerned with the additional language to para 2.11.4 which appallingly requires that "sincerely held beliefs may not be used as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training or assignment." General Welsh, did you REALLY and SERIOUSLY mean that an Airman, who publicly criticizes, for example, a fellow LGB Airman because that LGB Airman's lifestyle is contrary to the declarant/Airman's "religious belief," CANNOT be held accountable for the negative impact that his/her speech has on morale, good order, and discipline of the LGB Airman, merely because the declarant/Airman's religious beliefs are "sincerely held?" Indeed, sir, did you EARNESTLY accept the injustice of the foregoing scenario regardless of the fact that the declarant/Airman should have known that his/her comments would degrade the morale of the LGB Airman (and their unit) and potentially other LGB Airmen?  Because I KNOW how much you support the Air Force as an instrument of national defense, and the companion need to embrace diversity in our all-volunteer force, I strongly suspect that, somehow, sir, you did NOT consider the unintended disastrous consequences of the proposed revised language. It literally strains credulity to believe that such irrefutably bigoted and hurtful wording has even been proposed as an amendment to AFI 1-1.

Again, General Welsh, please accept these comments as my best advice to you as the ultimate military commander and leader of the USAF.  If we are to remain the best Air Force on the planet, relying on an all-volunteer force for our greatness, we have an imperative mandate to absolutely respect minority religious rights or those who follow no faith at all  But it is quite more than just that as well, sir. As I mentioned to you in my prior letter of May 29, 2014, MRFF has well over 37,000 armed forces clients, both active duty and veterans. Ninety-six percent of this number of MRFF clients self-identify as sincerely believing Christians: both Protestants from a literal plethora of denominations, and Roman Catholics. These particular Christian MRFF clients are facing severe religious civil rights discrimination merely because they are viewed by their military superiors as just not being "Christian enough." The USAF simply cannot give-in to the unconstitutionally noxious and odious demands of a minority view of viciously fundamentalist Christian extremist legislators in order to avoid their Congressional criticism, and the recrimination of their legions of fellow traveler, parachurch supporters. We are better than that, sir.  We must uphold the Air Force's Core Values, which require that we particularly protect non-fundamentalist Christian and religious (and non-religious) minority rights.  The Founders wanted, as a matter of constitutional primacy, to protect American citizens from the unbridled passions and potential biases of those freedom-usurpers claiming title to represent the would-be religious majority.  Sir, you are our first, and best, line of defense.  Please protect America's Airmen from dehumanizing and debasing religious abuse by other Airmen (especially their leaders), who are mistakenly and/or willfully led to believe that the faux "majority" religious view, or more specifically a virulent fundamentalist version of same ("Dominion Christianity"), ought to, by right and might, enjoy dominance over non-fundamentalist Christian and minority religious (and non-religious) views in the most powerful and deadly Air Force in the world.
  
We are all Americans, General Welsh, regardless of our religious (or non-religious) views--committed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the precious freedoms it guarantees. Every American, regardless of his or her religious beliefs (or no beliefs), deserves a fair and equal opportunity to become a great USAF Airman, to be respected for their honorable service, evaluated and promoted based solely on her/his performance and demonstrated character, and NOT on his/her religious (or non-religious) affiliation or "sincerely held religious beliefs."
  
Sir, please let me speak clearly here. We expect you to do the right thing. It is not complex but actually simple. We are counting on you to defend and protect the religious (and non-religious) rights of ALL Airmen and NOT just those with "sincerely held religious beliefs".

Sincerely,

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.
Founder and President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation

CC:
President Barack Obama
Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force
General Martin E. Dempsey - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. - Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General Raymond T. Odierno - Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert - Chief of Naval Operations
General James F. Amos - Commandant of the Marine Corps
Randal G. Mathis, Mathis & Donheiser P.C. - MRFF Lead Trial Counsel

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at  helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of  “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and  “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

 

General Mark A. Welsh III
Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670 

Re: Air Force Instruction 1-1 

General Welsh,

Sir, I write you this day on behalf of the over 37,500 sailor, soldier, marine, airmen, coast guard, service academy, ROTC, OTS/OCS cadet/midshipmen, national guard, reservist and veteran clients of the civil rights organization I lead, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Approximately 96% of our MRFF clients identify themselves as practicing, non-fundamentalist Protestants or Roman Catholics. This number of those afflicted, or having been afflicted, with fundamentalist Christian religious persecution emanating from their military superiors includes almost 15,000 active duty and veteran members of the United States Air Force as well as more than two dozen current senior ranking military and civilian Pentagon officials. MRFF speaks on their behalf because they fear retribution if they try to speak for themselves. I beg you to hear their gravely concerned voices within the words of this letter, sir.

Your Invitation to Congressman Randy Forbes

I have learned that on Monday, April 28, 2014 you held a meeting of Air Force leadership, entitled "CSAF (Chief of Staff of the Air Force) Religious Freedoms Focus Day", to address concerns regarding AFI (Air Force Instruction) 1-1's discussion of USAF commanders' and supervisors' responsibilities regarding the delicate balance of their personal freedom of expression vis-à-vis their religious affiliation, the prohibition of government's establishment of religion, and the commanders' and supervisors' solemn responsibility and duty to the Air Force to safeguard optimal unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline. 

