empathy

Dear Mr. Weinstein:

At first, I was quite taken aback that someone with such intelligence, military upbringing, and such patriotism as yourself, does not understand the constitution or American history. You quote of “one religious scripture: the American Constitution”, yet you do not understand it. Our Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This country was founded on freedom of religion, amongst other liberties. Our first soldiers fought for this. We have freedom of religion, which means a wonderful thing: people get to choose what faith of which they can partake, or as in the atheists’ case, no religious beliefs. We all have to respect one another’s beliefs, not embrace them.

By bringing grievances about the U.S. Air Force Academy cadet’s personal white board scripture, you are violating his First Amendment right. You swore to uphold the Constitution, but are, in fact violating it. However, I am not writing to argue that. I am actually writing to empathize with you. God teaches us to love those with whom we have grievances. I am praying for peace in you because obviously there is a hurt you seem to possess so deeply in your heart, that you must lash out so vehemently at those who disagree with your position. I empathize because I was mad at God at different points in my life too. My mom died of cancer when I was 10 months old. I had a dysfunctional step-mother. My sister committed suicide at age 19. More recently, for the past four years, I have struggled financially (who hasn’t?) and was on the verge of bankruptcy. I get mad at God sometimes, because I don’t understand these trials. However, I have grown through each experience. There is another person I recall who had this same problem, his name was Saul, but now he is called Paul. Saul persecuted Christians too. In fact, he put them to death. Perhaps you have heard of him? Anyway, I pray for a Paul conversion in your life.

Sincerely,
(name withheld)


Dear (name withheld) –

Thank you for your note to MRFF; Mikey Weinstein has asked me to respond to you. I’m a volunteer who supports MRFF in a variety of ways, one of which is to help with email correspondence. It’s important to Mikey that everyone who writes to the organization receives a direct response. I am a Christian, a USAF Academy graduate, and an AF veteran.

I also want you to know how sorry I am to hear of the difficulties and losses that you have experienced in your life. Like you, I know how vital and comforting our faith is during the most trying of times. I have been a Christian my whole life, and I have looked to God for support and guidance during bad times and good times. You may be surprised to learn that most folks involved with MRFF are people of faith. What brings us together with other people of many beliefs, including no belief, is a desire to protect the religious freedom of all military members.

You are absolutely correct that the US Constitution protects the individual religious freedom of all Americans, including military members. That protection extends not only to Christians but also, as you rightly observe, to believers of all creeds and confessions, as well as to Americans who do not believe in God at all. None of us involved with MRFF would disagree with you on that point.

I’d ask you to consider that the second aspect of religious freedom found in the Bill of Rights, the Establishment Clause, is equally important.

It means…..

….. the government cannot favor one religion over others (or over non-belief).

….. the military, as a government entity, must be neutral on religion.

….. that military leaders must balance their individual right to religious freedom with their obligation to avoid “the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates,” as described in Air Force Instruction 1-1.

In other words, the cadet involved in the whiteboard incident, as a military leader, has agreed to abide by rules that limit the time, place and manner in which he can express his religious preference. While it might seem ironic, it is still true that when we agree to serve in the military, we also agree to surrender a certain amount of the rights to free expression that we enjoyed as civilians. We don’t sacrifice any rights to our individual religious beliefs — but we do agree to follow rules that define when and how those beliefs can be shared, especially with subordinates.

Ensuring that the rights of all military members are respected under these rules is the reason that MRFF exists; we’re not here to seek requital over some past hurt.

Finally, I appreciate your observation that Mikey is very passionate and forceful, even vehement about his beliefs. He is certainly all of those things. He is also an honorable man, and even though my own style is different than Mikey’s, I am proud to be his ally and friend.

Thanks again for writing.

Peace,

Mike Challman
Christian, USAFA graduate, AF veteran, MRFF supporter

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