Are you communists?

 

Attn: Staff of Military Religious Freedom,
You are probably ignorant to our constitution that guarantees our religious freedom.  It is sickening the way you try to intimidate our soldiers.  I have to question your true motives.  Are you trying to destroy our military, our country or both?
You claim to be for the constitution and the flag but I don’t see it.  What I see is an intolerance reminiscent of Stalin and Mao.
So I ask you, Are you a communist?
(name withheld)

 


 

Hi (name withheld) –

Thanks for writing with your questions, which I’m happy to answer… as background, I’m a lifelong, active Christian, USAF Academy graduate (’85), and a USAF veteran, in addition to being a staunch MRFF supporter.
———————————————
Your questions and my answers —
“Are you trying to destroy our military, our country or both?”
None of the above.  Our sole focus (and our only “true motive”) is to help ensure that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Part of that focus is to expect that all military leaders, especially those at the most senior level, are cognizant of their professional obligations and that they act appropriately.

“Are you a communist?”
No, we are not.  In fact, I’d argue that the people I’ve come to know who support the efforts of the MRFF are some of the most patriotic, America-loving people that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  A significant number of us are current and former military, including many combat veterans.  Quite frankly, you won’t find a more red-white-and-blue crowd anywhere.
———————————————
As to your comment that we “are probably ignorant to [sic] our constitution that guarantees our religious freedom”…. also not the case.  We understand Constitutional issues very well, and we also understand documents such as AFI 1-1, which provides guidance to USAF leaders with regard to how they are to balance their individual rights with their military obligations.
i assume you were motivated to write based on the recent media reports about Maj Gen Olson’s appearance as a recent NDP Task Force event.  If so, then some background may be helpful to you, since it would appear that conservative media outlets are not bothering to report things as accurately and completely as they should —
First, you should know that the MRFF is neither anti-God nor anti-religion.  Many, in fact the majority, of MRFF supporters and clients are people faith, including me (as I’ve already mentioned).  We do not oppose any particular religion beliefs.
Second, you should know that we fully support Maj Gen Olson’s right to his religious beliefs, as well as his right to express those beliefs in an appropriate time, place, and manner.
So if both of those points are true (which they are), then why have we objected so strongly to Gen Olson’s speech?
The key issue with Maj Gen Olson’s participation in the NDP Task Force event is that he did it in an inappropriate manner, one which I believe is a pretty obvious violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 which governs the actions of all USAF leaders in this area.  It may help to read the specific guidance in that AFI:
“2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause – Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.”
There are two important things to take away from that paragraph.  First, military leaders do not possess an unfettered right to free expression of their religious beliefs at any time, in any place, or in any manner.  So, all of the commentary that is flying about claiming that Maj Gen Olson has an absolute First Amendment right to do so is uninformed and incorrect.
Second, the final sentence of Section 2.12 is critically important.  Please take a moment to read that sentence, then reflect upon the particulars of the General’s speech at the NDP Task Force event
— He appeared in full uniform
— He did not make any statement to suggest that he was speaking strictly as an individual and not as a USAF leader
— Most seriously, at the end of his speech he expressed a belief that the Defense Department, and all US troops, all should “depend on Christ”     (as an aside… how do you think that went over with the many non-Christians in Maj Gen Olson’s chain of command?)
Put it all together, and he was over the line that is plainly described in AFI 1-1 for all USAF leaders.
So again, the issue is not that he spoke about his faith — it’s that he did so in a manner that conflated his personal views with his official position, and that was inappropriate.  Most of the static that we’re hearing in emails, and that I’m seeing on websites where this issue is being discussed, is driven by the misconception that the MRFF is opposed to Olson’ s Christian beliefs.  That is NOT the case.  As a Christian and former USAF officer myself, I understand very well the sentiment that he expressed in his speech — but again, the specific content of what he shared is not the issue.
Personally, I’m glad that Maj Gen Olson has such strong, heartfelt beliefs.  But I’m sad that he didn’t take the time to consider how the manner in which he appeared at this event might be construed, and that he didn’t take more care to ensure a clear delineation between his personal religious beliefs and his professional obligations.
Thanks again for writing.
Peace,
Mike Challman
Christian, USAFA graduate, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

Mike,
Thank you for actually answering my e-mail.  That was a pleasant surprise.  I have just one follow up question: was his offense so serious as to have your organization wants to kick the Major General out of the military?  That seems extreme to me.
What concerns me is that people who have dedicated their lives to serving this country are being drummed out of the military for offenses that are hardly worthy of their removal or demotion.
Thanks and peace to you too.

(name withheld)


Hi (name withheld) –

Thanks to you, as well.  I appreciate the follow-up question, which I’m happy to answer very directly and honestly.  Mikey Weinstein himself would tell you, if you asked, that during the time that I’ve been involved with the MRFF, the single aspect of our efforts that occasionally causes me some discomfort is the harsh rhetoric that is often emblematic of our public pronouncements.
But make no mistake, I have no issue with the nature or validity of the concerns that are raised. Whatever discomfort I feel derives more from a matter of personal style than anything else. I am my father’s son — he was a very gentle and unassuming man who never raised his voice.
As for Maj Gen Olson, there is no question that there should be some punishment for what he did. He seems like a very bright guy, so I’m sure he knows exactly what AFI 1-1 says…but for some reason, I guess he decided that it didn’t apply to him.
Peace,
Mike

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