I have only very recently also learned that U.S. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) was specifically invited to speak at this critical meeting of senior Air Force leadership.  Given Mr. Forbes' long, sordid and well established history of supporting and promoting fundamentalist Christian supremacy and primacy in all aspects of the Federal government, especially the United States armed forces, I most assuredly hope that someone, distinctly and robustly representing the other side of this turbulent, church-state separation debate, was invited to speak as well? Sadly, I have not heard that such was the case. While I well respect your desire to give a member of Congress a bully pulpit "forum" to talk to senior Air Force leadership, please know that Congressman Forbes absolutely does NOT represent a consensus of the Nation's view on this extremely controversial Constitutional topic. Likewise, sir, Forbes hardly represents the best interests of the United States Air Force on same. Indeed, as the founder of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, Rep. Forbes has spared no opportunity to introduce legislation of an unsparingly sectarian, theological character.

I have obtained a copy of Congressman Forbes' letter to you dated May 6, 2014, which was written well after the meeting concluded (see the letter here: http://tinyurl.com/po7kh5g).  General Welsh, Congressman Forbes simply does not represent the best interests of the Nation on this crucial matter of national security: church-state separation in the United States military. Thus, sir, I will respectfully give you my optimal advice in response to his misguided and misleading letter, on behalf of (1) the multiple tens of thousands of military members who have reached out to MRFF in the past decade and, (2) on behalf of the U.S. public interest.   I hope you will consider it and find it useful.

Draconian Consequences of Removing the Word
"Apparent" from this Regulation

Congressman Forbes' draft revision to AFI 1-1, Para 2.11 and 2.12, pointedly removes the word, "apparent," from the phrase "actual or apparent use of their [referring to commanders' and supervisors'] position to promote their personal religious beliefs," and leaves the prohibition severely limited to the "actual use of their position to promote their religious beliefs."  This edit may seem like a small matter of merely deleting one word. Nothing could possibly be further from the truth, General Welsh! This wordsmithing legerdemain is nothing less than a blatant attempt to open wide the door to allow USAF commanders and supervisors, and their surrogates at the commanders' direction or suggestion, to further the commanders' and supervisors' parochial religious beliefs and affiliations. Further, deleting the word "apparent" provides commanders and supervisors a would-be authorization or plausible deniability to avoid accountability for having done so.  As a result, this suggested new language by Congressman Forbes will cause Airmen to seriously doubt their commanders' and supervisors' impartiality in grading their performance, and as a consequence, deleteriously degrade unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline.  If Congressman Forbes' draft language (which was likely drafted by the Liberty Institute or a similar fundamentalist Christian parachurch organization) is adopted by the USAF, nontrivial numbers of Air Force personnel will most certainly view this sudden regulation alteration as catastrophic. Indeed, General Welsh, it will be justly perceived as nothing less than a clarion call authorization for those same USAF commanders and supervisors to renew their earlier efforts to unconstitutionally proselytize and convert their subordinates to accept their (commanders’ and supervisors’) religious beliefs or risk suffering a wide spectrum of negative career consequences. General Welsh, these types of terribly injurious reprisals and retributions happen quite literally every day already in the USAF. Since the USAF's adoption of the current AFI 1-1, Section 2.11 on Aug. 7, 2012, MRFF has received almost 4,200 verified client complaints of fundamentalist Christian proselytizing from Air Force members' chains of command. Remarkably, well over ninety percent of these complaints of religious harassment, bullying, and oppression come to MRFF from Air Force members who describe themselves as practicing Christians, generally either Protestant or Roman Catholic. The Air Force offenders are almost exclusively practitioners of a virulent form of fundamentalist Christianity known as "Dominionism." Among many others, Congressman Forbes is one of their Poster Children.

The good news is that, heretofore, using the excellent protections afforded by the current language of this regulation (AFI 1-1, Section 2.11), MRFF has been able to assist its thousands of Air Force clients to receive a positive result in approximately 95% of reported cases! General Welsh, if you eliminate the word "apparent" from this existing regulation, sir, you will lay to waste and ruin any hopes for your Air Force brothers and sisters in the ranks to be able to effectively resist and combat the torrent of fundamentalist Christian religious abuse that engulfs the Air Force you command. You allowed Mr. Forbes to make his case in person before you and your special assemblage of senior Air Force brass, sir, on April 28, 2,2014. General Welsh, may I query yet again: whom did you similarly permit to press the legitimate opposing case at this same meeting?

The Fallacy of Forbes' "Heckler's Veto" Argument

Congressman Forbes makes repeated references throughout his letter to a so-called “heckler’s veto.” Let’s examine his glaring misusage of the phrase here. While the concept of the “heckler’s veto” is indisputably important in the context of Constitutional law and First Amendment jurisprudence, Forbes twists the meaning of the phrase inside-out and beyond all reasonable recognition when the “heckler” just so happens to be a military leader, commander or supervisor, on duty, who believes that a particular religious faith, or lack thereof, will matter in the performance/evaluation of their official duties (either speaking or acting). The formidable challenge for those victimized is always the same. They must somehow demonstrate this dark specter of command-imposed religious oppression and intolerance while they, as subordinate service members, are concomitantly terrified to express their cries and pleas for help out of abject fear of the reprisal of their inflicting command chains. It is this harrowing hazard alone that once again dramatically underscores the pivotal importance of the word "apparent" in the context of AFI 1-1 Section 2.11.

