Asinine anti-Semitic comments aside – the man has on numerous occasions voiced openly racist, bigoted sentiments – the record clearly shows that Robertson has no right to speak of toughness in the armed forces.

Indeed, voluminous allegations corroborate a scenario showing that Robertson deserves an honorary medal for being a Class A Coward of the highest rank...

Pat Robertson doesn’t seem to like me very much. Normally, none of us with more brains than a toothbrush should give a damn as to why that’s the case, but times are hardly normal these days. Therefore it does matter, so please let me fill you in. First, a little backstory here:

One would think that as Americans, most of us can agree on certain core foundational values that have made our nation great; freedom of speech and the freedom to worship (or not) as we see fit stand out as two shining examples. However, the enjoyment of these freedoms means that we must also witness the heinous words and deeds of those who don Ku Klux Klan hoods, wear swastika armbands, and call for modern-day inquisitions against perceived “enemies of the faith.” Indeed, some have amassed fortunes and built veritable “evil empires” by peddling twisted, violent ideologies like fundamentalist Christianity, to cite one example. Foremost among these evil opportunists and parasitic jackasses is the Reverend Pat Robertson.

Robertson recently flew off the handle when the U.S. Air Force (USAF) was forced to make the Constitutionally correct decision to end the mandatory requirement that USAF airmen recite “So Help Me God” in their official reenlistment and commissioning oaths. This blatantly unconstitutional religious test came to the world’s attention after an airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada learned that unless he performed the sectarian oath, his days as an airman would be through. Shamefully reprehensible, isn’t it?
Eventually, the Air Force and the Pentagon “saw the light” of Constitutional fidelity, with no small amount of pressure from organizations like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, the organization I head), the American Humanist Association, and other valiant allies. It was, after all, a no-brainer from a legal perspective. As I said in my last Op-Ed, “The case law is so universally settled in this precise area that even actors who play lawyers on TV or in the movies could win this one in court. 

Well, no sooner was the law upheld before the bitter juice from sour grapes began flowing in rivers from the pulpits of arch-hypocrites like Robertson and his wretched ilk, who condemned the decision as “crazy.” Continuing, Robertson took specific aim at yours truly, stating:

“There’s a left-wing radical named Mikey Weinstein, who has got a group about people against religion or whatever he calls it, and he has just terrorized the armed forces… You think you’re supposed to be tough, you’re supposed to defend us, and you got one little Jewish radical who is scaring the pants off of you… You want these guys flying the airplanes to defend us when you got one little guy terrorizing them? ... That’s what it amounts to. … How can [USAF] fly the bombers to defend us if they cave to one little guy?”

“Little Jewish radical,” eh? Got anti-Semitism, Pat? Perhaps Robertson forgets that he apparently claims to worship another "little Jewish radical” who is said to have “terrorized” the authorities of his day? Anyway, his asinine anti-Semitic comments aside – the man has on numerous occasions voiced openly racist, bigoted sentiments – the record clearly shows that Robertson has no right to speak of toughness in the armed forces.
Indeed, voluminous allegations corroborate a scenario showing that Robertson deserves an honorary medal for being a Class A Coward of the highest rank. This vile specimen is to human dignity and sanity and integrity and character what dog shit is on the menu of a fine French restaurant.

Let me explain. In his 1972 autobiography, Shout it From the Housetops, Robertson boasted about his outstanding service as a “Marine combat officer in Korea.” The only problem with the claim is that many of his former comrades allege that never once did he ever see battle. Robertson filed a libel suit against McCloskey, only to be unceremoniously dropped later on. Contradicting Robertson’s claims, war hero and former seven-term Congressman Paul “Pete” McCloskey alleged that the “Marine combat officer” may have used his privileged family ties as the son of a Virginia Senator to pull the strings and skirt his combat duties. Apparently, the order from General Lemuel Shepherd was to "Take good care of him; his Daddy is Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Appropriations Committee." 

Therefore, the future televangelist (and saber-rattling warmonger) was reassigned from combat duty to the far less heroic undertaking of keeping the barracks watering hole stocked with liquor. As numerous fellow marines claimed, throughout the Korean War the “Marine combat officer” was known as the Masan Liquor Officer. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a ‘liquor officer.’ However, speaking as a former Air Force officer and Air Force Academy honor graduate, whose two sons, daughter-in-law, and son-in-law are all, likewise, Air Force Academy graduates as well as either current or former proud members of the U.S. Air Force, I am positively pissed that such a putrid example of cowardly cretinism in the ignoble person of Pat Robertson would have the gall to question the bravery of our USAF airmen. Every American, every service member, should know well to ignore the attention-hungry ravings of this false prophet and posturing poseur of the first order.

