Freedom of Religion

To Whomever,

What is your point of getting so upset at Major General Craig Olsen’s comments regarding his Christian faith?  I truly want to know.  As a Christian, we must profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  If we deny Christ before men, He will deny us before The Father.  After all, wasn’t America founded upon Christian principals?  Jesus tells us that the end times will reveal an increased hatred for followers of Christ and you’re evidence of the truth Jesus spoke about.  So, who do you represent?  A court martial, really?? Perhaps you should give Jesus a place in your life and let him reside in your heart.  If you do, your life will change dramatically and you will actually support those like Craig Olsen.

Follower of Jesus Christ


 

Dear (name withheld):

 

I am writing in response to your May 18, 2015 email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”).  You ask some very good questions and I hope to adequately address your concerns.

 

Before I address your specific questions and concerns, I would like to share some information about MRFF.  MRFF’s mission is to protect and defend the religious freedom of all soldiers, sailors, Marines, cadets, and veterans.  It has assisted thousands of service members throughout the country who have suffered religious discrimination or persecution at the hands of their superiors.  MRFF’s clients practice a variety of religions, while some practice no religion at all.  In fact, over 95% of MRFF clients are Christians.

 

First, you ask, “What is your point of getting so upset at Major General Craig Olsen’s comments regarding his Christian faith?”  This question is more complex than it appears and, consequently, my response will include a detailed explanation of the Establishment Clause and how it applies in this situation.  However, the simplest answer is this: The facts surrounding Maj. Gen. Olsen’s speech amount to a violation of the Establishment Clause and the wrongful endorsement of any particular religion over others can have very real consequences for those under Maj. Gen. Olsen’s command.  While all service members have the right to freely practice and express their religious beliefs, the Constitution requires that such expression be made in the appropriate time, place and manner.  One of the ways MRFF protects the religious freedom of service members is by ensuring that military leaders adhere to these Constitutional mandates.

 

Now for the complex part:  The Establishment Clause prohibits the establishment of any particular religion.  This prohibition has been held to include actions or policies by state actors if (1) the purpose is not secular; (2) the 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).  In this case, several facts are relevant to the issue of how Maj. Gen. Olson’s remarks amounted to a violation of the Establishment Clause, rather than a permissible expression of religious beliefs.

 

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.  This situation does not involve a service member merely expressing his own personal religious beliefs in support of God, which might have little or no impact on those under his command.

 

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).

 

MRFF understands the belief of many Christians that they must profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  MRFF does not oppose anyone’s right to declare devotion to any deity, nor does it expect or require that Christian service members deny Christ before others.  It simply works to ensure the profession of Christ as personal savior – or any other expression of religious belief – is made in a permissible time, place, and manner pursuant to the mandates of the Constitution and military regulations.

 

In response to your second question, this country is not founded upon Christian principles.  While the Founding Fathers may have been devoted Christians, they clearly established a government based on democratic principles, rather than religious principles.  It is possible that these men may relied on their religious moral standards in determining the rights and restrictions included in the Constitution, but even if that is true, it does not change the fact that they declined to establish a Christian nation.

 

You state that, according to Jesus, “the end times will reveal an increased hatred for followers of Christ” and that MRFF is “evidence of the truth Jesus spoke about.”  I hope my above explanations of the Establishment Clause and MRFF’s mission have already made it clear that MRFF does not hate followers of Christ.  As previously stated, the majority of service members it represents are Christians and MRFF does everything it can to correct wrongs they have suffered as a result of their religion, just as it does for its clients of all other faiths or no faith at all.  Similarly, I hope that I have already clarified who it is that MRFF represents – it represents all men and women in uniform who suffer wrongful religious discrimination or persecution.

 

I hope I have addressed all of your questions and concerns regarding the work of MRFF and the facts surrounding Maj. Gen. Olson’s recent speech.  If I have missed anything or if you have any additional questions, I would be happy to address them.

 

Blessed be,

 

Tobanna Barker

MRFF Volunteer

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