Ironically, Congressman Forbes is correct, however, on one important point: to wit, AFI 1-1 DOES "chill" commanders' and supervisors’ desires to directly or indirectly proselytize to their subordinates by "witnessing" to the commanders' or supervisors' favored religious beliefs.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this prohibition and everything right with its legitimate necessity.  As you surely well accept, sir, unsolicited statements and actions in support of particular, sectarian religious views are not the responsibility, directly or indirectly, of the USAF commander or supervisor.  I know you recognize that in an "all-volunteer" Air Force, it is important that all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs or absence of religious beliefs, understand and sincerely believe that they have an opportunity to excel and become outstanding Airmen, judged solely by their performance and character, and free from any cognizable suspicions that they might be judged by their USAF commander or supervisor, to any measurable degree, by their personal religious affiliation or even lack thereof.  The Air Force needs to remain comprehensively inclusive of all its diverse citizenry and constituency. The U.S. Constitution (at Article VI, Clause 3) specifically prohibits the use of any "religious test" under these precise circumstances.

If You Must Edit This Regulation, Please Remove BOTH "Actual" and "Apparent"

Ultimately, General Welsh, if indeed you somehow still feel it absolutely necessary to arrive at a compromise position regarding Congressman Forbes’ disingenuous and specious concern about AFI 1-1's use of the phrase, "actual or apparent use of their position," MRFF would reluctantly recommend that the following editing be done. Rather than eliminating only the adjective "apparent," you instead eliminate BOTH "actual" and "apparent," so that AFI 1-1 reads, "use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates....” This suggested language edit will forbid both direct and indirect use of commanders' and supervisors' positions to convert, proselytize, and/or promote their religious views to their defenseless subordinates. This updated language certainly wouldn’t and couldn't even remotely be reasonably criticized as somehow being "ambiguous."

I noted also that Congressman Forbes asked you to amend AFI 1-1 to state, "No expression of faith should be directly prejudicial to good order and discipline."  At best, this revision in the name of supposedly clarifying an “ambiguity” in AFI 1-1's policy raises a new and far more troubling ambiguity.  Far more likely, the proposed revision is a not-so-clever attempt to authorize commanders and supervisors to "indirectly" prejudice unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline by their wholly unsolicited religious witnessing and/or proselytizing.  Many Air Force leaders, and their numerous allied fundamentalist Christian parachurch organizations (such as the Officers Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, the Christian Military Fellowship, Cadence International, and Campus Crusade for Christ Military Ministries to name just a few) will undoubtedly read such a "subtle" language change as an open authorization to witness or proselytize their religious views in a plethora of ways that only "indirectly" prejudice morale, good order and discipline. By so doing, they believe they will escape admonishment and punishment accountability for any resultant degradation of unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline.  As a result, General Welsh, I cannot strongly recommend enough that you do NOT adopt this proposed change.            

U.S. Supreme Court case Parker v. Levy Carries the Day

In support of his sectarian position, Congressman Forbes cited U.S. v. Sadinsky.  This particular case was a Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) criminal case, which held that military members couldn’t be held criminally liable for violating UCMJ Article 134 unless they "directly and palpably" degraded good order and discipline.  This UCMJ case does not mean that you cannot direct Air Force leaders to avoid actions that they know, or should reasonably know, will degrade good order and discipline. Most curiously, in his letter to you, Congressman Forbes utterly failed to discuss or reference the universal import, and controlling law in this matter, of the United States Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Parker v Levy.  No doubt Forbes failed to cite this case because it is not at all helpful to his dubious crusade of fundamentalist Christian supremacy. Nevertheless, surely he (and the Liberty Institute or whichever other fundamentalist Christian entity or entities may have provided assistance in drafting Forbes’s letter to you) is quite well aware of this profoundly important Supreme Court decision.

The Supreme Court in Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733 (1974), concluded that Capt. Levy's First Amendment right of free speech did not allow him to encourage soldiers to refuse to deploy to Vietnam because he and they believed the War in Vietnam was immoral.  General Welsh, the Supreme Court's discussion of the limitations on scope of military members' First Amendment freedoms, which include the freedom to speech, press and religious expression, should significantly guide your actions in the current matter regarding whether to amend AFI 1-1, Section 2.11 et al.  In a 6-2 decision written by noted ultra-conservative Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Supreme Court said,

"This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society. We have also recognized that the military has, again by necessity, developed laws and traditions of its own during its long history. The differences between the military and civilian communities result from the fact that "it is the primary business of armies and navies to fight or be ready to fight wars should the occasion arise. ... An army is not a deliberative body. It is the executive arm. Its law is that of obedience. No question can be left open as to the right to command in the officer or the duty of obedience in the soldier. ... While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it. ...  In the armed forces, some restrictions exist for reasons that have no counterpart in the civilian community. Disrespectful and contemptuous speech, even advocacy of violent change, is tolerable in the civilian community, for it does not directly affect the capacity of the Government to discharge its responsibilities unless it both is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action. ...  In military life, however, other considerations must be weighed. The armed forces depend on a command structure that, at times must commit men to combat, not only hazarding their lives but also ultimately involving the security of the Nation itself. Speech that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command.  If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected."

The Simple Truth

Sir, after reviewing the immediate foregoing good faith arguments, especially the debate-ending, dispositive ruling in Parker v. Levy above, here's the all-too-simple truth:  If USAF commanders and supervisors want to proselytize and/or witness to their subordinate troops without solicitation from these very same troops, despite the fact that these very same Air Force leaders know, or reasonably should know, that the dangerous and debilitating result will be to cause Airmen to doubt the commanders' or supervisors' impartiality (and thus degrade unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline), then those commanders and supervisors should immediately separate themselves from the United States Air Force. Henceforth, and now as civilians, they may proselytize and/or witness their fundamentalist version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ all they wish and to their heart's content.  On the other hand, sir, while they remain in the United States Air Force, their unassailable loyalty must be solely to the Air Force, the Nation and the Constitution whom they are duly sworn to protect, and not to their personal and preferential sense of religious duty to proselytize, witness and/or convert their all-too vulnerable USAF subordinates.  The United States Supreme Court incontrovertibly agrees.  Our Nation, which is a marvelously diverse country with its citizens free to embrace a literal galaxy of religions as well as a broad range of non-faiths and which depends on the best of America's sons and daughters to volunteer to serve, would also assiduously agree.

