Religious Freedom

Hello Bekki, my name is (name withheld).  I am emailing you in regards to a recent article I read stating that the MRFF has filed a complaint against the Air Force Academy, for members of the Academy football team kneeling and praying in the end zone before a football game.  As someone whose father is in the military I find this complaint filed by the MRFF to be contradicting and ridiculous.  Religious freedom allows someone in the United States to worship and freely practice their religion as they choose in this great nation.  That is what our founding fathers established and that is one of the many freedoms any U.S. citizen so greatly is able to use and practice in thanks to the fighting men and women of our nations military.  Religious freedom is what gives someone the right to kneel and pray on a football field if they choose to.  They are not forced to or told to, that is their choice and personal decision.  I hope this email is helpful in showing you how your organization is contradicting your beliefs and what you fight for.  If you really fought for religious freedom, then you would support the ability and right for the Academy cadets to be able to pray on the field before they play as they so choose.

 

God Bless,

(name withheld)


 

Dear (name withheld),

Thank you for your concise and kind email. We usually get swearing and death threats from Christians.

 

As a Christian, I thought the same way until I became involved with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and saw that there were laws that regulated religious activity in our secular military.

 

Mikey is not an advisor to President Obama or works for the Pentagon. That is an outright lie.

 

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 43,200+ soldier clients (1 can represent many) are Christians – Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodist, Lutherans, Baptists, etc. We fight for the rights of these Christians more than any other religion but it never makes the news.

 

Mikey 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.

 

When someone enters the military, the first thing they give up is freedom of speech. Try talking back and giving your opinion to a superior office and see what happens.

 

Though there have been rules on religious neutrality in government, the Air Force Academy believes that they don’t apply to them. It took a Memorandum from General Norton Schwartz dated 2011 to try and reign in the rampant religious in-your-face-proselytizing by one sect of Christianity towards mainline Christians (see above), those of other faiths and those with no belief system. http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/docs/gen_schwartz_letter_religion_neutralilty.pdf

 

The only Air Force base that did not distribute it to their airmen was the Air Force Academy. http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/2011/09/huffington-post-air-force-academy-was-against-chief-of-staffs-religious-neutrality-edict-before-it-was-for-it/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/air-force-academy-apparen_b_978600.html

 

This original Memorandum was changed slightly and is now AFI (Air Force Instruction) 1-1, Section 2.12 and 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.”

 

“Leaders at all levels” include the football coaches.

 

By allowing public prayer by the football players in Air Force uniform, command is officially endorsing one religion – Christianity.

 

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 [in any form] 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 football players’ right to public prayer is constitutionally unprotected.

 

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 (which is 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 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
3. Does not foster excessive entanglement between government and religion

 

Prayer on the field fits into all 3 and violates the Lemon Test.

 

It also violates AFI 1-1 and Parker v. Levy.

 

Read this article to get the full scope of what is truly going on: http://www.csindy.com/IndyBlog/archives/2015/12/02/usafas-tebow-prayer-stirs-controversy

 

Read our mission statement and see that we are for prayer consistent with time, place and manner under the laws and regulations set forth above.

http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/about/our-mission/

 

Check out the honorable and distinguished military personnel and people from all walks of life that support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/about/foundation-voices/

 

If the Air Force Academy obeyed the laws and regulations listed above, we wouldn’t be having this fight.

 

Tradition does not trump our laws.

 

May God bless your socks off and have a Merry Christmas!

 

Pastor Joan

MRFF Advisory Board Member


 

 

Hi (name withheld),

Thanks for your message.

Just so you understand, we have no problem with people praying or expressing their religious or non-religious beliefs as individuals. We agree with you that this freedom is part of what makes this country great.

Another part of that greatness is that the Founders understood that freedom of belief means that every person has the right to determine for her or himself what they believe and that all beliefs, or non-beliefs if one chooses, deserve to be equally honored.

A way they determined to preserve the equal protection of all beliefs was to separate religion from government. The separation of church and state, as it is known, means that ours is a secular nation in which all beliefs are welcome and have equal stature and acceptance. No one belief system is paramount and none is representative of America.

But this separation of church and state must be carefully protected, so it has been determined that no one who speaks or acts in an official capacity for or on behalf of the government can, in doing so, demonstrate a preference for one faith or belief system over another. Since the military is part of the government, regulations have been created to make clear that an officer, one in authority over others, or a military unit may not promote or appear to promote or favor one belief system over others.

