Concern that your organization is going beyond the mark

Hello,
I am a military wife, and a devoted, active Latter Day Saint. I agree with your organizations’ desire to protect our military members, no matter what their religious beliefs, from unwanted pressure from others to participate in religious activities, or to be able to practice their own religion. However, I do feel that your organization is going beyond the mark in recent activities. As reported on many news networks, your organization was involved in the asked removal of a nativity from Shaw Air Force Base. In your own organization’s Mission Statement, you say, and I quote –

“However, MRFF believes that religious faith is a Constitutionally guaranteed freedom that must never be compromised, except in the most limited of military circumstances, because of its fundamental importance to the preservation of the American nation and the American way of life.”

Is your organization aware that not only active duty military personnel live at Shaw AFB, but also their families? Is it your organization’s belief that asking for the removal of the nativity was not compromising their Constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion? Surely, a community display is hardly a situation that you would label as “a most limited of military circumstances”, and so I ask, why ask to compromise the freedom of religion in this circumstance?
As reported, the base gave ample opportunity for all religious groups to set up displays. If some them chose not to set up displays, should it be cause to disallow the one to display their holiday decoration?
Your group’s leader, Michael Weinstein contacted the Pentagon over this holiday display, filing a complaint about it. Again, I will quote your group’s Mission Statement –

“No member of the military may be compelled to curtail – except in the most limited of military circumstances and when it directly impacts military discipline, morale and the successful completion of a specific military goal – the free exercise of their religious practices or beliefs.”
Does the erection of a religious holiday display fall under that category? Is it impacting military discipline, moral or the successful completion of a specific military goal? I cannot see how a nativity set up by a community lake could possible do so, and so I wonder why Mr. Weinstein felt it necessary to act in such a way as to compel this group to remove their display.
Was it merely the location of the nativity that warranted this complaint? I am indeed grateful that this religious group was allowed to set up their display at an alternate location. I do find it troubling that they were asked to move it at all though, and again, I feel that your organization has gone beyond the mark, as far as its purported Mission is concerned.
How would your organization have responded, had you been contacted, and asked to help protect this religious groups’ right to display a nativity? Has your group ever worked to protect a military member’s right to exercise his or her religion? I would love to hear about any such situations.
Thank you for your work in cases where military members’ religious freedoms are truly being suppressed, or when they are truly being pressured to join in religious practices that go against their own beliefs. I hope to hear back about the questions I have asked in this email, so I can better understand the true nature of your organization.
– Sincerely,

(name withheld)


Dear (name withheld),

Mikey has read your email and asked me to respond on his and MRFF’s behalf.

I am a Christian (Episcopalian in fact) who fully supports Mikey’s and MRFF’s attempt to protect members of the U.S. Military from unconstitutional religious influence in relation to their training, assignment, advancement and retention. MRFF does not take action unilaterally. MRFF’s actions are only taken as a result of a fully vetted client complaint regarding inappropriate religious intrusion.

Although I am not a military veteran myself, Mikey and many members of MRFF such as its Advisory Board (https://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/about/foundation-voices/) are veterans. As such, we are well aware that many live on Shaw AFB other than active duty military personnel.

You’ve asked “Was it merely the location of the nativity that warranted this complaint”? The answer is simple and straightforward; yes. Just as there are time/place/manner restrictions on 1st Amendment free-speech (i.e. no campaigning in close proximity to polling places), there are time/place/manner restrictions on religious freedoms. Particularly those supported in some way by taxpayer funded government interests. Where a Chapel is present on a military installation, that is the proper time/place/manner for religious displays. MRFF feels the same about displays from any religion on military installations…not just my chosen religion of Christianity and or our vast majority status.

In regards to your point that “As reported, the base gave ample opportunity for all religious groups to set up displays”, it should be quite obvious that ample opportunity has always existed at the Shaw AFB Chapel facility and grounds. The following is taken from an email received by MRFF on 12/12/2013 from an active duty military member currently stationed at Shaw AFB:
My spouse and I and a number of others (we’re all practicing Christians of some type or another) who are clients of the MRFF in my Fighter Sq. just wanted to say thank you for stepping up here. The level of ignorance about religious matters and the regs and even the Constitution is just so hard to believe here in the Fighter Wing. Not much better in other places I’ve been stationed. If you try to say something you will be ostracized and it will stick and follow you all over the Air Force.
We’ve just been told that the “new and improved” Nativity display will be going up on the base chapel grounds at noon today. About an hour from now. That’s where it should always have been.

Community Mikey and MRFF fully supports the well funded and publicly maintained Military Chaplaincy in their ministrations (without proselytization) to all personnel who seek their assistance.

Peace be with you,
Andy Kasehagen

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