General Welsh, I have respectfully tried my very best to make the case for you to not alter the profound Constitutional protections provided by the current text of AFI 1-1, Sections 2.11 et al. However, in the truly tragic and most unfortunate event that you still elect to change the clear, unambiguous language of AFI 1-1, paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12, I recommend that, at the very least, you ensure that USAF commanders and supervisors fully understand that this abrupt change does not in any way signal a shift in policy.  They must know that they are not authorized, in ANY unsolicited fashion, to witness or proselytize to their lower-ranking Airmen.  They must understand that changes in the language of AFI 1-1 do not signal, in even the most nuanced manner, an authorization for USAF commanders and supervisors to begin witnessing or proselytizing to and/or converting their otherwise helpless subordinates.  Without your singular exercise of personal caution, stewardship and careful guidance, countless Air Force members and their families will read into your potential revisions a disastrous sea-change in the Air Force's previous policy forbidding command-influenced proselytization.  Sir, unless you are quite prepared to aggressively punish the legions of religious extremist fundamentalists who currently permeate the Air Force, please, please do NOT change the language of this extremely effective and protective USAF regulation.

Conclusion: This Regulation is Not Broken; Please Don't "Fix" It

In conclusion, military members have many stressors in their lives as a result of electing to honorably defend their Nation and protect to the death, if necessary, its myriad national security interests.  The ferocious enemies we fight can be vexing and produce enormous anxiety and worry to military members and their loving families.  Military members have been asked time and again to make many painful sacrifices while they serve our Nation.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, they should NEVER have to sacrifice their personal religious beliefs (or lack of such beliefs) or be forced to even suspect that their commander or supervisor asks them to sacrifice their religious affiliation in the name of becoming a better, or more valued, Airman. Such a sacrifice of personal choice and human dignity was never the Founders' intent behind the concept of religious free expression.  To believe otherwise is to pervert or wretchedly twist Constitutional freedoms into a tool of furious abuse at the hands of many in military leadership positions, in the awful name of furthering an alleged majority view regarding religious affiliation. Indeed, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor once said, "In America, we don't count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.'" Such an allowance of vile religious predation by USAF commanders and supervisors is precisely a matter that the Founders hoped to guard against and something that will fatally weaken and unequivocally destroy our beloved Republic.  

Sir, the Constitutionally mandated, religious freedom matter at hand is not at all terribly complex. On the contrary, it is clear, straightforward and easily discernible. Those same three descriptors apply to AFI 1-1, Section 2.11 et al. It is working exceptionally well every day providing maximum civil rights protection to the hundreds of thousands of USAF members you lead, sir. Please lead the way forward to a just and equitable resolution. As Former Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell once so sagaciously opined: 

"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and   doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand."

Thus I beseech you, General Welsh; please do not alter the shielding, crystal clear language of AFI 1-1, Section 2.11.

Sincerely,

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.
Founder and President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation

CC:
President Barack Obama
Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force
General Martin E. Dempsey - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. - Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General Raymond T. Odierno - Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert - Chief of Naval Operations
General James F. Amos - Commandant of the Marine Corps
Randal G. Mathis, Mathis & Donheiser P.C. - MRFF Lead Trial Counsel

 

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at  helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of  “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and  “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

Very soon, cadets at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as well as midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, will be marching to one of the happiest events of their lives:  graduation. At USAFA, on the day before the actual stadium graduation, soon-to-be lieutenants literally march out of their squadron formations on the parade field in a “Flying Wedge Formation,” the inverse of how they marched into their squadrons almost four years earlier.  It’s an exceedingly beautiful and emotional sight for parents, faculty, and staff.  Later that day, squadrons hold “commissioning ceremonies.” There are a total of forty squadrons in the Cadet Wing/student body – at which a personally chosen officer administers the oath of office, “swearing them in” as USAF second lieutenants.

The oath of office is well known and traces its heritage to Washington’s oath written for the Continental Army.  Unlike Washington’s oath, however, this oath contains four final words: “So Help Me God”. In practice, these four final words are “optional” for those who may object to adding them – consistent with Article Six of the Constitution, which bans any religious test for public office.

However “optional” those last four words may be, legally speaking, the pressure to say them can be literally overwhelming.  Large cue cards for all oath administrators not only include those words, but they’re also usually highlighted in a bold, all-caps font.  Unless the cadet specifically asks the administrator in advance to omit those jarringly theologically inspired words, they will certainly be said – as sure as the sun sets in the west. This leaves the non-believing cadet the only option of either NOT repeating them – which runs the very real risk of ostracism or being perceived as “disrespecting the administrator” – or stating something that counters their core personal beliefs.

Whether the cadet pre-arranges the omission or just opts not to repeat it, the die is fully cast: ALL in attendance immediately know that the omitting cadet is “different,” publicly proclaiming non-membership in the monotheistic supermajority. In the minds of many, this is tantamount to moral and spiritual inferiority, as well as a lack of the necessary and sufficient religious qualities that America expects of its military leaders.  Having witnessed this abortive pause before, I can tell you that it is terribly chilling. It would be as if someone next to you sat down abruptly DURING the national anthem, specifically ignoring “…and the home of the brave!”

