We at MRFF receive an enormous amount of email both from our supporters and our detractors. MRFF’s Inbox allows us to share these emails with you. The following is a MRFF client report on the ongoing trend of unconstitutional proselytization attempts:
From: USAF Fighter Pilot’s E-Mail Address Withheld
Subject: Re: USAF Squadron Officer School (SOS) Encounters
Date: April 13, 2012 7:42:20 AM MDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Having kept a close relationship with your family for years, I’ve also been a supporter of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) since its inception. As you know, I am a 200X USAF Academy grad and an F-XX fighter pilot, having served X combat tours in XXXXXX. During my X years as a commissioned officer in the AF, I have witnessed the egregious and flagrant disrespect of our Constitution and the essence of military service by officers/leaders of all ranks. However, I can say that most of my encounters with religious intolerance and unlawful proselytizing have been as a spectator. And while I am not coming to you as a client with a specific injustice forced upon me, I would like to share a recent (and likely ongoing) experience. I am currently TDY to Squadron Officers School (SOS) at Maxwell AFB, AL. The academic environment of the school allows for free exchange of ideas between students and instructors in a non-retributional setting.
During one of our class settings, the instructor led a discussion about spiritual wellness. To begin, the instructor handed out a copy of Gen Schwartz’s memo on religious neutrality – almost nobody in the room even knew that this document existed. As you might expect, the conversation quickly turned into a debate about the place of religion in the military. Most of the students remained quiet and out of the crossfire. I found out later that many simply felt uncomfortable about even discussing any overtly religious subjects despite their religious beliefs. I found myself as the sole defender of the idea that commanders should not and cannot support one religion over another while in uniform – and especially when in a command position. To the several engaged in the discussion, this seemed to be a foreign and repulsive idea. The instructor did not engage in the discussion, but simply sat and listened – neither in support or against any position. At every position I took to explain that commanders cannot show that they have preference or appear to have preference towards a particular religion while exercising their official position, a select few of the students strongly rebutted. Responses of ardent declarations of officers’ right to display their religion in dealings with subordinates and in official functions came as a shocking revelation that multitudes of young AF officers do not respect the separation of church and state. I immediately brought up the fact that the US government has clearly established a separation of church and state over and over again and that military members are first responsible to the constitution before their religion while wearing the uniform. This once again was taken as a threat towards the students’ ability to freely exercise their religion. I responded with a hopeful remark to remind them that Gen Schwartz’s memo on the stance of government neutrality towards religion should not be seen as a threat to their ability to exercise religion, but as a right to religious freedom for all military members. I further explained through anecdotes that this is only possible when leaders put aside their personal religion/spiritual beliefs when in a command position and in uniform. The tone of the room continued to seethe, and the instructor ended the discussion without any resolution.
The next afternoon, there was a briefing from a panel of briefers in the main auditorium to the approximately 800 students. Among the panel to answer the audience’s questions about wellness, was a chaplain – a Captain, just like everybody in the audience. A question was presented to the chaplain asking how he addresses commanders who see Gen Schwartz’s memorandum on religious neutrality as a threat to their freedom instead of a foundation for the equal freedom of all airmen. I was excited to hear the response from the chaplain, but was unfortunately disappointed. The chaplain spent approximately 2 minutes avoiding the question by talking about how happy he was to be here and reminding the audience that the chaplaincy was a great resource like a game show host might pump up the audience. Once he finally approached the question, he did so by dancing around it and finally landing on a statement which left me in disbelief. He stated that it is a commander’s prerogative and duty to guide airmen under their command through their spiritual journey. I was flabbergasted to hear that in response to a question about how commanders must remain neutral with regard to religion, the chaplain answered that it is a commander’s JOB to guide their subordinates through a spiritual journey…..!!??
Both my experience in the classroom and in the auditorium were clear examples that many officers both young and old do not have a grasp on the critical and constitutional reality that members of the military cannot engage in actions that pressure religious ideals on others. Military officers are actors of the state and must answer to the constitution while holding office, not to their particular flavor of religion. I have tried hard to instill in my classmates that I celebrate their freedom to exercise their religion – but that their immovable stance is a hindrance on everybody else’s freedoms. I only get responses that the constitution does not actually state the separation of church and state and that court precedent is a flawed system. It is difficult to respond to such idiotic and unfounded remarks, but I will not stand down. I’m not turning myself into a martyr or making some sort of scene to find my way on to a soapbox, but I will not allow these statements to go unanswered. I cannot stand by when my peers are so incredibly out of line from the lawful practices of what is expected of a military officer. I might not have the ability to speak so frankly to the colonels and generals above me, but I can speak strongly towards other captains who will one day be those colonels and generals.
Mikey, thank you for your unending support and the knowledge that the MRFF will have my back in all of my battles no matter how big or small.
Your faithful friend and supporter,
Captain XXXX XXXXX, (USAF Fighter Pilot’s military unit and installation withheld)
MRFF Needs Your Constant Vigilance to Uncover Unconstitutional Religious Incursions in the Military
The constitutional violations occurring in our military are so numerous and widespread
that we can’t possibly find all of them ourselves. MRFF counts on its supporters and volunteers — the indispensable “eyes and ears” who alert us to everything from the most egregious of constitutional violations to articles we might be interested in.
So, keep the emails coming, and never think that anything is too insignificant or assume
that we might already know about it. You never know — you might have stumbled into the
next bombshell of a story and not even realize it.
Please report anything that may be of concern to: firstname.lastname@example.org