But don’t take it from me; take it from the late Corporal U.S.M.C. Leo T. Cronin, who participated in the first-wave amphibious assault by Marines who fought tooth and nail in the Battle of Inchon, Korea. Commenting in a Letter to the Editor penned amidst Robertson’s failed Presidential run in 1988, Cronin didn’t mince any words:

There is a person who calls himself a combat Marine. He is not. His name is Pat Robertson. I saw him often in the division headquarters where he was clean-shaven and clothed and showered. He was in charge of making sure that the officers' booze ration was handed out and re-supplied. He was a lieutenant. He was in my battalion. The line company marines I saw smelled badly, looked poorly. For months at a time they were cold, eating C-rations. Trying to stay warm and dry was a constant battle. These line-company men were the combat Marines of the First Marine Division. Neither Pat Robertson nor I could carry their gear. He is trying to get elected by standing on those frozen bodies I saw, by putting himself in the company of those seven Marines who repulsed the enemy. Imagine a person who aspires to be President being so loose with the truth, so lacking in grace and so dishonorable. He says God talks to him. I'd like to hear what God says to him about this.

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 post is a slightly altered version of an e-mail that was sent to several specific Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) clients by my fantastic Special Assistant and Director of West Point Affairs, Blake Page. The original intention was not to publish it, but after reading this amazing message I knew that it had to be shared (albeit in a form meant for a broader audience, with sensitive personal details removed to protect anonymity). Fortunately for our intense civil rights mission, Blake has been on board with MRFF for the better part of two years as of today. In that time he has repeatedly proven himself to be an incredibly resourceful, responsible, and strong-willed fighter for MRFF who has made numerous sacrifices for this vital cause, sparing no effort to perform the needed tasks I've asked of him, even while fighting his own personal battles. Please note that the opinions expressed below are the personal views of Blake, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of MRFF.

- Mikey

Ladies and Gents,

I'd like to expound a bit on the topics of civic duty, patriotism, and courage. Each of those venerable qualities exists on a spectrum. Someone can claim to have fulfilled their civic duties by voting every now and then and paying taxes, while another exercises their civic duties by thrusting themselves into the fray of politics head-first. Someone can show their patriotism with a bumper sticker, while others show it by defending the constitution with their actions. Many people claim to be courageous for doing difficult things with the full support of those around them and our culture at large, while others show courage by doing what they know in their heart and mind is right without consideration of what might be thought of, said of, or done to them. Of course, most people find themselves at the center of a normal distribution in each of those spectra. What would a hero be if everyone could be brave?

We frequently hear from our clients that they cannot have their names known by their chain of command for fear of retribution. Mikey will assure each of you that he will gladly find himself in prison before violating your confidentiality (and I would gladly follow). Here is where he and I disagree though: I do not believe that fear of retribution is a reason to remain silent. From where I sit, it's the only reason to speak up and be counted. If you are afraid your chain of command will punish you for rejecting theocracy, ask yourself what the punishment will be? Will they slow your career progression, give you an undesirable assignment, or publicly chastise you? Or are you afraid of what your peers will do? Perhaps they will sabotage your work or vandalize your property. If these people are so bold today, imagine how much bolder they will grow if things continue unimpeded. By soliciting our help from a safe distance you are moving in the right direction, but that move will be meaningless if you fail to follow through when needed. Inaction, in this case, is not a neutral position. Inaction in an environment that is hostile to the rights of non-Christians is an endorsement of Christian Supremacy.

Several years ago it was said that we should only fear fear itself. I'm not playing devil's advocate when I say I disagree. If you show me someone who is afraid of fear, you show me someone who is afraid to step outside of their comfort zone. You show me someone who is afraid of fear and you show me someone willing to go prone and be trampled. You show me someone who is afraid of fear and you show me a human being unwilling or unable to take the necessary steps to fight for their rights and more importantly the rights of those that will follow them because it's just too hard. Ladies and gentlemen, history is not written by historians, it is written by you and me in every decision we make, every day of our lives. Will you let history show that our generation was the pusillanimous mat that allowed a regression into theocracy, or will you show the courage to defend your children and your country?

So what will it take for you to stand up? Will it be the day that you are told by your command that Jesus is the solution to your battles with addiction? Will you be content to have your military sponsor the evangelism of one religion above all others? Neither of those things cause you any real harm, but here is what they actually do: they empower Dominionists. They show Christian Supremacists that YES America is a Christian Nation! Look anywhere and you can see our government supports the spread of Christianity! Of course we should consult the Bible before passing a bill into law. Of course it's okay to berate a non-Christian subordinate! It shows them that we've lost, they've won, and our country has been conquered under the sign of the cross.  It shows leaders in our military and government that it is absolutely acceptable to disregard any non-Christian perspective because non-Christians don't defend themselves often enough. It shows them that today it is satisfactory to have our compatriots discharged from the military for refusing to recognize someone else's god and that tomorrow our marching orders might be convert or kill.

We are not so far removed from our past that a theocratic United States is an unfeasible future. The Constitution is just a set of ideas (poorly enforced and often disregarded) with no authority whatsoever if nobody stands to defend it. At the outset of this country, Americans committed a genocide against the Native American population. The United States supported slavery. It denied women suffrage. It put Japanese Americans in internment camps. There is one thing that each of these events have in common. Each of them was legal under the laws of our government. If those things typify what is possible under our Constitution, I have to ask if you feel that our future is secure. Each year, millions of dollars are spent in campaigns with millions of supporters to push this country towards theocracy. How far will it have to go to push you over the edge into action? Fortunately, for the time being, we are relatively safe. I've spoken out more times than I can count and haven't had the slightest physical injury from it. I've been degraded and disrespected, lost friends, and been threatened, sure, but how much longer will that be the only cost of stepping up? It might seem like the smallest thing in the world right now, but if nobody stands up, everyone is run over together. I'm encouraging you to exercise your civic duties, demonstrate your patriotism, and prove your courage.

By asking you to follow through on seeing these issues resolved, I'm not asking you to do anything you haven't already sworn an oath to do. I'm certainly not asking you to do anything I haven't done a dozen times myself and wouldn't do a thousand times again if given the opportunity. I'm asking you to use the system of redress already in place to see these issues resolved. If you need assistance in filing an EO or IG complaint, I'm more than willing to walk with you into that office as I've done before alone and with other MRFF clients. We can't fight this in the courts until you dig deep and decide you care more about the liberty of your posterity than your temporary comfort. Feel free to give me a call or e-mail me at any time. Contact info is below.

Sincerely,

Blake A. Page
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Special Assistant to the President
Director of West Point Affairs

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).

Let's perform a quick exercise here. Imagine that you're just walking into work on a Monday morning and your manager wants to talk to you. Thanking you for the fine work you've been doing up until this point, your manager informs you that your reliability is in question – along with your continued success, and very future, at the company. In fact, you learn, management suspects that you're a vain, wishy-washy, and rather empty-headed member of the team who's undeserving of trust. Bewildered at the sudden questioning of your integrity, your boss tells you that you can turn it all around, regain trust, and continue your workday after placing your hand on a leather-bound religious book and stating a simple oath along the lines of "There is no god but Allah," or "I Accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior."

Surely this nightmare is the product of some far-flung, back-water and oppressed land, right? ISIS territory, perhaps? That could never happen in the United States, the beacon of religious freedom and human rights. . . or could it?

Regrettably, this truly horrific scenario is indeed the case within the United States Air Force (USAF). Just the other day, the USAF public affairs office at the Pentagon informed the world that "Reciting 'So help me God' in its official reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under 10 U.S.C. §502". In short, you had better repent and swear your oath to "God" or be gone. Interestingly, that just cited U.S. Code provision (which the Air Force is pathetically using to support its "sorry, our hands are tied" position of abject cowardice here) also makes it clear that armed forces members may "affirm", in lieu of swearing, this enlistment or commissioning oath. When one "affirms" such an oath of office, there is NO need to "swear" to "God" to do so. Such is the very distinction between "swearing and affirming." 10 U.S.C. §502 allows either to be done by the enlisting or commissioning Air Force member. The USAF's transparent duplicity and specious motivations for basing its new decision to force service members to swear to God are dangerous, disingenuous and despicable.

