FEATURED INBOX POST- Dover Air Force Base

Ms. Rodda,
I was surprised about how worked up you got in your article regarding Ms. Valencia’s Branch’s e-mail from the Dover AFB FSS.  I mean, it’s not like she held a gun to someone’s head and told them to pray and pack some shoeboxes.  When a short e-mail to the Commander pointing out the religious nature of the e-mail from his secretary would have been appropriate in a situation like this, your organization, the MRFF, threatens to take the case to Federal Court.  
I’m puzzled how your organization, the MRFF seems to confuse a secretary sending out a volunteer opportunity with official endorsement from the Squadron Commander.  At no point do the portion’s of Ms. Branch’s e-mail cited in your article indicate that the Commander of the Squadron endorsed the e-mail.  I agree with you that it was inappropriate for her to send it out, but, let’s be reasonable here, her boss may not even have realized the nature of the e-mail that was being sent out by his subordinate.  In my FSS squadron, I often receive 50-100 e-mails a day and I’m only a Lieutenant.  Needless to say, I don’t have time to read many of them.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Ms. Branch’s boss didn’t even realize the religious nature of the e-mail that was being sent out because, let’s be honest, he probably didn’t even bother to open it. Also, even you must realize that the position of a secretary in an Air Force unit isn’t a position that requires a thorough knowledge of the Constitution and CFR 2635.702.  Mr. Weinstein’s e-mail even points out that she is a GS-05.  This is a position that barely requires a high school degree, let alone familiarity with AFIs, and DoD Regulations.  You’re also pretty rough on her for not realizing the proselytizing language of the e-mail she forwarded.  You must realize that as a secretary she’s likely receiving and forwarding many e-mails on any given day.  Given that she didn’t realize that this e-mail would be construed as proselytizing, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that she wouldn’t have realized that the e-mail was inappropriate to send.  Also, I’m not surprised that she deleted the e-mail for space reasons either.  We’re talking about the Air Force here, an organization that provides it’s folks with enough Outlook storage space for about 4 large PowerPoint presentations.  It’s not uncommon for folks to delete unneeded e-mails to free up space in their inboxes and on their hard drives.  
Mr. Weinsten’s letter discusses the 14 MRFF clients who can attest to the disastrous impact of the proselytizing e-mail on their unit cohesion, good order, morale, etc.  I’m surprised how he doesn’t provide any specifics here.  Was one of these individuals given an unfavorable performance report because he or she didn’t participate in the volunteer activity in question?  I doubt it.  Was anyone in the Squadron given an unfavorable work assignment because they didn’t volunteer?  Again, I doubt it.  You also don’t mention whether or not the 14 distressed individuals brought up this issue with the deputy commander, a supervisor, the squadron superintendent, the First Sergeant, the base Inspector General office, the base Legal office, or the base Equal Opportunity Office.  The hardworking folks in any of these offices would likely have realized the inappropriateness of the e-mail and communicated to the Commander that he should have a talk with his secretary about such e-mails.  It may be surprising for you to hear, but I suspect if this issue had come up in my FSS Squadron, someone would have communicated to the Commander the inappropriateness of the e-mail in question. The Commander would likely have apologized to the unit for the e-mail being sent out in the first place.  If the secretary honestly didn’t realize that the e-mail would be perceived as proselytizing, then a verbal reprimand would likely be appropriate in this situation.  If she was intentionally proselytizing, then the Commander would have to make a decision on whether or not she should continue to be employed. 
You know, I’m not surprised when Fox News gets worked up over a trivial issue and their pundits rant and rave over trivial matters, but I’m surprised that you’d take a page out of the channels playbook and try to one up Murdoch’s crew.  I mean, I don’t watch Fox News often, but I don’t recall any of the pundits threatening to take someone to court over such a trivial matter.  
(name withheld)

 

 

Dear (name withheld),

It seems that you didn’t comprehend the article Chris wrote. She very clearly answered most of the questions you asked here.
 
I worked for the military under contract from 2003-2004 and was given strict guidelines on the use of emails according to the rules and regulations that she wrote about.
 
No government emails were to be deleted but printed out and placed in a book for future FOIA requests. Also, all emails were backed up on the main server at the end of each day.
 
If I had deleted any emails I would have been fired whereas Ms. Branch is playing dumb and retains her job.
 
Ms. Branch sending out the email base-wide is not a trivial matter and she broke many of our laws besides the military rules and regulations already stated in the article.
 
As defenders of the Constitution we fight for the separation of church and state.
“…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” (Article I, III)
 
This means that from the President to Congress to the military – no one’s job is based on their religion.
 
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion (Establishment Clause), or prohibiting the free exercise thereof (Free Exercise Clause).”(First Amendment)
 
The Establishment Clause means that you cannot favor one religion over another even though it is in the majority. This clause respects the RIGHTS of all religions. Our military is SECULAR and there are people of other faiths that don the uniform that love this country. 
 
