MIKEY’s OP-ED – Air Force Academy football prayers openly defy, repudiate U.S. law

Published On: December 21, 2015|Categories: Mikey's Op-Eds, News|8 Comments|

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12/21/15 UPDATE – Rebuttal Op-Ed published by Colorado Springs Gazette

Click to read at Huffington Post

Click to read at Daily Kos

Imagine a perversion of the First Amendment that misinterprets “Religious Freedom” as the granting of blank checks to government agents and officials for the purpose of making exhibitionist stunts out of their own personal religious convictions, transforming civil or military service into a taxpayer-funded missionary vocation. This deliberate “misinterpretation” seems to be the key error underlying the uproarious hue, shrill cries, and misdirected criticisms answering church-state separation concerns stemming from U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) football players’ pre-game, Christian mass prayer demonstrations.

Some extreme voices have claimed that these completely valid criticisms emanate from “hostility to God”, “atheism”, “anti-Christianity” or some other pejorative nonsense. These condemnations couldn’t be further from the truth. I would instead submit that our denunciations of the USAFA Falcons’ prayer ceremonies are wholly legitimate and firmly rooted in the bedrock Constitutional interpretation of the secular business of governance in the United States. Construing federal and state case law as well as relevant Department of Defense directives, instructions, and regulations universally and incontrovertibly reinforce our stance.

The No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment constitutes a vital barrier to the establishment of a state or national religion; for over 200 years, the Clause has shielded our nation from rule by religious majoritarian demagogues. It can be violated in multiple ways, including acts by government agents that 1) don’t serve secular purposes, 2) inhibit or advance religion, or 3) foster an excessive entanglement with religion. I refer the reader to the seminal U.S. Supreme Court case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). Additionally, Mellen v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355 (4th Cir. 2003) specifically maintains that military institutions like USAFA are bound by the requirements of the No Establishment Clause.

The groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court case Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) ruled that granting permission to similar student-led, student-initiated mass prayer sessions at high school football games was a violation of the same No Establishment Clause.

If the above isn’t sufficient, Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 758-759 (1974) further buttresses our argument: “While military personnel are not excluded from First Amendment protection, the fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside.”

Taking these precedents into account, one can see that the USAFA “Team Tebow” football prayers constitute a clear repudiation of, and defiance towards, the foundational law of the land.

Similarly, USAFA cadets are required to abide by USAF Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 which clearly states that “Leaders at all levels…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.”

Americans have long become accustomed to the cynical use of the “religious liberty” banner as a means towards disguising the theocratic aspirations of right-wing Evangelical Fundamentalist Christians. Let’s not forget how religious liberty and gay rights are still considered, by many, to be simply irreconcilable. The same tension between so-called religious “liberty” is still often asserted in relation to women’s rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, and the civil rights of non-Christians. In the past, religious liberty was the favored cudgel used against the “wrong kinds” of Christians – Catholics, for example.

It is absolutely undeniable that a certain, virulent strain of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism, and exceptionalism continues to thrive in the United States. I am reminded of this fact every time that I open my e-mail inbox and find dozens upon dozens of hateful threats from self-proclaimed “Christian” sorts who wish grotesquely described death and disease on my family, myself and the staffers at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

It’s not up to me to forgive them, even though it’s patently clear that they know not what they do or what they speak of. I am only human, as are the 144 USAFA cadet, faculty and staff clients of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation on this particular football player mass praying matter, including 5 Falcon football players (4 of them Christians and the other one “pretends” to be a Christian).

No, all we can do is confidently assert, on behalf of our USAFA clients, their hard-fought rights, which are granted to all Americans in relation to the mandates of the United States Constitution.

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  1. Yeshua Warrior December 14, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    I am sure the newly crowned 2015 Heisman Trophy winner would applaud what the Air Force football players are doing!

    Heisman Winner Derrick Henry: Always Keep God First, Don’t Be Afraid to Pray!

    Great Heisman acceptance speech!

    Hey Connie, even the Heisman Trophy winner proclaims God comes first before all things!!

  2. Yeshua Warrior December 14, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    The same tension between so-called religious “liberty” is still often asserted in relation to women’s rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, and the civil rights of non-Christians.

    Not sure what planet Mikey is living on right now, how has religious liberty affected women’s rights today and the rights of ethnic minorities. Mikey, we are in the 21st Century now. If Mikey is referring to a woman’s right to abortion, well, women have no right to abort a living child in the womb, that is a creation of God, and Christians and Jews have every right to see abortion put to an end in this country, and see Planned Parenthood defunded and sent into bankruptcy.

  3. Yeshua Warrior December 14, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    The groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court case Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000) ruled that granting permission to similar student-led, student-initiated mass prayer sessions at high school football games was a violation of the same No Establishment Clause.

    Mikey, this was 15 years ago, since when is a violation for students to lead mass prayer sessions at a high school football game? The Supreme Court ruled that as long as it is student led, they can pray in mass if they want to. Maybe Mikey you should read this – https://www.libertyinstitute.org/student-bill-of-rights#Q10

  4. Connie December 14, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    YW – You are grasping at straws.

    1. High school students have always had the right to pray. It’s when the coaches get involved that there are issues. However this is a Freedom From Religion Foundation issue, not MRFF. Please keep up.

    2. The Heisman award winner is not in the Military. This is a false equivalency post – which i expect from you to be honest.

    3. Oh, I’m fairly certain Mikey and the MRFF crew know what year it is because they’ve been fighting the good fight officially for a decade now.

    Historically, your holy book has been used to justify all kinds of crimes against society; slavery, racism, genocide to name a few. As for abortion, the book says nothing against it and even advocates it’s use in more than one instance. No, I’m not giving you the answers. Look it up yourself preacher.