One airman based at Creech Air Force base in Nevada learned about this renewed religious requirement the hard way. He was informed that unless he speaks and signs the religious oath, his days as an airman are through. "So help me God" isn't optional anymore. It is now a basic condition of Air Force enlistment.

The oft-repeated and much vaunted core values of the U.S. Air Force are, ostensibly: (1) Integrity First; (2) Service Before Self; and, (3) Excellence in All We Do. One must ask – when airmen are asked to take an oath that's unambiguously untrue from their own perspective of personal belief, where's the "integrity"? Why should service members, who've already made the weighty decision to place their well-being, freedom, and safety on the line, also be coerced into religious submission and humiliation via the forced repetition of religious oaths that egregiously contradict their own core beliefs as individuals? Perhaps, for the sake of verity and consistency, the first core value of USAF should be altered to "Integrity Last."

Under such a tyrannical regime of theological oppression, even selfless heroes such as the late U.S. Army Corporal Pat Tillman, whose atheism was well know, would be deemed unfit for service in our nation's armed forces. Is the lunacy of this USAF stupidity really that hard to see? Will the USAF actually have to be dragged into federal court before it acknowledges its disgusting position of religious extremism here?

Whatever the USAF core values might be, such reprehensible examples of blatant religious coercion fly in the face of the Constitution of the United States of America and an enormous amount of related Constitutional case law stretching back at least 125 years. Indeed, the bulk of the First Amendment is devoted to our guaranteed freedom of religion (or freedom therefrom, if one so chooses). There is the Establishment Clause, which explicitly prohibits compulsory religious oaths, and then there is the Free Exercise Clause, which prevents a person from having to submit to coerced practices and affirmations of a scathingly sectarian nature. Let us neither forget the "No Religious Test" mandate of Clause 3, Article VI of the Constitution which, by itself, would be wholly dispositive here of the USAF's vile iniquity. Indeed, the issue of religious oaths has long been settled via bedrock legal precedents fortifying Constitutional equal protection which formidably underscores the already unequivocal guarantees laid out in our Constitution.

The case law is so universally settled in this precise area that even actors who play lawyers on TV or in the movies could win this one in court.

Of course, for some, that pesky document serving so ably as the inalienable foundation of the Law of the Land throughout the United States, merely comprises an obnoxious obstacle that stands in the way of the sectarian agendas of fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism and supremacy. This disingenuous evangelical, fundamentalist Fifth Column loves to hide behind phrases like "family," "Judeo-Christian," "values" and "tradition" to disguise their ignoble goal, which remains the absolute theological takeover of the Pentagon, White House, and Capitol Hill.

The civil rights foundation that I lead, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), has fought tooth-and-nail against these and similar manifestations of the theocratic, Christo-fascist tsunami within the U.S. Military. Over 38,200 service members, civilian personnel, and armed service veterans have reached out to us for help with grievances running the gamut from disrespectful spiritual denigration and marginalization to what can only be described as outright religious and/or spiritual rape. In fact, last year we refuted the lie that "So Help Me God" is some sacred legacy of the George Washington-era Officer's Oath, and our civil rights struggle successfully led the Air Force to state that the oath would be optional. Tragically, now the USAF has reversed its prior decision and reinstated the unconstitutional, mandatory oath.

"Freedom isn't free," or so we hear, and this maxim certainly is the case within the service branches of the U.S. Military. However, why should our brave service members be asked to sacrifice and destroy their pride, integrity, honor and character and waive their basic Constitutional freedom to choose their god or not?  Mandating that re-enlistment oaths must include "So Help Me God" merely institutionalizes religious exclusivism and brutally imposes severely deleterious repercussions on airman morale, good order, unit cohesion and discipline. Further it erects a de facto "Constitution-Free Zone" within the Air Force that nefariously nullifies the Constitution's First Amendment and Article VI. Less importantly, it also directly contradicts the prohibition of oaths mentioned in the New Testament. In Matthew 5:33-37, which is an important part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, it clearly states: "Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne. But let your communication be, Yea, Nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."

I guess the Air Force would have rejected Jesus as well?