The Free Exercise Clause means that our soldiers are free to exercise any religion they want or no religion at all but cannot elevate one God above others.
 
“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” Thomas Jefferson, to the Virginia Baptists (1808) ME 16:320. 
 
This is his second known use of the term “wall of separation,” here quoting his own use in the Danbury Baptist letter. 
 
This wording of the original was several times upheld by the Supreme Court as an accurate description of the Establishment Clause.
 
Jefferson’s concept of “separation of church and state” first became a part of Establishment Clause jurisprudence in Reynolds v. U.S.98 U.S. 145 (1878). In that case, the court examined the history of religious liberty in the US, determining that while the constitution guarantees religious freedom, “The word ‘religion’ is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted.” The court found that the leaders in advocating and formulating the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty were James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Quoting the “separation” paragraph from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, the court concluded that, “coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured.
 
In 1878 “separation of church and state” became part of the Establishment Clause BY LAW.
 
The Supreme Court heard the Lemon v. Kurtzman case in 1971 and ruled in favor of the Establishment Clause.
 
Subsequent to this decision, the Supreme Court has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether government action comports with the Establishment Clause, known as the Lemon Test.
 
Government action violates the Establishment Clause unless it:
1. Has a significant secular (i.e., non-religious) purpose,
2. Does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, or
3. Does not foster excessive entanglement between government and religion.
 
The email fits into all 3 and therefore it is a violation of the Establishment Clause
 
Parker v. Levy: 
 
“This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society… While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. … The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it… Speech [to include religious and written speech] that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command.  If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected. (Emphasis added) Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 1974
The email broke Parker v. Levy and is constitutionally unprotected.
She broke every law and military regulation there is on religious neutrality for a government entity.
Comparing us to Fox News is way too funny!
We are not an atheist organization nor are we anti-Christian. Mikey is Jewish and 80% of the Board, Advisory Board, volunteers and supporters (244 in total) of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) are Christians. In fact, 96% of our 42, 711 soldier clients are Christians. We fight for the rights of Christians more than any other religion.
 
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) does NOT act on its own but at the request of our soldiers’ and their complaints of the blatant disregard and trampling of the Constitution and the Military Code of Justice; blurring the lines between the separation of church and state. Every complaint is vetted by Mikey who was a JAG lawyer at the Air Force Academy for 10 years; worked in the West Wing under Ronald Reagan; and held positions in private practice. 
 
Our military is secular – which includes those of other faiths or no belief system – and it must not advance one religion over another according to the Constitution, Supreme Court rulings and the Unified Code of Military Justice. Religious activities must be in the hands of the Chaplains on Chapel grounds and disseminated ONLY to their parishioners, not in the hands of the Commander or his secretary on base-wide grounds.
Once we sent a letter to the Commander and he was aware of the situation, he responded thusly: 
 
I hope this clears up any concerns you had.
Pastor Joan
MRFF Advisory Board Member

Dear (name withheld),

I understand where you’re coming from, and have had many of the same thoughts myself several years ago before I joined the team here at MRFF.  I appreciate your candor and will do my best to answer your concerns.

Your defense of Ms. Branch’s actions was in short, she probably didn’t know the law.  Ignorance of the law doesn’t equate to innocence.  “I didn’t know I couldn’t do that, officer” might have worked on the Chappelle Show, but doesn’t pass muster elsewhere.

Your defense of the command team seemed to be essentially the same.  They didn’t know that their secretary didn’t know she was violating the law.  Try applying that to misappropriation of funds, BAH fraud, tampering with service records, or any of other more common transgressions in the military and you’ll see how the logic falls flat.

Next I’d like to address your point about our clients’ choosing to come to us instead of use their chain of command, or other resources.  Me personally, I wish more of our clients would go the formal route.  Then the military would have better records of the number of incidents that actually happen.  Another lesson that took me a long time to learn here, is that most of our clients are career oriented.  The same attitude that you have of “it’s no big deal” in this case is shared by people above you, and in many more serious instances of religious entanglement with authority.  Now imagine what happens to an LT who goes to their command about this.  Do you honestly believe that their career well be unaffected?  Will they be considered a solid officer with an above average understanding of civic duty?  If only.  In reality, they will be looked at as the trouble maker.  The threat to the status quo.  The last in line for promotion, because they didn’t toe the line of tradition that the military demands. That’s typically why they come to us and request we speak on their behalf.