    Of course you don’t like Planned Parenthood. They empower women and you are all about keeping the power for yourself. As for the baby parts issue – yeah, you would believe that lie because it feeds into your own prejudices. Again, nothing in your book that says abortion is a sin so what is your real justification for wanting it outlawed, besides your oversized need to order us wimmen folk around?

    Hey YW – there is still separation between church and state and nothing you say will change that. :) Go USA

    Happy Holidays – whichever one you personally celebrate I hope it’s joyous for you.

    Added note – The pastor at the church where I grew up prefaces his scripture readings by saying ‘These are the stories that define us, for good and for bad’. This is why I know of what I speak, I’ve read the entire book.

    In slamming YW for his less than honest posts I realize I may come across as anti-Christian. No – just anti anyone who refuses to share. Jesus was really big on sharing and treating everyone with civility. I may like what JC had to say, but I don’t accept him as my lord and saviour so I do not call myself Christian.

  5. John Schuster December 21, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    @ Connie – Thanks for your detailed rebuttal.
    @ Yeshua Warrior – Thank you for raising topics and using word to mostly convey meanings and not just to hurl epithets.

  6. jimbo December 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm

    a real problem is that all Christian (and Muslim) activity is based on the authority of non-existent supernatural beings. The U.S. Constitution recognizes the importance of that truth, simply because there is absolutely no limit to beliefs, one can believe anything, and beliefs are therefore uncontrollable. On the other hand, if gods can be proven then their authority can be regulated to prevent lying hatred murder and war so common to certain religions. Inquisitions can happen at any moment, against civilizations, religions and individuals. What we’re seeing is a power play by some who use religion to divide and conquer our Constitution, the separation of church and state that keeps the divisive power from corrupting our civilization similar to that which has destroyed the great civilizations extant in the middle east.

  7. College Football Fan February 19, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    So, Mr. Weinstein seeks to prohibit AF players from voluntarily assembling on a football field to pray before a game. Hmm… It seems, Mr. Weinstein, that your position contradicts MRFF’s very own Mission Statement, by seeking to COMPEL player ABSTENTION from prayer — not to mention their right of assembly. The MRFF mission states:

    “No member of the military may be compelled to curtail – except in the most limited of military circumstances and when it directly impacts military discipline, morale and the successful completion of a specific military goal – the free exercise of their religious practices or beliefs.”

    Furthermore, (and this is for your benefit, too, Connie), I do not see that the prayer made by AF football players is anywhere limited to a Christian religious act. While Christian players (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant alike) may, indeed, be praying in the name of Christ, there are others who may take a knee whose non-Christian religious beliefs find no conflict praying alongside Christians (think Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or even members of the Bahá’í Faith or other Eastern religions that are not monotheistic), as well as others who suffer no offense and willingly kneel alongside their teammates in a show of camaraderie and solidarity and use the time to merely to take in a moment of quiet contemplation on the challenge ahead. Note, the fact that football players are in uniforms and wearing pads necessarily means that no one kneeling is wearing any particular religious garb, and it is impossible to ascertain the individual faith, let alone motivation, of every player taking a knee. Add to that the fact that taking a knee is voluntarily — as mentioned previously — and you have no compellence on the part of the military to engage in any prayer, let alone any engage in any specific religion.

    And as to the exception language embedded in the MRFF mission statement clause cited above, I do not think anyone who has watched, let alone competed against, an AF football team would think such prayer has “directly impact[ed] military discipline, morale and the successful completion of a specific military goal” . . . at least not to the detriment of the USAF Falcons football program! For proof I ask you all, have you ever watched the AF Falcons play football? Talk about discipline!!! Their option attack is the epitome of disciplined and precision execution, which maintains even on those occasions when they are out-manned by a more athletic Division I opponent.

    Now . . . if the MRFF mission statement truly means to apply if an act has ANY impact on morale, then perhaps the player prayer is problematic — players assembling on the field to take a knee for a quick prayer before or after a game may have a direct impact in IMPROVING morale. It appears the MRFF opposes that positive effect by its own creed!

    How ridiculous the MRFF position. And how bigoted, fearful, and ignorant.

  8. A.L. Hern June 27, 2022 at 4:57 pm

    While it very well may not have made a difference with today’s packed and stacked SCOTUS, the fact remains that this case, like every other case dealing with this issue, was argued wrong by defendants.

    Had one asked the late Senator John McCain and those incarcerated in the notorious Hanoi hilton, whether prayer sustained them through their years-long ordeal, I’d guess that the great majority of them would say yes, because prayer is a very personal thing, it’s an individual thing, and not even these men’s captors and torturers could come between them and the inner voice that Jesus himself said is the only true kind of prayer: “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men … but when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen” (Matthew 6:5-8).

    What Coach Kennedy, and those like him who manipulate our courts and public opinion, are engaged in in NOT PRAYER; when two or more people express religious precepts in public, they are holding AN ORGANIZED RELIGIOUS SERVICE, and the absence of an ordained member of the clergy does not make it less of one.

    Kennedy is, moreover, an authority figure over the team he coaches, and the imperative for the young men who wish to play football and do not want to run afoul of their coach’s “suggestions” is nothing less than coercive.

    I must ask how religious faith can possibly stand on coercion. It can’t, UNLESS on looks at the history of many religions, most notably Christianity, with its bloody Crusades, Inquisition, Spanish Inquisition, progroms and many, many more vivid examples.

    One would think that if a religion, any religion, truly believes it offers the supreme truth in the universe, those in charge of it would be content to sit back and let people come to it in their own way and in their own good time, thereby becoming better and purer adherents than can possibly be harvested by making false promses and painting dire threats of eternal damnation if the flock is not joined.

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