Maj. Gen Craig Olsen


If it is true that your organization wants Maj. Gen Craig Olsen court martialed for acknowledging his heart felt belief that God helped him in his career then you are the worst kind of hypocrites.  He did not violate any of your goals in your mission statement, he simply gave credit to God for his success.  That does not compel anyone to believe in his God or to conform to his religion.  True religious freedom allows him to speak freely about his career of which God is a very big part.  SHAME on YOU!!!
(name withheld)

Good Morning, (name withheld) –
Thanks for writing to the MRFF to express your concerns, because it gives me an opportunity to correct what I feel on some misconceptions on your part.  I’m a lifelong, committed, and active Christian, a USAF Academy graduate (’85), and an Air Force veteran… in addition to being a staunch MRFF supporter.
The key misconception that I’d like to address is your belief that we objected to Maj Gen Olson’s speech at the NDP Task Force event merely because he “acknowledged his heart felt belief that God helped him in his career.”  That is not at all the case.  The MRFF is neither anti-God nor anti-religion.  Many, in fact a majority, of MRFF supporters and clients are people faith, including me (as I’ve already mentioned).  We do not oppose any particular religion beliefs.
You should also 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 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 all of the points that I just mentioned are true (and they are), then why did we object so strongly to Gen Olson’s speech?
The key issue with Maj Gen Olson’s participation in the NDP Task Force event (which, by the way, was a private, sectarian 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.  While that may be true for civilians, not so for military members and especially for leaders.  So, all of the commentary that is flying about claiming that Maj Gen Olson has an absolute First Amendment right to express his beliefs 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, even though he was speaking to a private, sectarian group and was not there in any sort of official capacity
— 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.  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.
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

I think that it is a stretch to say that he violated any of those rules.  To say that God has helped him in his career is not a statement of religious beliefs.  It merely suggests that he believes in God, it does not suggest that any else should.
His statement that the Department of Defense should depend on Christ can  hardly be construed to be endorsing or extending preferential treatment of his faith, any more than saying everyone should go home and take a nap.  It is impossible to not offend people and there are no laws against offending people…These days, every time someone gets offended they want to restrict someone else’s liberties so that THEY don’t have to be offended.  I hardly think there would be the same uprising if someone in this position had said “Allah” in place of “Christ” in the same context.  I think your organization is driven by evil.
I do thank you for responding however.

(name withheld)

Thanks for your additional comments, as well.  I think the key aspect of the MRFF position that is often misunderstood, is that someone was “offended”.  That is not what we’re about — we are about “appropriateness”.  I understand that you don’t consider that he did to be inappropriate or contrary to AFI 1-1, so we’ll just have to disagree on that.

For what it’s worth, had Maj Gen Olson done the exact same thing but was talking about Islam rather than Christianity, the response from the MRFF would have been EXACTLY the same.
Sorry you think we are “driven by evil”. It’s not the case, but isn’t it great that we live in a country  where you can both hold and express that view?


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