And the last bit.  Why do we get SO worked up?  That’s a fair question too, and again, one I had to ask Mikey probably a dozen or more times before it actually clicked.  We get worked up because nobody pays attention to the church mouse, but the bull in the china shop gets everyone’s attention.  In a way, this goes full circle right back to the first point you made about ignorance as a defence.  We make noise so people know what problems we face.  I’m a very mellow person, could almost be described as a stoic.  I’m sure you can appreciate the fact that in order to have an organization become as successful and well known as ours, we must be intelligent, focused human beings regardless of what little fragments you get to see of us.  We use strong language in public dealings to turn heads, so the next secretary that thinks it’s her job to broadcast a partnership between her military unit and local church remembers what happened the last time someone tried the same thing.  Add to that the fact that these small cultural habits contribute to an overall environment of Christian privilege above all other religions, and we also have as legitimate stand alone justification for outrage.  If you took the calls we take, and heard the pleas for help that are our everyday, you would have a new perspective.  I wish I could share that experience with you in some way beyond referring you to our client testimonials, but that’s the most we’re willing to share about our clients.

I don’t know if I’ve convinced you of anything, but that was the short rebuttal.  If you have any further questions or concerns, fire away.

Blake A. Page
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Special Assistant to the President

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4 Comments

  1. Connie

    Why do I get worked up when people in the Military promote their religion?

    My late husband was ROTC in high school. He was a marksman, won many awards. He didn’t even wait to graduate before volunteering for the Marines.

    All his hard work was undone by Christian haters who took exception to his pagan faith (never mind he was the seventh generation of Asatru in his family). People he should have been able to trust tried to rape him – and there was no one he could turn to as the leaders were the same flavor of Christian as the abusers.

    Once a Marine, always a Marine. That statement is true even though the Corps was very rotten to him. Shall I mention the burns from cigarettes he carried until his death? How hard it was for him to admit rape? Do you know what that does to a Marine? DO YOU??????????????????

    By all means, let’s see what happens when crap like this is ignored. It’s worked so well in the past. Oh – those rapists? Never saw any justice as everyone (except my late husband) was promoted out of the area. Yeah… status quo…. Not working for me. Didn’t work for him either.

  2. G

    Dear Connie:

    What I don’t like about the military is that they spend a great deal of time in basic training telling everyone that we all part of the same organization. In other words, we told that we are all part of the unit and that no one is excluded and we all wear the same color – green. However, once we get out into the real military after basic training, you find that the military is a reflection of the society it is suppose to protect.

    You then discover that there is a kind of like caste/class barrier between officers, the NCOs and the enlisted men/women. I suppose it is necessary to have this thing to maintain discipline but it doesn’t mean a thing when you have bullying, sadistic officers and NCOs who treated you like in the feudal/slave plantation/industrial revolution/robber baron era and they have this attitude that you are inferior to them because of their rank. To me, that is form of discrimination.

    In addition, you faced discrimination because of your social, economic, political, racial, ethnic, geographical, and even religious or non-religious background. What is worse is when even when you are bloodied in combat, once the shooting stops, you are again put back in your place and are still not treated as an equal human being.

    That being said, you have many people who had their military careers cut short and either leave the service or are force out of the service due to all these various forms of discrimination; yet, many of them profess to still loving the military even though their lives have been completely destroyed and are struggling to rebuild their lives. To me that is sad, because if the USA become involved in a war with Russia or China, how many of them would be willing to rejoin to the military even their heart and soul was taken away from them in the first place? I don’t think I could or want to rejoin the military unless they expunged all the bad things they put in my service record plus give me all my back military pay and the promotions that I should have gotten if I was not kick out of the service.

    Yeah, we need organizations like the ACLU, the Southern Law Poverty Center, and the MRFF to put a stop to all these sorts of injustices in the world. If religion is so good for people, why are we still having these problems after hundreds if not thousands of years?

  3. Odo

    I’m a little perplexed by Pastor Joan’s statement that she was briefed that all emails had to be printed out and no emails were ever allowed to be deleted. I’ve been in the Air Force since 1992 and I’ve never been briefed any such thing.

    Indeed, as a user, if you don’t delete emails, your email rapidly gets shut down. You’ve got a specified quota of storage space and once you hit the limit they turn off your ability to send email; if it grows too much bigger, they turn off your incoming emails also. So users absolutely MUST delete their mail.

    Nor have I ever seen an office in either the Air Force or any joint organization in which I’ve served that required all users to print out all of their email. There isn’t enough space in my office to hold binders with all of the email I receive in a year (and the cost to have every user do this would be astronomical).

    I’m on the MRFF’s side on the Dover case (indeed, in most cases), but the notion that military personnel can’t delete email out of their inboxes is a non-starter.

    Regards,

  4. Odo

    (I should clarify that I’m not remotely accusing Pastor Joan of lying about what she was briefed regarding email retention; I’m just saying that if she was briefed that where she was working, that is probably an outlier. The vast, vast majority of places don’t work like that. But yeah, the secretary at Dover likely deleted the email once she realized it was trouble)

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