Recently, dozens of USAFA cadets notified the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to express their sharp concern about rumors that each squadron’s commissioning would include “confidential informants” (CIs) to record and report any who choose to omit the “four words.”  Most of those who have reached out to MRFF are practicing Christians themselves, just not of the fundamentalist caliber. These cadets fear that offenders’ names will be passed like black balls at a fraternity induction to future military bases and supervisors through the vast and byzantine network of fundamentalist Christian organizations that illicitly pervade the ranks of the armed forces, e.g., Officers Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Military Ministries.  These cadets are legitimately afraid that their careers could be fatally stunted before they even get off the ground – having no recourse because they remain in the dark regarding the identity of the CIs and their contacts.  To be branded as a “not-Christian enough” troublemaker before one even reports to their first duty assignment can have an enormously disheartening impact on these newly-minted, shiny, and (hopefully) idealistic models of the Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service, and Excellence.

What to do?  Ironically, for the sake of saving one’s face and gaining “moral” or “ethical” legitimacy in the eyes of their peers and superiors, these cadets must lie.  They convince themselves that taking a stance on principal is just not worth it: “How can I serve and change things for the better – for enhanced inclusiveness and true respect – if I can’t even make it to my first assignment without a black mark?  It’s just a little lie.  No one really needs to know my religious views anyway.  They clearly WANT me to lie—look at that cue card.  Do what everyone else is doing… Screw it!”

Our civil rights foundation, MRFF, doesn’t want you to lie – but we understand why you feel like you might have to.  As you’re marching to your graduation parade and look over your shoulder at the “Core Values Ramp,” we don’t want you to start your commissioned service by violating the FIRST of those values (“Integrity”) on your FIRST day as a lieutenant—even if it seems that’s what the Air Force wants you to do.  They’ve made clear, through Air Force Instruction 1-1 and myriad DoD regulations, that it’s improper for commanders to use their power to coerce religious practice or promote a particular religious viewpoint. Nevertheless, now the same officers tasked with enforcing these regulations are unceremoniously breaking them by putting unbearable pressure on you to break your word. The pressure becomes agonizing as its application becomes a public affair. Why not lie then, since your superiors also lied?

Please don’t. You’ll see enough lies, calumny, and disingenuous glad-handing post-graduation and in the course of your service.  You’ll see others use their lies as stepping-stools to even greater and far more perilous lies, as was the case with the falsified nuclear missile launch officer tests and so many other sad instances.  If you do lie, then we beg you to make this your LAST lie.  After graduation, you’re a commissioned military leader.  Rinse yourself of this original sin, and stand up for the Constitution and your fellow airmen.  You may have stained your character by lying once, but if you allow yourself to repeat these lies and make it a habit, you are officially a part of the problem – and that is something that we can’t tolerate.

Why? Well, because it’s not actually merely a “problem”, it’s a national security threat. Thus, we urge you: please don’t.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at  helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated  Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of  “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and  “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

What would you do if you found out that a shocking murder plot was unfolding silently? What if this wasn’t just any murder, but the premeditated and carefully plotted unfolding of a terrifying scenario with nightmarish repercussions for every American citizen? What if the innocent victim was of vital importance to you, your family, and your country? Would you come to the protective defense of the victim? Or would you shrink back into the shadows marinated in trembling fear of possibly being harmed while dutifully standing up to such an injustice?

Unfortunately for all citizens of America, the murder victim in this case is the bedrock democratic guarantee of religious freedom rights, as mandated by the Constitution of the United States of America. In relation to the United States military, the deceased include numerous relevant Department of Defense (DoD) directives, regulations and instructions. Where are the lairs of those sinister perpetrators who are clearly complicit in this nefarious act of murder? Nowhere else but the United States Congress and the Pentagon.

What we’re referring to here is the planned participation and endorsement of a sectarian, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian “National Day of Prayer” event to be held this coming May 1st on Capitol Hill in the Cannon House Office Building. The event is being sponsored not only by Congressional legislators, but also by uniformed American military personnel… and the Pentagon has shown no sign of relenting in its shameful support of this fundamentalist Christian, big tent revival circus.

Despite all of the disingenuous criticism regarding “Obama’s war on religion,” the present administration can hardly be considered pristine guardians of religious liberty, especially not with respect to the United States military.  Indeed, its approach can best be described as egregiously lackadaisical and, at worst, criminally complicit. Proof positive of this “homicidal” fiduciary failure is its deplorable allowance of the American military’s prominent participation in a Congressional “National Day of Prayer Task Force” (NDP Task Force) event.

Curious readers may be wondering: What actually is this “‘National Day of Prayer’ Task Force”? Well, my friends, let me explain. The National Day of Prayer (NDP) has been an annual observance of faith since 1952 when President Truman started it. One can be more than generous and say it is a “secular holiday”, as it is celebrated by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Baha’i, pagans, Satanists… or one can call it “abhorrently unconstitutional,” as my dear colleague and Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Senior Research Director Chris Rodda called it. Loosely construed, NDP is, arguably, supposed to be propagating a celebration of religious liberty and the freedom of Americans to pray or meditate in any manner that they see fit. Whatever NDP is, it most certainly is NOT a day to celebrate one religious tradition, to the exclusion of all other concepts spiritual or temporal.

