SAN ANGELO TIMES – BRITT TOWERY: Blessed or not, hope your day is a good one

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BRITT TOWERY: Blessed or not, hope your day is a good one



Good Day, Britt –

I read with concern your opinion piece at the San Angelo Standard Times website.  Because the issue that you address is one of great interest to me, I’d like to offer some feedback and, since your email is included with the essay, I presume that you are open to input.
As for who I am — I’m a lifelong, committed and active Christian; a USAF Academy graduate (’85); and an Air Force veteran. I’m also a supporter of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
Your representation of the reasons behind the objections raised about the Robins AFB greeting is slanted at best, and downright biased at worst.  Early on, you suggest that the standard of measure should be whether or not a “remark turns you off or you consider it too personal”, and that your personal yardstick is whether it “doesn’t suit my mood.”  Later on, your more pointed comments suggest that those who objected are an “overly sensitive griper” and “fainthearted, whimpering fellow, offering a “whimpering complaint”.
The mere fact that you would glibly assign such derogatory labels to members of the US military is nearly unbelievable, but then again perhaps unsurprising. Many critics of appropriate Constitutional protections seem to find it helpful to deride those who hold a contrary opinion.
But putting aside your unfortunate gibes, I’d suggest that you would do well to look deeper into this issue.  In doing so, you would discover that this is not a matter of anyone “fretting about expressions that irritate us”. Rather, protecting the right to religious freedom of all military members is at the very heart of the MRFF mission.  Our organization is dedicated to ensuring 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.
As I mentioned in my introduction, I’ve been a Christian my whole life. My involvement with MRFF came about as a result of reading about Mikey Weinstein and MRFF in news stories related to my alma mater, USAFA.  To be frank, my going-in posture was very much inclined toward disagreeing with Mikey and MRFF.  But by the end of my research and educational efforts, I had concluded that the efforts of MRFF to protect the religious freedom of all military members are legitimate, sincere, and necessary.
What joins together all of us who support the MRFF, regardless of our individual beliefs, is a deep love of our country and a steadfast respect for the US Constitution.  We desire nothing more than for the US military to protect the rights of every service member, and that includes respecting equally the religious beliefs (including non-belief) of each person.  By both constitutional mandate and specific regulation (in the case of the Air Force, AFI 1-1), the US military must maintain a position of strict neutrality with respect to religion.  When that balance tips (even a little bit), someone needs to speak up on behalf of military members who cannot easily speak for themselves — that is why there is a need for an organization like MRFF.
So what, then, does MRFF oppose, and in what situations do we raise concerns?  Again, the answer is simple and unequivocal – we oppose efforts to promote or favor any specific religion or religious philosophy over any other religion or religious philosophy within the US Armed Forces.
The American people are a diverse bunch when it comes to religion.  While Christianity remains the dominant force (although even within the ranks of Christians there is a considerable range of dogma), nearly a quarter of Americans align with other faith traditions or with no belief at all.  Similarly, our military is comprised of a diverse group of patriots who follow a variety of religious beliefs (including non-belief).  Each of these beliefs is entitled to equal consideration and protection, and each service member is entitled to live and work in an environment that is free of unwanted religious proselytization, evangelization or persuasion.
So to bring this discourse back to the topic of your opinion piece, I would hope you can acknowledge that the greeting, “Have a blessed day”, has an undeniable and explicit religious connotation.  As such, it has no place as part of the official base greeting at Robins AFB or any other military installation. That does NOT mean that the MRFF wishes to limit or restrict the use of such a greeting between individuals on a personal basis.  The issue here is simply that the time, place, and manner of incorporating a religious sentiment into an officially sanctioned greeting is inappropriate.  That’s all, nothing more.
Lastly, I find it interesting that you seem to dismiss the complaints out of hand because “only 13 complained”.  You don’t indicate whether you are a veteran — if not, then you probably don’t fully appreciate the impact of the strict hierarchical structure on junior members.  Raising a concern about any topic is not something that military members take lightly, and perhaps even more so when the issue at hand is the perceived preferential treatment of Christian beliefs at a base in the heart of the bible belt.  My congressional representative once told me that whenever his office receives a letter from a constituent, that letter is assumed to represent at least 20 other people who feel similarly but did not write.  Given the fact that military members are trained from Day One to be obedient and follow orders, I’d suggest that a similar calculus in a military environment is probably more like 1-equals-50 or more.  But by either of those measures, 13 vocal individuals likely represent hundreds of others who shared the same concern.
But more to the point, I’d ask you this — how many people do you think should have to raise a concern about an inappropriate action before the concern is taken seriously?
Hopefully, this perspective is helpful to you.
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

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