The United States Navy is equipped to take down any enemy around the globe and is, by far, the most formidable seaborne fighting force known in the history of humankind. It’s larger than the next 13 navies of other countries combined, and no credible military threat exists on the planet that’s capable of realistically surmounting the massive killing capacity of the American fleet. Why, then, does such a feared force slink away in abject cowardice when it comes to upholding the U.S. Uniformed Services sworn Constitutional oath which all officers and NCOs are bound to solemnly affirm? Aren’t all armed forces personnel bound by the once-sacrosanct commitment to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic? 

Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. This truly pathetic state of affairs was illustrated just late yesterday (August 14, 2014) by the abrupt and exceedingly wretched capitulation by the U.S. Navy to the shadowy forces of domestic religious extremism. Indeed, the powerful Christian fundamentalist lobby has successfully fought to make Gideons Bibles a permanent, proselytizing fixture in the global network of U.S. Navy-administered, federally funded, military installation lodging facilities or hotels.

The drama played out earlier this week when a critically important directive from senior Navy leadership was initially made public. This new Navy order, announced by Naval Exchange Service Commander (NEXCOM) Rear Admiral Robert J. Bianchi, stipulated that Gideons Bibles would no longer be allowed in the rooms of the 34 Naval Lodges and 24,000 rooms at Navy Gateway Inns and Suites located throughout the entirety of the United States Navy. The removal came after a complaint was submitted by our allies at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) – NOT to be confused with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the civil rights organization that I lead. 

However, almost immediately after Admiral Bianchi’s Constitutionally laudable directive had been announced, the all too predictable and abominable refrain of a faux “war on Christianity” rang fully throughout the Dominionist Christian echo chamber. Quite expectedly, once the Navy’s senior leadership caught wind of the disingenuous cry that “Lord Jesus had a hard time getting a room at the inn, and now, His Holy Word will no longer be welcome either,” they "turned about” 180 degrees and took off like terrified terriers with their tails between their scrambling legs. The Navy suddenly reversed its merely 3-day-old prior decision and is now “temporarily” placing the Bibles back in the lodges while it takes a breather to figure out what the final "new policy" going forward will be. Uh huh. Yeah, let’s just call it what it is: C-O-W-A-R-D-I-C-E!

Sure, the re-placement of the Gideons Bibles is “temporary.” If you believe that, then I’ve got a beach bungalow in Mosul, Iraq to sell you.

As the frontline civil rights force ensuring Constitutional compliance within the byzantine, insular and xenophobic culture of the U.S. Military, MRFF has been fighting for the removal of the Gideons Bibles from all service branches' installation Lodges for the better part of the last decade. In 2012 MRFF succeeded in forcing the DoD to remove official U.S. Military emblems from the Holman Military Bibles being sold in military base exchanges worldwide. MRFF knows all too well the ultra-tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic nature of our nation’s military “ethnicity.” We’ve received literally hundreds of these specific complaints from MRFF clients every year about the unsolicited planting of these Gideons Bibles. MRFF's years of aggressive advocacy to remove these Gideons Bibles from armed forces base lodges likely aided nontrivially in the passage of the initial directive, which followed the formal complaint courageously submitted by the FRFF. Considering the foregoing, you can appreciate the absurd headline of one fundamentalist Christian article regarding the issue: “Mikey Weinstein Strikes Again!”

Of course, our problem isn’t with the New Testament Bible or any other revered text of faith or of even no faith. Indeed, our problem is with the purposeful and brutal destruction of the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal organization ever created; the United States armed forces. There should be absolutely no confusion between the right to freely exercise one’s religious faith and the right of powerful sectarian interest groups like the pernicious Family Research Council and the American Family Association (both officially designated as hate groups by the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center) to lobby for the official establishment of a "national religion”… and you guessed it right, that national religion would be fundamentalist (or dominionist) evangelical Christianity.

It is just incontestable that there exists an obvious, insuperable proselytizing advantage afforded this vicious and twisted perversion of an otherwise most noble faith by the omnipresence of the Gideons Bibles at TAXPAYER-FUNDED Navy Lodges. This illicit bonanza for fundamentalist Christianity is a literally crystal clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which is precisely why the original Naval directive to remove the Gideons Bibles was absolutely correct as a matter of law. MRFF, along with our client base of tens of thousands of United States military members and veterans, would have been similarly incensed if, rather than Gideons Bibles, the Navy-run lodges carried the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hebrew Scriptures, Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, or similar material of an exclusivist religious, atheistic, or sectarian nature.

Additionally, by ONLY making available Gideons Bibles, the U.S. Navy was also brazenly violating two bedrock DoD regularity directives which (1) strictly prohibit the provision of a selective benefit to and/or (2) endorsing a non-Federal Entity, like Gideons International, which is singularly devoted to evangelizing the New Testament. This concept is simple. For example, DoD cannot endorse Burger King over McDonalds or Crest over Colgate. There is, however, no separation between "hamburger and state" nor "toothpaste and state" in our Constitution.

That said, how in the hell could DoD endorse one fundamentalist version of extremist Christianity over all other Christian denominational sects, not to mention non-Christian and non-faith communities? Easy answer; DoD cannot do such a thing. Yet it just did, and has been doing so for decades now!

Unfortunately, we’ve grown used to the weapons-grade Constitutional cowardice displayed by the Pentagon. DoD always ignobly runs for cover at light speed when Christian extremist “Chicken Littles” squawk about the “falling skies” of so-called religious repression due to alleged “Christian victimization". Listen up now; there IS no Christian victimization. There is only "Christian equalization”. Now, previously (unconstitutionally) privileged Christian fundamentalists have to share their toys with everyone else. And they sure don’t like it, do they? The usual rogues’ gallery of theocratic, fundamentalist Christian parachurch monstrosities, along with their bootlicker Congressional lapdogs, has a direct and unfettered line to the Pentagon. They possess an unmatched ability to frighten and cow the top DoD brass into a compliant, pathetically supine state of “Stepford Wife” blind obedience. Damn the torpedoes and Constitution, full proselytizing speed ahead!

This horrifying national security threat begs the question: what are Americans prepared to do about the surging evangelical fundamentalist Christian coup which threatens to subsume the United States military?

I will suggest this for an answer; fight back against these Christian fundamentalist terrorists with every fiber of our collective beings and to the full limits of our legal, ethical and moral ability to do so...as if our very lives depended upon it. 

Because they do.

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).

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a civil rights organization founded in 2005 to combat unconstitutional proselytizing in the U.S. Armed Forces, I don’t shock easily. However, a recent, truly SHOCKING allegation and charge by the American Family Association’s "Director of Issues Analysis" Bryan Fischer has parachuted well beyond the realm of error, landing roughly along the porous frontier separating blithering idiocy from criminal insanity. This fundamentalist Christian monster is a liar and I will prove it.

Recently, devastating reports dating back to 2010 have shown that athletes at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) have participated in wild benders off campus involving binge drinking, drug use, sexual assaults, gang rapes and all manners of debauchery unbecoming of Academy cadets (indeed, unbecoming of human beings). Investigations at USAFA (which is my alma mater and the alma mater of four of my children) implicated 32 cadets, half of whom were football players and three of whom were later court-martialed and expelled. This news comes after the Academy was humiliated by a report released in January 2014 which showed that a massive 45 reports of sexual assaults came from USAFA in 2012-2013, compared to 15 at the U.S. Naval Academy and 10 at West Point.

Many of us can see that the problem is rooted in a breakdown in good order, morale, unit cohesion and discipline among the ranks of cadets, as well as a USAFA campus culture long permeated in blistering misogyny and poisonous religious fundamentalism. Bryan Fischer proposes a different "theory": the fault lies with yours truly, Mikey Weinstein.
In a recent article posted on Renew America, a so-called "grassroots" website founded by perennial electoral loser and Christian supremacist Alan Keyes, Fischer made the appallingly spurious claim that my constitutional advocacy is directly at fault for the oath-shattering epidemic of wild partying and sexual assault at the Academy.

Why is that?

Back in 2004, before MRFF even existed, ex-USAFA Football Coach Fisher DeBerry gleefully hung a banner in the locker room of USAFA’s football team, the Fighting Falcons. The banner bore a "motivational slogan" of a clearly sectarian nature, reading "I am a Christian first and last… I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." Seriously, folks, I can’t make this up.

Cadets, staff and faculty at USAFA were livid, and for good reason. For many, this represented the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back at a USAFA campus that had earned a deservedly deplorable reputation for being a hotbed of Christian fundamentalist dominance and fanatical religious bigotry. One year later, while we may have well made obvious note of DeBerry’s nefarious action of Christian crusading at taxpayer expense, it would have been merely one among many religious assaults on the USAFA campus, clearly denoted in a lawsuit we filed against the United States Air Force.

