ATTN: MICHAEL WEINSTEIN

 

I am disgusted and shocked that your anti-American organization would have the impudence to propose a court-martial for Maj. Gen. Craig Olson, the Air Force general who spoke about how God guided his career.
 
The 1st amendment to the Constitution is supposed to protect all Americans in their expression of personal religious beliefs.  We have freedom OF religion and freedom OF speech.  Not freedom FROM religion or speech.  By allowing this A.F. general to share what God means to him personally in no way indicates that Congress is establishing a religion based on his speech.
However, by suggesting that Maj. Gen. Olson be court-martialed your organizationis attempting to prohibit the free exercise of his religion & abridge the freedom of his speech – both protected by the Bill of Rights.  Maybe you should read the Constitution sometime instead of trying to re-write what it really says!
“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.”
(name withheld)

Dear (name withheld),

I am writing in response to your May 17, 2015 email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”).  I hope I can clarify the mission of MRFF and the principle of religious freedom.

 

As an initial matter, MRFF is not an “anti-American organization.”  As you correctly point out, the First Amendment protects religious expression and MRFF works tirelessly to protect this right for all soldiers, sailors, Marines, cadets, and veterans.  I will address MRFF’s demand regarding Major General Olson and how it furthers this mission below, but I first want to give you some more information about MRFF and its work.  MRFF receives several complaints every day from service members throughout the country who are suffering from religious discrimination or persecution.  These individuals practice many different religions and some practice no religion at all, but the overwhelming majority of MRFF clients (over 95%) are Christians who are accused by their superiors of being the “wrong type” of Christian (for example, Roman Catholic) or not being “Christian enough.”

 

One of the many ways the religious freedom of these men and women in uniform is infringed upon is wrongful proselytization or endorsement of a particular religion.  Your email did not include a rank or any other indication that you are a member of the military, so I assume that you have not served (if this assumption is incorrect, I sincerely apologize and thank you for your service).  As civilians, you and I both have the ability to speak up to defend ourselves if our supervisors discriminate against us based on our religious beliefs or attempt to coerce us into practicing any particular religion.  However, members of the military – particularly new and, therefore,  low-ranking members – do not enjoy this same ability because contradicting their superiors could have consequences that are much harsher than those we would face in our civilian jobs.  MRFF gives a voice to these service members so that the wrongful violation of religious freedom can be effectively addressed and corrected.

 

You quote the text of the First Amendment, so you are clearly aware that it prohibits both the encroachment on the exercise of religion and the establishment of any particular religion.  It should be noted that a violation of the Establishment Clause does not actually require any act by Congress, nor does it require the application of a particular law.  See Mellen v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2003) (addressing the question of whether a daily prayer before supper at the Virginia Military Institute violated the Establishment Clause).  See also Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577 (1992) (holding that the decision of a public school principal concerning an introductory prayer at graduation ceremonies was attributable to the State).

 

Instead, an act or policy of a government entity or person acting in the capacity of an agent of the government violates the Establishment Clause if any one of the following is shown: (1) its purpose is not secular; (2) its principal/primary effect either advances or inhibits religion; or (3) it fosters an excessive entanglement with religion.  Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).

 

This brings me to the speech given by Maj. Gen. Olson.  Maj. Gen. Olson is the Program Executive Officer for C31 and Networks at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.  He is also the highest-ranking officer there, leading 2,200 subordinate Air Force personnel.  In his speech, he admitted that he has neither the ability nor the training to perform his job:

 

“He put me in charge of failing programs worth billions of dollars.  I have no ability to do that – NO TRAINING TO DO THAT – God did all of that.

 

“He sent me to Iraq to negotiate foreign military sales; deals through an Arabic interpreter.  I have no ability to do that – I WAS NOT TRAINED TO DO THAT – God did all of that.

 

“I also went in as a very self-sufficient person.  I thought if you work hard you’ll do fine and that was working great in high school.  Did not work very well at the Air Force Academy.  That’s where I realized I had a very limited intellectual ability.

 

“I still carry in this pocket my transcript from the Air Force Academy – as Exhibit A in the court of law – that you’re not a gifted intellect; you have no real academic skills.”

 

In addition to admitting that he is not qualified for his own job, Maj. Gen. Olson requested that the audience pray for Defense Department leaders and for troops preparing to re-deploy.  While this request might be a perfectly acceptable expression of religion under some circumstances, he specifically stated that Defense Department leaders “need to humbly depend on Christ” and requested prayers for the troops so they can “bear through that by depending on Christ.”  Moreover, he made these statements in his official capacity as a military leader while wearing his uniform, thus giving the impression that his statements clearly endorsing Christianity over other religious beliefs were made on behalf of the Air Force.

 

It should also be noted that Maj. Gen. Olson was speaking at a National Day of Prayer Task Force event.  The mission of the National Day of Prayer Task Force is to mobilize the Christian Community “to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: government, military, media, business, education, church, and family.”  Therefore, he was speaking in his official capacity for a group whose sole purpose is to inject its own Christian beliefs into all areas of government, in direct violation of the Establishment Clause.  Consequently, Maj. Gen. Olson’s speech (1) had no secular purpose; (2) had the primary effect of advancing Christianity, while inhibiting the practice of any other religion; and (3) created an excessive entanglement with religion.

 

Maj. Gen. not only violated the Establishment Clause, he also violated USAF Instruction 1-1, Sec. 2.12: “Leaders at all levels…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.”  Pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the violation of a lawful regulation “shall be punished as a court martial may direct” (emphasis added).

 

Accordingly, although you claim that Maj. Gen. Olson’s speech “in no way indicates that Congress is establishing a religion,” the issue is not as black-and-white as simply focusing on the word “Congress” in the First Amendment.  As explained above, the Establishment Clause can be violated without any act of Congress.  By endorsing his own religious beliefs while acting in his capacity as a military leader, he essentially announced that members of the Air Force are expected to practice Christianity – particularly in light of his statements that other leaders need to humbly accept Christ into their lives, as opposed to requesting general prayers for guidance or protection.

 

This situation does not involve a service member merely expressing his own personal religious beliefs in support of God in a constitutionally permitted time, place, and manner.  As stated above, Maj. Gen. Olson is in command of 2,200 service members and he has made it clear that he expects them to accept and worship Christ.  Such a declaration can have very real consequences within the military.  By requesting that Maj. Gen. Olson be disciplined for his violation of the Establishment Clause and Air Force Regulations, MRFF does not seek to “prohibit the free exercise of his religion” or “abridge the freedom of his speech.”  It simply seeks to ensure that military leaders respect and adhere to the mandates of the Constitution for the protection and safety of those under their command.

 

I hope I have adequately explained the mission of MRFF and the sound legal basis supporting its demand for discipline against Maj. Gen. Olson.  If you have any further questions or concerns, I will be happy to address them.

 

Blessed be,

 

Tobanna Barker

MRFF Volunteer

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