How can you claim to support our military members Constitutional right to religious freedom on the one hand. Then demand the court martial of a serving military member for expressing his faith and how he has it at the center of his life. The oath of service includes the the words, “So help me God.” 

I was a member of the United States Air Force and swore that oath and I find your hypocrisy both disturbing and offensive.
(name withheld)

Dear (name withheld):


I am writing in response to your May 17, 2015 email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”).  Before I address your concerns, I want to thank you for your service in the U.S. Air Force.  I truly respect and appreciate the dedication and sacrifice required by those who serve our country.


You ask how MRFF can support the religious freedom of service members, yet also demand that a military leader be disciplined “for expressing his faith and how he has it at the center of his life.”  At first glance, these two things do seem to be at odds, but I assure you there is nothing hypocritical about MRFF’s position in this matter.


First, it should be noted that 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 superior officer at Hanscom AFB, leading 2,200 subordinate Air Force personnel.  Yet, in his speech he admitted that he has neither the ability nor the training to continue in this position:


“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.”


Second, Maj. Gen. Olson requested that the audience pray for Defense Department leaders and for troops preparing to re-deploy.  While this may be a harmless and Constitutional expression of religion in many circumstances, Maj. Gen. Olson made this request in his capacity as a military leader while wearing his uniform, clearly violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Additionally, he did not request prayers for the safety of these individuals or for general guidance during difficult times.  Instead, he asked that the audience pray for Defense Department leaders because they “need to humbly depend on Christ” and for troops so they can “bear through that by depending on Christ.”  Consequently, his remarks not only violated the Constitution, but also violated Air Force Regulations – specifically, Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12, which states: “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.”


Thus, Maj. Gen. Olson did not merely express his faith.  Whether intentionally or not, he acted in his official capacity to endorse his own religious belief when he stated that others in the military need to find Christ.  MRFF defends the religious freedom of men and women in uniform by ensuring that those in their command respect and adhere to the mandates of the Constitution.  Additionally, Maj. Gen. Olson’s violation of Air Force Regulations is classified as a potential felony under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  I am sure you would agree that a potential felony warrants some sort of discipline.


MRFF understands and respects that all service members, including Maj. Gen. Olson, have the right to practice and express the religious faith of their choosing, or no faith at all.  It is not the content of Maj. Gen. Olson’s statements that is objectionable, but rather the time, place, and manner in which he chose to express his religious beliefs – specifically, that he made his statements in his official capacity as a military leader while wearing his uniform, thus giving the impression that his beliefs were those of the U.S. Air Force.


I sincerely hope that I have helped to clear up any confusion regarding your view that MRFF contradicted its purpose by demanding that Maj. Gen. Olson be disciplined as a result of his remarks. Thank you again for your service.  If you have any other questions or concerns, I will be happy to address them.


Blessed be,


Tobanna Barker

MRFF Volunteer

Share this page:

Commenter Account Access

  • Register for a commenter account
    (Not required to post comments, but will save you time if you're a regular commenter)
  • Log in using your existing account
  • Click here to edit your profile and change your password
  • All comments are subject to our Terms of Use

No Comments

Start the ball rolling by posting a comment on this article!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *