Major General Graig Olson

To whom it may concern,

I must have missed something when it comes to the definition of “freedom.” According to Merriam-Webster online there are several possible definitions of the word “freedom” depending on context. Two seem appropriate with regards to the Military Religious Freedom foundation, “absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action” and “the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken.” It doesn’t appear to me that you accept the common definitions of “freedom” but, rather, have come up with a definition that excludes anyone with a viewpoint other than yours.

(name withheld)


Dear (name withheld),

I am writing in response to your May 20, 2015 email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”).  Before I address your concerns, I want to sincerely thank you for your service to our country.  I truly respect and appreciate the dedication and sacrifice required from you in order to protect and defend the rights of all U.S. citizens.  I hope “Chief” was the correct way to address you.


MRFF is devoted to protecting 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 by doing everything it can to correct the injustices inflicted upon these brave men and women in uniform.  One of the many ways it defends the religious liberty of these individuals is by ensuring that military leaders respect and adhere to the mandates of the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the wrongful endorsement of any particular religion over others.


While the Establishment Clause limits the time, place, and manner in which religious expression takes place, its enforcement is necessary to guarantee the free exercise of religion.  This brings me to your concerns regarding the definition of “freedom” and how it is viewed by MRFF.  In your email, you recite two definitions of “freedom,” provided by Merriam-Webster online.  The mission and work of MRFF conforms to both definitions quoted.


The first defines “freedom” as, “absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”  MRFF seeks to ensure that all service members are free from coercion regarding religious beliefs, including the necessity of being forced to endure unlawful proselytizing.  Regarding “constraint in choice or action,” the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as well as Article VI of the Constitution, set forth restrictions on religious expression.  Specifically, that such expression must take place in the proper time, place, and manner.  While the mandates of the Constitution do not constrain any service member’s choice of religious beliefs – and MRFF does not seek to create or require such restraints, the Constitution does limit how religious beliefs may be expressed.  This is especially applicable to military leaders, who are also prohibited by military regulations from creating the appearance of endorsing any particular religion.


The second defines “freedom” as, “the quality of being frank, open, or outspoken.”  The work of MRFF assists members of the military to be “frank, open, or outspoken” in refusing to submit to religious discrimination or the wrongful endorsement of any particular religion over others.  However, all service members are subject to Constitutional limitations on when, where, and how they express their religious beliefs.


I do not dispute the accuracy of the definitions you provide, but while a dictionary can define a word, that definition often does not determine how that word is applied by law.  For example, one definition of “speech” is, “what is spoken or expressed, as in conversation; uttered or written words. “  As you know, the First Amendment prohibits “abridging the freedom of speech.”  However, this freedom does not protect shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded theater if there is no fire.  See Schenck v. U.S., 249 U.S. 47 (1919).  MRFF has not created a new definition of “freedom” in an attempt to “exclude anyone with a viewpoint other that [MRFF’s].”  To the contrary, MRFF represents clients of many faiths and, therefore, defends the right to express very different viewpoints.  MRFF only seeks to ensure that those within the military who subvert the First Amendment by wrongfully endorsing one religion (whether Christianity or any other religion) over others are forced to adhere to the mandates of the Constitution.


I hope I have adequately addressed your concerns and explained the true mission of MRFF.  Thank you again for your service.


Blessed be,


Tobanna Barker

MRFF Volunteer


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