Fast-forward nearly a decade, and not only has the reprehensible Christian supremacy persisted at the Academy, but we at MRFF are dealing with a constant stream of death threats and related grotesquely lurid messages, imprecatory prayers, and spurious allegations emanating from brimstone-tinged, rabid hatemongers. Bryan Fischer’s words fall deeply and quite deliberately into this category:

When the light of the world is removed, the world — including the locker rooms of football teams — is plunged into moral and spiritual darkness.

Bottom line: there is a solution to the Air Force Academy’s problems. Remove the cause — Mikey Weinstein and his atheistic trouble-making — and find another coach like Fisher DeBerry and turn him loose to bring the spirit of Christ back to the Academy.

I can flat out guarantee you that rapes will diminish, drug use will diminish, and cheating on tests will diminish. And the Academy will regain some of its lost luster. Your move, Air Force.

What is this idiot Fischer saying here? Well, besides the dog-whistle call for my "removal," what we have is a claim that the glorious "Bryan Fischer-DeBerry Christian gospel" should be compulsorily forced on USAFA cadets. Otherwise, we can expect cadets to continue to rape, pillage, abuse drugs, and cheat on tests (and, according to Bryan Fischer, you can thank ME for it). These grossly base and vile lies from Bryan Fischer are akin to the claim that without racist white folks serving as a moral compass for people of color they won’t survive, or without heterosexuals leading gays, the LGBT community faces certain doom. Whether Fischer agrees with THOSE sentiments is a matter of speculation, but we wouldn’t be surprised if that turned out to be the case.

Let’s talk about timeline, shall we? I might add, at this point, that it is most critical to recall the initial USAFA rape and sexual assault scandal hit the national and international media like a cyclone and went viral way back in 2003, when the world learned that a mind-blowing 70% of female cadets reported sexual harassment and 12% were victims of rape. This was a YEAR BEFORE I began my active fight against the fundamentalist Christian tyranny at USAFA and essentially TWO years before MRFF was even founded. USAFA’s fundamentalist football coach, Mr. DeBerry, ignobly hung around for another FOUR years after that initial rape and sexual assault scandal! How do ANY of these actual, verifiable facts support the reckless lies and accusations of Bryan Fischer that I’m somehow to blame for USAFA’s ongoing rape and sexual assault disgrace?

This is far from the first time that Fischer has uttered such odious falsehoods and nonsense – it’s not without reason that his organization, the American Family Association, is listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s index of domestic hate groups alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations. Fischer has described gay sex as "domestic terrorism," he has bandied about the foul trope that homosexuality and pedophilia are directly linked, and he’s called for kidnapping the children of same-sex parents through an "Underground Railroad." Want more? Ok, in addition to calling for the removal of ALL American Muslims from the U.S. Armed Forces, last year Fischer ludicrously claimed that the U.S. military is preparing to wage war on evangelical Christians, who "may have to be neutralized by lethal force."

Fischer’s words may be outrageous, dangerous, and laced with reckless disregard of any veracity, but he is far from alone in his putrid Christian extremism – and many of his ilk enjoy privileged positions throughout the U.S. military, including at USAFA. In fact, central to the dominionist Christian strategy to affect a complete takeover of the U.S. Military has been the frenetic fundamentalism at USAFA. Our client base at USAFA alone currently consists of 387 cadet, faculty and staff MRFF clients, 312 of whom are practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics. As a result of MRFF’s steadfast efforts of civil rights activism, the USAFA campus has been the site of a raging battle between the forces of secular, Constitutional democracy and superstitious, theocratic Christian fundamentalist extremism.

We at MRFF are proud to have won many significant constitutional victories at USAFA and throughout the entirety of the Department of Defense (DoD). It seems that Bryan Fischer is not a fan of MRFF's ceaseless advocacy. His liar’s voice is one among many in a twisted choir of fear and visceral loathing summoned by our defense of the civil rights of our brave war-fighters, cadets, faculty, veterans, and DoD civilian personnel. More than a decade of experience in our bitter struggle against fundamentalist Christian fanatics and bullies in our nation’s armed forces has taught us all too well that the degree of our success can be measured by the preposterously false, over-the-top attacks publicly launched against us.

Let the record show that fundamentalist Christian monster Bryan Fischer is a liar, and I have now proven it.

 

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).

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).