Major General Olson

I am confused. You call your group Military Religious Freedom, what a crock. Your name contradicts your ideology. I was under the assumption that here in the united States, we as either civilians or members of the Military had the right to pray to whom ever, wherever we choose, without persecution.

If this is so why is it so wrong that this good man needs to be court marshaled , ruining his name for life just for thanking God for his good life? Embarrass him in front of the world? Military men do this everyday. Be Christian, Jew, Muslim, or what ever, you should be able to pray anytime, anyplace, it is our constitutional right as free me, in a free nation. If someone is offended by people praying, leave the area. If you have a movie showing in your community that you don’t like, don’t go see it. A politician you don’t like, don’t vote for him/her.
You should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting such a thing. Have we become so troubled by someone praying at a prayer breakfast that we call for his head on a platter? if so then we are destined to fall apart as a free society. What happened to this great Country that it has come to this? I was a member of the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam conflict and our boys fought and died for our right to Religious freedom, among other things. We prayed everyday that they come home safe. I do not remember anyone getting offended by that, asking for their head on a platter. My father fought in WW2 for the right to pray in public and in private. You are truly confused and ignorant about what the founding fathers were referring to by (Church and State)  You people will one day answer to the Lord for your denial and pay the price for your stupidity. May God have some mercy on your poor souls. I will pray for you, out loud and in public, and you can forget getting a dime from me for your group riddled with this type of mind set. That choice is also a right I have as a free American citizen. Please go get a real job, organize a community or something, but leave those brave Military men and women alone. They are trying to protect your right to be stupid, and are willing to die for that. Go figure.
(name withheld)

Dear (name withheld),

Let me start by saying the assumption you’ve articulated in the fourth sentence of your first paragraph is incorrect. Of course we as American citizens have the right to our beliefs and the right to practice them where and when we choose. But when one becomes part of the military, which is part of the government, that changes. At that point, especially when one assumes authority over others, either by rank or station, some of those rights are curtailed out of deference to the separation of church and state.

The First Amendment’s protections have been established in law to mean that the government, and that applies to someone speaking for it, may not promote or indicate a preference for one faith over another, whether explicitly or by inference.

You started your message by saying you were confused, which you were. Or perhaps one can say you were simply misinformed. But from there you took off on a pretty good rant based on the assumption that you were correct, and you said some things that I trust, because you are not an unintelligent person, you may wish you hadn’t once you hear the facts that were apparently not fully conveyed to you.

Rather than go through your message point by point, let me put in here, below, a response from one of our supporters. He is an Air Force officer, an Air Force Academy graduate and a devout Christian (as are most of our members and supporters). If you will read his message I think you’ll have a better idea of what transpired.

Thanks for writing to the MRFF, and especially for expressing your thoughts in a polite manner — too many don’t extend that courtesy.  I’m a lifelong, active and committed Christian; a USAF Academy (’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, relative to how the MRFF views the circumstances surrounding Maj Gen Olson’s speech at the NDP Task Force event,.

First, you may also be surprised to learn 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 religious beliefs.

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?

The key issue with Maj Gen Olson’s participation in the NDP Task Force 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.  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 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.  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.


Mike Challman

Christian, USAFA graduate, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter


If you’ve gotten this far, I appreciate your having taken the time. There’s a bit more to the story, if you’re interested, and I’ll be happy to answer any further questions you may have.


Mike Farrell

(MRFF Board of Advisors)

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