Enter now that trojan horse of religious freedom-murdering criminals, the NDP Task Force. The NDP Task Force is the group organizing and broadcasting this garish Capitol Hill event under the following banner: “So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Getting the picture now, my friends? The NDP Task Force’s reasons for existing can be summed up as the following: (1) evangelical, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing, (2) latter day “crusader”-indoctrination (3) theocracy-building in the U.S. armed forces, (4) federally-funded “spirituality molding,” (5) anti-LGBT discrimination, and (6) seethingly sectarian triumphalism and expectionalism on a universal scale of magnitude. This narrow, parochial, and sectarian purpose is irrefutably contemptible from the standpoint of the gentle religious tolerance and respect that was meant to be the mantra of the Truman-created NDP (sans the  “Task Force” suffix).

Thus, the NDP Task Force is as markedly different from Truman’s NDP as, well, gunpowder is from baby powder.

This duplicitous Task Force is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of anti-gay zealot and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. The NDP event she has organized is despicably discriminatory, as its itinerary and organizing team is brazenly bereft, by specific design, of any role played by non-Christians. In fact, all NDP Task Force volunteers are mandatorily required to provide on their formal, official applications their “testimony” of their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Thus, for example, the only Jews permitted to participate in the NDP Task Force’s so-called “Judeo-Christian” events are Messianic Jews, or the so-called “Jews for Jesus” who share the NDP Task Force’s singular goal of converting all “disbelievers” by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their fellow Jews, as well as other non-fundamentalist Christians.

(Incidentally, just as this Op-Ed was going to press, the Dobsons appeared on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” to impotently rant about the tireless constitutional advocacy that MRFF has undertaken, to their dismay.)

Of course, these avariciously proselytizing, private Christian religious organizations are free to do whatever they’d like, where they like, provided it transpires in a time, place, and manner which wholly honors and complies with the law of our land. Of course, none of that bothers me, nor does it bother MRFF, the national civil rights organization of which I’m Founder and President. However, let me tell you what DOES bother the hell out of all of us. We do prepare to throw down and fight when Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt officially sponsors this “Christian-only” proselytizing spectacle, and when good faith protests demanding Constitutional compliance at the Pentagon and Congress fall on absolutely deaf ears. These protestations only came, keep well in mind, AFTER 27 senior military and civilian officials at the Pentagon contacted our foundation for help to stop this utter travesty. They expressed shock, disbelief and alarm at this scandalous collaboration between the fundamentalist Christian NDP Task Force and the Pentagon.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (“Who will guard the guards?”). This quintessential and formidable question confronts us yet once again now that it’s long been clear that a cunning cabal of Congressional legislators, numerous fundamentalist Christian parachurch organizations (like the NDP Task Force) and a nontrivial number of top brass in our nation’s armed forces illicitly act on behalf of a theocratic-lusting fifth column which seeks to hijack our United States military. Needless to say, every American citizen should consider it their solemn duty to stand up and speak out against these bible-thumping bigoted bullies. They are on an unobstructed road and relentless campaign to erode, undermine, and raze to the ground our foundational Constitutional protections in the name of their twisted, supremacist, dominionist conception of so-called “religious liberty.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please help me and MRFF stop this murder of our priceless civil rights.

Don’t let our Pentagon and Congress assassinate our precious religious liberties by allowing this specious, sectarian pageant of fascistic, fundamentalist Christian hegemony, primacy and sovereignty to fatally stain our precious Constitutional freedoms.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) would like to specifically respond to and correct some of the egregiously erroneous statements made by retired USAF Maj. General Bentley Rayburn in his April 20, 2014 Colorado Springs Gazette Op-Ed. Rayburn outrageously claimed that “government cannot restrict your free exercise of religion.” Absolutely everyone in United States government service, in military uniform or not, should clearly recognize such a statement as blatantly incorrect—though often misunderstood by many civilians.

The Department of Defense (and other Federal agencies) routinely places nontrivial restrictions on free speech as well as religious practice for the sake of maintaining optimal unit cohesion, morale, good order and discipline.  The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of service members (e.g., endorsing candidates).  The Army restricts accommodation of religious practices that might “have an adverse impact on unit readiness, individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, safety, and/or health” (AR600-20).

Likewise, above Rayburn’s cited paragraph 2.12 of AF Instruction 1-1, had he actually bothered to read it, one finds paragraph 2.11, which mandates that all Air Force that leaders “must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a dangerous degradation of the unit’s cohesion, morale, good order, and discipline.”

We agree that it is possible that the young male or female USAFA cadet who posted this note was affirming his or her beliefs and certainly may not have intended to be disrespectful. Notwithstanding the foregoing, one might indeed fairly ask, “Would it be reasonable to assume the following: that a C4C (freshman cadet) who reports directly to the C2C (junior), but is of a distinctly different faith tradition than his/her senior cadet leader, might presume that their leader is promoting his or her particular religious view and, moreover, could that first-year cadet perceive that those who overtly share the senior cadet leader’s views may be given preferential treatment?”  By placing this New Testament statement right next to a label declaring the cadet’s rank and standing in the open hallway of the unit, this cadet leader incontrovertibly created that exact perception in direct violation of AF Instruction 1-1, paragraph 2.11.  Ask yourself, would it be permissible, under AF Instruction 1-1, for a cadet or officer to put a political message on the whiteboard suggesting how he or she or others have voted or should vote in an election, or promoting or avowing their support of a partisan political candidate or party?  The answer is a clear “no.”  Can that same cadet have a poster or whiteboard statement within their own room (private space), though, as inspiration?  We think “yes.”

