To whom it may concern;

I am writing this in support of USAF Major General Craig Olson, and to express my total disgust with your attempt to have him court martialed for speaking about his beliefs and faith in God!  Like it on not this great country was founded on Christian principles and organizations like yours are part of what is very wrong with this country! The last time I checked we are still free to speak our minds without persecution!
Your in Christ,
(name withheld)

Hi (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.
The first misconception that I’d like to address is your belief that we objected to Maj Gen Olson’s speech at the NDP Task Force event merely because he spoke about “his beliefs and faith in God”.  That is not at all the case.  You may also be surprised to learn 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.
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 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 all of the points that I just mentioned are true (and 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.  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.
Peace,
Mike Challman
Christian, USAFA graduate, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

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