Sick Group

I am very much aware of your attack on Major General Craig Olsen. After listening to his comments I can’t help but wish, no pray to God almighty, that we would have more people like him in the military. All to many of our military has survived personal attacks on them as warriors with the help of PRAYER. Your organization is a disgrace and certainly is misnamed. You like the rest of our left wing administration are attacking Christianity; our country was founded on Judaeo-Christian values, one of which is the right to PRAY. This man was at a Prayer Breakfast and was free to PRAY and testify on the role of prayer in his life.
You are a very SICK group with a very inappropriate name.
(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.
You say in your note that you are “very much aware” of the objections that we’ve raised to Maj Gen Olson’s speech at the NDP Task Force event. But I would respectfully suggest that if you are getting that awareness of the same conservative news outlets that I follow, then you don’t have good information on which to base an opinion.  Therefore, I’d like to take some time to provide “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey used to say.
First, please 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.
Similarly, 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 those points 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

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