1/31/14 STARS AND STRIPES – ‘Wingman Day’ video dropped; sides differ on reasons

Selected Article Excerpts:

  • WASHINGTON — Spurred by protests, commanders at Little Rock Air Force Base have dumped a video marriage-enhancement course, saying the program by an Evangelical Christian group focused only on heterosexual marriage at a time when the military is moving to accept same-sex marriage as well.
  • …the spiritual aspect of those wellness programs — which the services say is nondenominational — has drawn complaints from servicemembers who charge it allows commanders to promote specific religious viewpoints, particularly those of Evangelicals and conservative Christians.
  • The change was prompted by complaints from at least one airman to the chain of command, as well as an intervention by Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a crusader against what he characterizes as undue influence on the military by conservative Christian groups.Weinstein dismissed the Air Force’s explanation, saying officials were trying to make a “tar baby” of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered troops.

    “They’re saying, ‘Look, they made us do it,’” he said. “They really did this because it would have been illegal for them to force people to watch that video.”

    A spokeswoman for the Arkansas base said cancellation was not because the program was produced by an Evangelical group, but because its target audience was too narrow.

    “We wanted to make sure it was inclusive of all relationships, to include same-sex relationships,” said 2nd Lt. Amanda Porter.

  • Even when there were only Christian options, airmen felt pressure to attend the spiritually focused events and were told attendance would be tracked, said an airman at Little Rock who contacted Weinstein to seek representation.

    “There were no alternatives, no others,” the airman said. “Basically it seemed like they were saying if you want to have a healthy marriage, you have to be a Christian of a certain sort.”

    Weinstein said 25 aggrieved airmen got in touch with them, almost all of them Christians. He followed up with calls to the base and to officials at the Pentagon to charge that the situation violated troops’ religious freedom as well as Pentagon policies against proselytization.

    “It’s great that the Air Force did the right thing and fixed this,” he said. “It’s bad that we had to hold a gun to their head in order to get them to do it.”

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