May 14, 2015 – MRFF Cease & Desist Letter Leads to U.S. Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC) Restoring Religious Support Programs

On April 22, 2015 MRFF was made aware that Capt. W. Douglas Pfeifle, Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy RTC in Great Lakes, IL, had approved the removal of outside volunteer religious lay leaders for Unitarian Universalist, Earth Centered, Buddhist, Bahai, Christian Science, and Church of Christ faiths.  This action was apparently taken pursuant to the advice and action of Chaplain (CDR) Ted L. Williams who had attempted, and failed, this action under previous RTC commanders.  MRFFPresident and Founder Mikey Weinstein contacted Capt. Pfeifle on April 22, 2015 to file a complaint and demand remedial action on behalf of 252 MRFF clients and to clearly point out the obvious errors in Chaplain (CDR) Williams’ interpretation of applicable U.S. Navy Regulations.  After failing to respond to MRFF’s initial demand in a reasonable amount of time, MRFF’s legal representative Robert V. Eye sent a notice to Capt. Pfeifle that MRFF intended to seek available relief for affected U.S. Navy personnel who were begin denied their right to religious freedom in substantially the same or similar fashion of other personnel under Capt. Pfeifle’s command.  
On May 1, 2015 Dr. Ronald A. Crews, Executive Director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty sent a letter (co-signed by Mikey Weinstein) to Capt. Pfeifle requesting reversal of his decision and re-instatement of volunteer religious lay leaders until such time as a uniformed leader could provide the same worship services for personnel under the RTC command.  In this joint letter, Dr. Crews and Mr. Weinstein stated, in part:
“We have testified before the same Congressional panels.  We have spoken out on the same incidents in the services.  And, we are always on opposing sides, but in this instance it is easy for us both to say that the Navy went too far and is clearly in violation of the Constitutional religious liberty rights of American sailors at the Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Illinois.”
In response to this letter Capt. Pfeifle responded to Dr. Crews and Mr. Weinstein on May 5, 2015 that “I am confident that RTC policy, including the command religious program (CRP) which provides for the religious and spiritual needs of our recruits (and staff), is in full accordance with Navyregulations and the United States Constitution.”
On May 11, 2015 Mikey Weinstein informed Capt. Pfeifle that MRFF’s legal counsel was moving forward in seeking Federal Court action to certify disenfranchised Navy recruits at the RTC as a protected “class” to enable injunctive relief from the Federal Court.  This same letter demanded Capt. Pfeifle to cease and desist his ongoing actions effectively disenfranchising the religious freedoms of Navy recruits under his command.  On May 14, 2015 the Chicago Tribune, which had previously reported on the RTC commander’s decision, reported that “commanders at the Great Lakes naval training center began the process Thursday of inviting back civilian volunteers to serve recruits who are Unitarian Universalists, Baha’is, Buddhists and Christian Scientists.  In the meantime, a spokesman said, the Navy has found active duty uniformed personnel at the nearby base to lead worship for recruits who want to be part of a Church of Christ congregation or earth-centered community at its only boot camp.”

 

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