Seen in reverse, should a cadet be allowed to post a distinctly anti-religious (or racist) message on their exterior whiteboard in the name of free speech and freedom to practice their religion?  We don’t think so.  In fact, it seems that other cadets don’t think so either and displayed their own cruel intolerance when one of MRFF’s clients (after the fact) posted on their whiteboard ”There is no evidence that any God has ever existed.” Almost immediately, two physically larger cadets, both of higher rank, confronted this cadet. They yelled and shouted that the message was “anti-faith” and that it was “an insult to all people of faith” and targeted only Christians. They pushed the lower-ranking cadet and forcibly restrained the cadet from stopping them from erasing the whiteboard. The lower-ranking cadet received bruises on his/her body from the altercation. Hello? Doesn’t anyone clearly discern the profoundly deleterious impact on that Academy unit’s cohesion, morale, good order and discipline? It seems that Rayburn does not.

The MRFF abhors this violence, but sees it as the natural consequence of a military hierarchy in which everyone wears their private, non-mission-related preferences on their sleeves—an environment where only those who express beliefs as the Commander believes can expect fair treatment, where the Command environment presupposes a particular religious or political perspective as a necessary and sufficient condition for honorable service.

The United States military is a hyper-tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic world, which far too very few American citizens fully understand. Working for the U.S. armed forces is not at all like working for IBM, Taco Bell, or Walgreens. If individuals have never been a part of the U.S. military, it is more excusable if they do not fully understand its peculiarities. Rayburn has no such excuse. Unfortunately, having always been a part of the conservative Christian majority, and many times in positions of Command, Rayburn can’t seem to effectively walk a mile in the cadet’s, junior officer’s, or enlisted person’s shoes and understand how wretchedly debilitating it must feel to not be a part of that majority which so gleefully welcomes him (Rayburn).  He can’t even remotely imagine an armed forces unit in which, for example, he is the only Christian, and everyone else is either Jewish, or Muslim, or Atheist, or Gay, or Democrat, each with their own declarative (and judgmental) statement of their parochial, private belief or stance proudly affixed to their office door, name and rank or attached to the bottom of their every e-mail.  Rayburn fails miserably to comprehend just how universally destructive that most assuredly will be for any military organization which mightily depends upon unity and mutual respect to accomplish its critical mission.

We support the open exchange of ideas on all topics, but NOT within the hierarchical and heavily armed world of the military.  Rayburn refers to his (and my) alma mater, the U.S. Air Force Academy, as a “university”. Seriously, Bentley? It is not. In this instant debate, it is a military garrison. Having a public contest of sectarian religious ideas in the Air Force Academy’s functioning work areas, drenched in their necessary magnitudes of Command influences, is a distinctly different matter than doing so at Colorado College or other civilian institutions of higher education. When it comes to such analyses in the United States military, it’s all about three things; the time, place and manner of the religious (or no religious) expression in question.

United States military members should be free to practice their religion, or lack thereof, as they see fit in their private time and in places and manners reserved for such practice and approved by competent military authority so as not to disrupt the critical cohesion, good order, morale and discipline of the unit.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

“Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.” Teddy Roosevelt

What is the fundamentalist Christian version of the American Taliban up to in these heady days nearing November’s mid-term elections? The answer is a lot, an awful lot (with an emphasis on the word “awful”).

The lying, deceitful nature of fundamentalist Christian supremacy truly knows no bounds. This constitutionally derelict cabal isn’t even remotely content with having a massive media empire, a monolithic fundraising base, swelling and dominant hegemony within the ranks of the U.S. Armed Forces, and supreme political sway within civilian legislatures across the United States.  These dangerous dominionists have now set themselves towards rewriting American history in a manner that opportunistically advances their anti-Constitutional agenda. For those who’ve been following the advocacy of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), this isn’t necessarily breaking news. It has been the direct mission of MRFF to aggressively fight these fanatical Christian religious zealots and the perverse poison of their theocratic bigotry and prejudice at each and every opportunity provided.

And, my friends, a new one just materialized.

The misleadingly named “Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition (RMRF),” a lie-generating rats’ nest comprised of numerous Christian fundamentalist Taliban-style entities, has sponsored a billboard at the doorstep of the USAFA in Colorado Springs, CO. The billboard ridiculously implies that Air Force cadets are prohibited from practicing their faith at USAF – conveniently ignoring the deep-rooted Christian fundamentalist dominance extant throughout the Academy for many ignominious years (USAFA even has a house “gay cure” guru in their employ). The large-scale signage asks cadets, “Are you free to say so help me God? They did.” Set against the background of a photo of Mount Rushmore, the billboard constructs a wholly false equivalent between the core values of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the Constitutionally-prohibited religious activity within the government and military that they stood steadfastly against.

Obviously, and quite predictably, MRFF has responded to this very latest vile and dishonest attempt at historical revisionism by these fundamentalist Christian supremacist cretins. Our rebuttal has come in the form of our very own billboard posted on the direct FLIP SIDE of the RMRF signboard. Yes, as fortune would have it, the other side of the RMRF billboard just happened to be available. MRFF’s rebuttal billboard speaks for itself and clearly carries the day.

So, once again, what’s all this hue and cry about? Well, under withering MRFF pressure last October, the Academy made the phrase “So Help Me God” an optional component of its previously mandatory cadet honor oath. MRFF currently has 480 cadets, staff and clients at USAFA, 401 of whom self-identify as practicing Christians, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. It goes without saying that we would never abandon our clients when they risked their careers and personal well being to alert MRFF of what basically amounts to a blatantly unconstitutional religious test.

