Religious Freedom

What about General Craig Olson and his religious rights? Is your organization hypocritical or what? I suppose if he were a Muslim this would have been perfectly fine.

(name withheld)


 

Good Morning, (name withheld) –

Thanks for writing to the MRFF. I don’t know if you’ve already heard from other folks, but I’d like to take a moment to give you my own perspective on the questions you’ve asked (well, at least the first and third questions… I assume the second question was rhetorical).  About me – I’m a lifelong, active and committed Christian, a USAF Academy graduate (’85), and a veteran USAF officer… in addition to being a staunch MRFF supporter.
So to your first question about Maj Gen Olson and his individual rights —
First, 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 this is what we believe (which it is), 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.
Lastly, as to your question about how MRFF would have responded if Maj Gen Olson had done the exact same thing but had expressed Muslim sentiments — our response would have been EXACTLY the same.  As I said, the issue is not the religious content of what he shared, it that he did it in an inappropriate manner.
Hope this information helps.
Peace,
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

 The name of your organization should be Religion Haters Against Military Personnel.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
God is LOVE.  Jesus saves us all.  God is amazing and should be on the lips of everyone.
Check that.  Now call for my arrest.
(name withheld)

Good Morning, (name withheld) –
Thanks for writing to the MRFF.  Your note is an interesting one, to be sure, but also misguided on a couple of fronts.  But before I address those items, you may want to know who I am.  I’m a lifelong, active, and committed Christian, a USAF Academy graduate (’85), a veteran USAF officer, and a volunteer supporter of the MRFF.
First, to your suggestion of a name change for the MRFF, it is misguided.  Our organization does not hate religion — in fact, the majority of MRFF supporters and clients are people of faith. We join with one another, and with other honorable people who do not believe in God, to support the religious freedom of all members of the US military, at all levels.  So to suggest that we are “Religion Haters Against Military Personnel” is simply wrong.
Second, as a Christian myself, I share your sentiment about God and Jesus.  I’m unclear as to why to repeat it nine times, but if doing so is helpful to you in your own walk with God, then more power to you.
Lastly, why do you think we would ever “call for your arrest”? If you reach that erroneous conclusion based upon what you’ve read about the Maj Gen Olson situation, then you don’t understand what that situation is all about.  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.
Hope you find this information helpful.  Thanks again for writing.
Peace,
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

To whom it may concern,

First, I am quite sure that whoever happens to open this email will not give me the courtesy of finishing it.

Second, it would be much in your best interest if you never put me on any sort of mailing list because I can be a thorn and a nightmare if you do.

Third, I abhor your sort of public showing of your “interests in my freedom”!

My attention was drawn to your organization by your attention and horrible article about Maj. General Craig Olson , USAF (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/05/17/air-force-general-who-spoke-god-in-speech-should-be-court-martialed-group-says/).  I cannot believe that you can imply yourselves to be supporting any sort of “freedom organization”.  If you had any clue what this United States was built on, why this United States was formed or why we have even been in a successful existence for so long, you would be ashamed of what you are doing in reality, to this country or the people within its borders.  In reading about the founder of your organization, I am nothing but dumbfounded with ‘Mikey’s’ resume, I do sit here in disbelief to say the least.

Freedom!  I have been such a very small part of the freedom of this great nation, but I am so thankful that I have the common God given sense to know where it came from and why we still have it.  Our Founding Fathers would turn in their graves and haunt you forever if they could.  Have you ever given any thought to how many of our fine military people have given their lives so people like you could do what you are doing to this nation?  To profess that the Constitution is the only religious document we should have in the military is nothing but ignorant thinking.  Have you never read and understood the reason for the Constitution which essentially was written because of the lack of religious freedom in England?  Obviously you missed that part.

My personal time in the Military spanned 17 years and I never missed a chance to go to a Church service on a Sunday.  It makes no difference what denomination, I had the right to do so.  I accepted and exercised that right.  I am thankful that time was well before organizations such as yours came around to try to dismantle our rich history and our great Constitution.

My final thought is coming as a question.  What makes you think you have the right to attempt to tell me that I cannot be faithful to my religious beliefs where ever I am?  For example, if I happen to believe that a part of my diet should include beef, you have no right to demand I be put in jail because you think tofu is the only protein I should have in my diet.  Sounds ludicrous, does it not?  It is.  And, so are your demands against Maj. General Craig Olson and any others you have the desire to go after because of their personal beliefs.  I do not believe that we should have our religious beliefs dictated to us by the government and I am quite sure that Maj. General Craig Olson does not believe this either.  However, your beliefs will destroy our Country, our freedoms, our Constitution, and everything our great nation, as a whole, believes in.  It is a very small percentage of our population that would follow your true beliefs in reality if you did not prostitute yourselves for reasons that probably involves an illicit way of making a name for yourself and putting money in your pocket by hoodwinking people into giving you donations.  All I can say is; shame on you!  There are countless other places to direct your attention and efforts to that would be of great benefit to our great nation.

So very Sincerely,
(name withheld)


Good Morning, (name withheld) –

I’m unclear as to why you would assume that your email would not be read in its entirety.  Every email received at the MRFF gets read, typically by multiple people, and virtually every email also gets a response.  I don’t know if you have heard from others already, I got tied up this week and I’ve been slow in responding to emails myself.  As for who I am — I’m a volunteer who supports the MRFF in a variety of ways; I’m a lifelong, committed, and active Christian; I’m a USAF Academy graduate (’85); and I’m a USAF veteran.

To start with the question that you pose near the end of your note —

Question – ” What makes you think you have the right to attempt to tell me that I cannot be faithful to my religious beliefs where ever I am? ”

Response – Neither I nor anyone at the MRFF would ever presume to suggest such a thing.  With respect, it seems clear to me that you misunderstand what we are all about.  And I can tell you, from a personal perspective, that I practiced my Christian faith every day that I was in the Air Force.  I did so in how I treated others, and by striving to be a servant leader, and by trying at all times for my thoughts, words, actions, and attitude to be imbued with my Christian values.  But at the same time, I recognized that I had  an obligation as a military leader to avoid any actual or perceived proselytizing, promotion, or preference of my personal religious beliefs over those of other military members, particularly my subordinates.

I’m going to guess that you were motivated to write to us after reading about the Maj Gen Olson situation, so let’s look at those specifics for a moment.  Some of what you may have heard or read from conservative news outlets, which I also follow, did not tell the whole story.

First, you should know that 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.

Equally importantly, 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.

You mention in your note that during your own military tenure you never missed a chance to go to a Church service on a Sunday.  It makes no difference what denomination, I had the right to do so.  I accepted and exercised that right.  For what it’s worth, I did the same (and still do to this day)… but you should understand that the MRFF has no interest in taking that right away from anyone. All we ask is that military leaders follow the Constitution, and their own Instructions, with respect to religious expression.

Hope this information is helpful. I’d be happy to continue this dialogue if you are interested.

Peace,

Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

 

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2 Comments

  1. Dave Gentile

    Do people who don’t understand the 1st amendment ever write back to acknowledge that they “get it” due to your explanations?

  2. Connie

    Do bullies ever go back to those they’ve bullied and admit their ignorance? My experience is the ignorant double down on their stance, especially when religion, or a personal relationship with their deity is involved.

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