OCC Orphan Scandal

Dear Weinstein and all you that work under him:
How incredibly sad that you went after a guy trying to help orphans have a nice Christmas. I feel sorry for you, as it is only the Christian values of a free nation that allow us all to have the liberty, prosperity, and compassion even to do such a thing as care for orphans. Why pursue such a bitter course as you’ve taken?
May you come to know Him who’ve you pierced. And may you know His great love for you.
(name withheld)

(name withheld), I think you have us all wrong… We did not stop that program at all, good ma’am… We simply required that the program be administered by the military chaplains and not the commanders… For the sake of your lord, would you please do your homework before you cast stones at us?!… Also, I didn’t “Pierce”anyone… Thanks for reaching out and take care, Mikey Weinstein… Founder and president, Military Religious Freedom Foundation…

Hi (name withheld) –
Thanks for taking the time to write to the MRFF, because it gives me an opportunity to provide more accurate information that what you’ve likely read at various conservative media outlets. My guess is that you’ve read some of the same articles that I’ve seen about the Dover AFB / Operation Christmas Child situation, and unfortunately too many of those articles are not accurately reporting the facts.
As for who I am —  I’m a volunteer who supports the MRFF in several ways, one of which is to assist with this sort of email correspondence. I’m also a lifelong, committed, and active Christian, a USAF Academy graduate (’85), and a veteran Air Force officer.
What happened at Dover AFB is actually quite simple… but allow me to start with what the MRFF did NOT do —
—–  We did NOT voice ANY opposition to the Operational Christmas Child ministry
—–  We did NOT object to the efforts of individual USAF members who wish to participate in OCC.
—–  Most importantly, we did NOT call for an end to support of that charity, or any charity, by individuals at Dover AFB.
The ONLY objection raised by the MRFF was to the MANNER in which the program was communicated and promoted… and that is because it was done in a way that violates governing laws and regulations. Specifically, the promotion of OCC was done through command channels, and there are rules about what can or cannot be promoted in that manner.
What should have happened at Dover AFB was for the OCC program, or any other charitable effort that has a specific religious mission, to be communicated and promoted through via appropriate means, notably the chaplaincy. That is the entire sum of the MRFF position. For what it’s worth, my own family and I participated in the OCC ministry for many years — my kids and I have wonderful memories of assembling gift boxes and including handmade cards and letters as part of our readiness for the Christmas holiday. Personally, I think it’s a great Christian ministry — but whether or not I, or you, or anyone else thinks is a ‘worthy cause’ is beside the point.
The US military is comprised of brave patriots of many beliefs, and so the rules that govern ‘official’ promotion of sectarian religious activities are designed to treat all beliefs equally. No one gets preference in our pluralistic military, not even Christianity.
In case you don’t know much about the MRFF, I’d like to provide a brief background   —–   The MRFF is neither anti-religion generally, nor anti-Christianity specifically.  Rather, we are a Constitutional advocacy group and our supporters and clients include people of many beliefs (including many Christians such as myself). What brings us together with people of diverse beliefs, including honorable people who have no belief in God, is a commitment 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.
We only get involved in situations where we are asked for assistance by members of the military. When we do get involved, the only thing we ask is that the military organization comply with the rules that require official ‘neutrality’ with respect to religious activities and beliefs. Our position is the same whether the specific religious belief is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, or any other conceivable creed.
Hope this perspective helps. Thanks again for writing, and if you have any more comments or questions, I’d welcome the opportunity to address them.
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

Hi (name withheld),

Gee, please don’t waste your pity on us. What is truly sad is the fact that you and apparently many of your co-religionists continue to labor under such false impressions. No one here “went after a guy trying to help orphans have a nice Christmas.” In fact many of us work to provide help and hope for those less fortunate, orphans included.

Our only problem with the program in question is that it was promoted as though it was part of the U.S. military, which it is not and should not be. You see, we have laws and traditions in this country that insist on the separation of religion from the government. That’s the only way to practice the true freedom of religion, ensuring that the government doesn’t show favor for or promote one belief system over any other.

So we have no problem with the “guy trying to help orphans have a nice Christmas.” He can do that as much as he wants, but because his organization has a religious intention, it just can’t appear to be promoted by the military.

If I may say so, I think you’re quite wrong about what allows us to have “the liberty, prosperity and compassion even to do such a thing as care for orphans.” First of all, our nation doesn’t espouse “Christian values.” We have liberty, prosperity and compassion because we are a free people who choose to live in a free nation that prioritizes no belief system, religious or otherwise, over any other. And, in fact, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Native American, Atheist and other belief or non-belief systems promote the same kind of positive, humanitarian values as the ones you describe.

So please gain a better understanding of what’s at issue before presuming to offer pity and solicit a belief system to people you don’t know engaged in an effort you clearly don’t understand.


Mike Farrell

(MRFF Board of Advisors)

 Dear (name withheld),
“How incredibly sad” that the media, Christian organizations, and the military upset you by deception. The articles have deceived you due to lies, omissions and distortions.
We DID NOT STOP the shoeboxes from being packed by those who wanted to. The children are still going to get them contrary to the blatant lie that they aren’t.
OCC is back in the hands of the Chaplains on base where it belongs. If the email originated from them to only their parishioners, there wouldn’t have been a problem.
Here is part of the email sent out by Commander Lt. Col. Don Tasker’s secretary Valencia Branch:
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Operation Christmas Child (OCC)
Community-wide Shoebox Packing Party
Calvary Community Center (CCA) 8 am – 2 pm
(1532 E. Lebanon Road, Dover, DE)
Our goal is to fill 5,000+ shoe boxes to be sent around the world as a way
to show children in desperate situations that God loves and values them.
Many of these children have never received a gift before. Many have never
heard of God’s incredible free Gift of Salvation through His Son. But a
simple gift, a shoebox packed and prayed for by you could give a child hope
and eternal security. Come, partner with us and CCA, be a missionary”
filling shoebox gifts and praying over them with us
Everyone is welcome!
There is nothing to bring and no charge to participate.
Bring your family, friends and neighbors.
Do you see the word “orphan” in it? Of course, you don’t. Someone took out “children in desperate situations” and replaced it with “orphans” because it would tug more at your heart strings than the original statement.
It invited our soldiers to be missionaries.
It also says that there is “no charge to participate” when it reality everyone donating a shoebox must write a check for $7.00 and place it inside the box. Either the Calvary Community Center is going to pay the $35,000 to ship the boxes or the participants will be guilted into paying for each box they fill.
The most despicable thing is that these desperate children who were excited to receive a Christmas shoe box, must listen to a proselytizing message (where they are told that if they don’t accept Jesus they are going to hell) and sign a pledge card BEFORE receiving a shoe box. This is nothing but evangelizing through fear and the thought of NOT receiving a shoe box if they didn’t sign. What child wouldn’t sign it?
Read ALL of this alert on the OCC to get the full scope of the deception it practices outside of the US. https://sites.google.com/site/occalert/
Toys for Tots (put on by the Marines for the poor and underprivileged here in America and is non-religious), does not ask for financial help in wrapping the toys and is listed on the Combined Federal Campaign for charities.
Operation Christmas Child is not listed on the above government sanctioned charity list even though it asks for donations for it on their website. http://www.samaritanspurse.org/our-ministry/donate-online/
It operates under the Billy Graham Association.
Many laws have been broken by Ms. Branch blasting out this email to the whole base.
AFI (Air Force Instruction) 1-12.12, which reads in part:
“…leaders at all levels in the Air Force must ensure that 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.”
She used her position as the Commander’s secretary to give official endorsement for a particular faith.
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, not in the hands of the Commander on base-wide grounds.
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 (subservient to the Establishment 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 ClauseSubsequent 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 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 both the Lemon Test and Parker v. Levy and is constitutionally unprotected.
We are neither an atheist organization nor are we anti-Christian. Mikey is Jewish (and prays to the same Father we do 3 times a day) 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 43,021 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.
Read our Mission statement (which is 3 down from all of the contact email addresses you sent your email to) and you will see what we fight for.
As far as our nation being based on Christians values, you couldn’t be more wrong.
The Treaty of Tripoli was signed at Tripoli on November 4, 1796.It was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, receiving ratification unanimously from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797, and signed by Adams, taking effect as the law of the land on June 10, 1797;a mere 8 yearssince our Constitution went into effect. If what was written was wrong in anyway, there would have been uproar. But, it passed unanimously and confirmed that America was not founded on Christianity.
Treaty of Tripoli:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The Constitution reflects our founder’s views of a secular government protecting the freedom of any belief or unbelief.
The historian, Robert Middlekauff, observed, “The idea that the Constitution expressed a moral view seems absurd. There were no genuine evangelicals in the Convention, and there were no heated declarations of Christian piety.”
“The Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered”. George Lincoln Burr (1857 – 1938), Professor of History and Librarian at Cornell University
Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
Thomas Jefferson: in letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”
John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788
If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.
George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789
Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

“The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.”
James Madison, 1819, Writings, 8:432, quoted from Gene Garman, “Essays In Addition to America’s Real Religion”

Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history. 
James Madison; Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments
God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.
Isaac Backus, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, 1773
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.
James Madison 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination. 
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom
According to our Founding Fathers the Constitution is not based on Christianity or biblical law.
Pastor Joan
MRFF Advisory Board Member

Hi Mike,

So for clarification, are you saying a law was broken by the individual promoting Operation Christmas Child?


(name withheld)


Hi (name withheld) –

Yes, that is essentially accurate.  I can offer two relevant examples of how this is so… one is a specific USAF regulation that was violated by the way in which the OCC effort was communicated, and the other is specific case law that describes why there can be limits placed on the speech of military members.

First, the specific regulation to which I refer is AFI 1-1… which says the following:

“Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections of 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 be reasonably construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.”
Keep in mind that the email was very specific about the motivation behind OCC. Among other things, it asked for support “as a way to show children in desperate situations that God loves and values them.”
Personally, I share that sentiment — I think we do well when we share God’s love with others, especially children. But very simply stated, it’s not the mission of the USAF to spread the message of God’s love, and so that sort of invitation cannot emanate from command channels. Doing so can be reasonably construed as an endorsement of the motivation behind OCC.
Once again, had the promotion of Operation Christmas Child been done by the chaplain’s office instead of the unit commander’s office, there would have been no issue.
Second, it’s important to understand that the MRFF is not saying that military leaders do not have a right to their own religious beliefs — they absolutely retain that right. But note what the Supreme Court ruled in 1974, in the case of Parker v Levy about freedom of expression in our military:
“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.”
Said in my own words, our military members are tasked with protecting the Constitutional rights of all Americans, but because of the unique requirements of military order and discipine, they don’t have the same, unfettered right to free expression that the rest of us enjoy.  This applies to all sorts of expression, including the expression of religious beliefs.
Does this clarification help?

Hi Mike,

I read this but come to the same conclusions that were drawn in the news outlet in which I originally saw the info about your organization. It’s a shame in a land founded on Judeo-Christian principals, there are those that make it their mission in life to target the very liberties which in so many other nations are already illegal. Only in America as it still stands (if only precariously) can you attack and speak out against the very essence of what allows you the freedom to voice your opposition in the first place. This is not only fruitless, it’s bad policy.

What you’re doing likely would not thrive thirty years ago, Supreme Court ruling or not. It’s only the rise of secular humanism which has emboldened the principality behind your organization. There is a concerted and very evident attempt to drive Christianity out of the public sphere where influence reigns, be it by saying “this is the military and we can’t do this” or “this is the public school so we can’t say this,” etc. etc.

Nevertheless, I bless you and honor you and thank you for your time.

Merry Christmas,

(name withheld)


Hi (name withheld) –

I appreciate that you took the time to read what I shared, and I thank you for the time you’ve invested in this dialogue, too.
In parting, if I can suggest one more perspective for you to consider, I’d ask that you ponder the following questions —
Would you be fully supportive of a US military leader who is a Muslim to use his position to promote Islamic beliefs?  Similarly, would you be fully supportive of efforts by a US military leader who is an atheist to use his position to promote atheistic beliefs to his subordinates?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to those questions, then I applaud you for being consistent in the protection of individual rights of everyone — although I will continue to disagree that ANY of the situations before us (Christian, Muslim, atheist) is appropriate because ALL of them share the same risk or either infringing on the rights of captive subordinates, or damaging unit cohesiveness, or both.
Conversely, if your answer is ‘no’ to either of the two scenarios that I’ve proposed, then I’d ask you to consider that you are proposing a standard that says a Christian military leader should afforded a right that you would deny to another, non-Christian military leader.
Personally, I think our national interests are best served by a military that provides equal protection and respect to the religious beliefs of ALL Americans, and not just those who meet a Judeo-Christian qualification.
Thanks again for your time, I’ve enjoyed our exchange.
Peace, a blessed Advent, and a Merry Christmas to you —



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