And of course, the cadets of USAFA are completely free to say “so help me God” if they so choose. Our issue is that this important decision should be THEIR clear choice; coercion, bullying, and force shouldn’t play a role in what they choose. But the dominionist Christian American Taliban was never very big on “choice”.

RMRF’s disgracefully repugnant historical fabrication that the Founding Fathers were all merry Christian supremacist theocrats flies in the face of literally all that we know about them, historically. These were genuinely and fiercely secular gentlemen of destiny. In the final analysis, Enlightenment Rationalism profoundly guided them in spite of their personal religious inclinations.

Just as an example: in May of 1778 at Valley Forge, then-General George Washington signed an officer’s oath that clearly made NO reference to “God.” Likewise, even the Continental Congress didn’t add the words “so help me God” to the officer’s oath (last November we also pointed out this irrefutable fact with a billboard). In accordance with the Constitution’s ‘no religious test’ clause (Article 6, Clause 3), neither did the first Congress under the Constitution in 1789. The fact is, innumerable sources show that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln took multiple oaths absolutely without any mention of “God,” or any deity whatsoever.

In short, the nefarious foundational purposes and goals of the fundamentalist Christian American Taliban, disingenuously whining and pitifully moaning about “oppression” and the “restriction” of their so-called “religious liberties”, have nothing in the least to do with legality, history, or even morality… nor can they make common cause with the slightest nuance of human decency and respect. Their false-flag screams of “Christian victimization” are merely borne of an inability to universally bully, harass, and oppress on a basis of searingly sectarian arrogance, prejudice and bigotry.

As long as these Christian fundamentalist oppressors continue their efforts to fully subvert and control the United States military as a force-multiplier for their weaponized, twisted version of Christianity, MRFF will be there to thwart their theocratic oppression. Indeed, MRFF will leave no stone unturned nor any billboard of lies unanswered.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).

This guest Op-Ed from dear friend, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Advisory Board member, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, comes in light of an unprecedented Christian fundamentalist furor. This disingenuous hue and cry  surrounds our ongoing fight against dominionist hegemony at my alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, CO, long a hotbed of nationalistic Christian supremacist extremism. Sadly, the scandal has reinforced the fact that many of the worst opponents of the U.S. Constitution are our elected representatives themselves… Mikey.

Congressman Doug Lamborn (R, CO) has just penned a letter to the Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, Lieutenant General Michele Johnson.  In the letter, the Congressman lectures the “Supe” in religious freedom and the U.S. Constitution.  It is quite clear from the letter that Congressman Lamborn knows extremely little about the Constitution, religious freedom, or the military.

The most egregious demonstration of abject ignorance of the military and the Constitution is this statement in Lamborn’s letter: “We are asking future officers to perhaps give even their very lives to protect and defend the Constitution and yet denying them rights from that same Constitution.”

Military personnel, particularly officers, surrender several Constitutional rights immediately upon becoming members of the armed forces.  For example, they cannot speak out politically; they cannot criticize publicly their chain of command—to include the President; they cannot vote in uniform and armed (I found that out in Columbus, Georgia—the hard way); they cannot promote religion to their subordinates; they cannot associate their uniform with a commercial enterprise; and so on.  Thus, every hour of the day we deny military members certain of their Constitutional rights.  It is an integral part of the civil-military relationship in America.

Compounding Lamborn’s error is this statement from his letter: “I am deeply concerned and outraged by recent news reports indicating that an Air Force Cadet was forced to remove a Bible verse from the whiteboard posted outside his room.  I was further troubled to learn that the apparent reason the Cadet in question had to remove this verse was due to the fact that he is in a position of  leadership. This suggests that a Cadet in a leadership role may have less religious freedom than Cadets in the rank and file.”

This statement is simply full of ignorance as well as illogic.  The “apparent reason”, as Lamborn terms it, is precisely accurate.  From a position of leadership, no military member may advocate a particular religion or absence thereof.  Moreover, this restriction on a military member is to promote religious freedom, not constrain it.  How can there be freedom of religion if people in power over others are allowed to appear—or actually to do so—to favor one religion over another, or no religion over religion?  The clear answer is, there can’t be.

Not content to be simply illogical and ignorant, the Congressman goes on to write: “those who pursue leadership positions should not be forced to sacrifice their religious freedom in order to lead.”

Of course such leaders are not sacrificing their religious freedom.  They are able to go to the church, synagogue, or mosque of their choice, or believe in no divine providence whatsoever; they are simply not allowed, by their position of power over others, to try to cause others to adhere to their beliefs or even subtly to influence them to do so.  This policy promotes religious freedom for everyone, it does not constrain it and it most certainly does not sacrifice it for anyone.

Congressman Lamborn then delivers the blow that is at the heart of his apparent angst: “I would also appreciate an explanation of the apparent influence the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has at the Air Force Academy in legal and media issues relating to decisions on Cadets’ religious practices over the past 5 years (sic). The MRFF is an organization that seems to detest religious expression of any faith, and has become so outlandish in its claims that it should simply be ignored.”

Now we detect the real reason for Lamborn’s outburst.  Like the other fundamentalist Christian sects—the so-called “Dominionists” lead the way in this regard—which are so up in arms over the MRFF because it supports religiously (no pun intended) the real and important heart of religious freedom—the separation at all times of church and state—Lamborn worries that MRFF might be too successful.

I hope in that respect he is absolutely correct.  It would be the only thing in his letter that is.

Col. (U.S. Army-retired) Lawrence Wilkerson is a professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He served 31 years in the U.S. Army, both in the enlisted and officer ranks.