General Mark Walsh

You people are way off base. Freedom of religion is protected by the U.S. Constitution. You have no right to force other people to not practice the religion of their choice.
 
In addition, freedom of speech is also guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. You have no right to tell other people what they can or cannot say about their religion (or anything else) in public.
 
There will be a backlash against this Tyranny of the Left.
(name withheld)

Hi (name withheld) –

Thanks for writing to the MRFF with your concerns, because it gives me an opportunity to address what I think are some misunderstandings on your part. I’m a lifelong, active and committed Christian; a USAF Academy graduate (’85) and a veteran USAF officer, as well as an MRFF supporter.  I’d like to give you some better information that you are likely receiving from Fox News or other sources, relatively to how the MRFF views the circumstances surrounding Maj Gen Olson’s speech at the NDP Task Force event.
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, and we certainly are not trying to “force other people to not practice the religion of their choice.”
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.
Our mission as an organization is to 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.
So if both of the above points are true (which they are), then why have we objected so strongly to Gen Olson’s speech at the NDP Task Force event?
Because the manner in which he did it was inappropriate with respect to governing USAF rules, specifically Air Force Instruction 1-1.  It is that document, and not the opinion of MRFF or anyone else, that governs the manner in which Air Force members, and especially Air Force leaders, can express their personal religious beliefs.
AFI 1-1, Section 2.12 provides the following guidance in this area, and is applicable to all USAF leaders.  It may help to read what the document has to say —
“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.
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

Dear Sir,

 

When was AFI 1-1 Section 2.12 enacted?

 

What was MRFF’s role in its formation, enaction, and implementation?

 

And who made MRFF the watchdog over all the military’s speeches?

 

Your “clarification” smacks of Political Correctness run amok, as it is doing all over this country.

 

Was Mikey Weinstein the non-Christian who was offended?

(name withheld)


 

Hi (name withheld) –

The current version of AFI 1-1 was originally enacted (by the USAF) in August, 2012 and then revised in November, 2014 (again, by the USAF).  Last year’s revision was brought about by conservative concerns that the original language was overly restrictive in terms of religious expression. But as you’ll note in the section that I provided to you, there is still an expectation that USAF leaders will balance their own right of personal expression with their obligations as a leader.  Unfortunately, it seems to me that Maj Gen Olson decided that even the revised language was overly restrictive for his purposes, so he just ignored it.
MRFF does not act as “the watchdog over all the military’s speeches”.  What we do is to advocate on behalf of military members who, because of the strict hierarchical nature of the military, cannot always speak for themselves without risking blow-back.
Sorry you think that my explanation of the situation “smacks of Political Correctness run amok” — is that typically the conclusion you draw when someone says something with which you don’t happen to agree?
Mikey Weinstein was not the only person who thought Maj Gen Olson’s involvement at the NDP Task Force event was inappropriate… and you don’t have to be a non-Christian to consider is so.  I’m a lifelong Christian, very active in my faith, and I clearly view what Maj Gen Olson did to be inappropriate and worthy of censure.
Hope this additional info helps.
Peace,
Mike

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1 Comment

  1. Cynthia

    Another step towards religious persecution – God have mercy on the United States of America!

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