Now perhaps you see the problem. The USAFA team is, in fact, a military unit. As such, it cannot demonstrate fealty to a particular faith without, whether intentionally or unintentionally, violating the separation of church and state.

We were contacted by cadets and some members of the team who thought it was not only wrong for the team to kneel in prayer but felt pressured to support doing so for fear of becoming thought of as an “outsider” or non-believer and being made to suffer consequences.

What we find is that acts like the team kneeling in prayer are in fact quite often tactics promoted by those who strongly believe America is and should be a “Christian Nation” and that the military should be “God’s Army.” They want our country to be a theocracy, not a democracy. They urge the acceptance of ‘harmless’ acts like a team that is really a military unit praying because it eases us toward relaxing our standards and  casually accepting steps leading toward the goal they ultimately want to achieve.

So understand, please, that we don’t mean to strip anyone of her or his right to believe as they choose and to express that belief. But when in the military that expression must be done in the right time, place and manner – not in a public and official-appearing act that identifies the U.S. military as having a religious orientation.

In addition, in today’s world, appearing to promote a connection between our military and Christianity plays right into the hands of extremists like Isis, or Daesh, who become more powerful when they can convince people of the Islamic faith that the armies of the Christian West want to destroy them and their religion, just as was the case during the Crusades.

I hope this helps you better understand the issue.

Best,

Mike Farrell

(MRFF Board of Advisors)


 

 

Mike
I find it a stretch for you to be able to label a few football players a “military unit.”  The Academy football team is not going to launch a ground assault on anyone or fly a formation to a target. Also, just because someone swears an oath to the constitution to serve in the military, that doesn’t mean they surrender their individual right to say a prayer. Also, a player kneeling in the end zone during a game is in no way forcing anyone to join them. Sounds like another stretch of the truth to say you felt “compelled to join” or would be ridiculed. Finally, I would argue that a couple football players praying by themselves is in no way trying to play down the Islamic faith.
Your suppositions and generalities may be doing more harm than good and are making this country more divisive.
I appreciate your opinion but ultimately I disagree with your work. I will wish you good luck in your endeavor to wipe out all Christianity from our military but I’m confident you will not succeed.
God Bless
(name withheld)

Tyler, you can, of course, believe what you will. It is your right to object as much as you’d like. But your belief in the correctness of your position does not make it correct.

What you have found to be “a stretch” in your messages will be tested below.

May I say personally that the almost paranoid defensiveness I find being sent our way on the part of Christians who contend, as you have above, that we are trying to “wipe out all Christianity from our military,” or that the MRFF is part of the “war on Christianity,” or we are a pack of atheists intent on driving God out of our country, bespeaks, rather than a valiant defense of Christianity, a rather tremulous and faint-hearted belief in the faith itself. Christianity is doing just fine, thanks, and isn’t going to collapse of its own weight just because people object to having it pushed on them inappropriately.

For your consideration:

Mr. Weinstein, as you know I am an active duty AF general officer stationed at (military installation withheld) with (number withheld) years of active duty service not including my 4 years as a cadet at our alma mater the Air Force Academy. I fully endorse the points made below by the former AF general officer and the current active duty AF senior officer. I just wanted to add that I am not a lawyer or JAG as you are and were. Regardless of the constitutional “legalities” of essentially the entire USAFA football team praying so visibly en masse in public before the game, the optics of that striking visual “message”is just completely unacceptable for the rest of the nation and the world to see. The reasons are made clear below but the very real fear of our Islamic fundamentalist enemies capitalizing on the whole AF football team praying, in order to reinforce their jihadist narrative, is the most consideration important from my view. There is a line here of course, as discussed below by the other two correspondents. However,  the objectionable behavior which is the subject of my e-mail to you here is way over that line. The optics are not just bad but potentially deadly.

 

From Another Senior Air Force Officer:

 

I agree with all of the general’s points below and would ask his/her permission to clarify or add two more:

 

  1. No one, least of all the general, is asking our cadets to NOT choose some appropriate moment to reflect, prayer, or just think about where they and the game fits into the whole cosmic scheme of things.  AFA football players can take a moment on the bench, a solo moment in front of their lockers, etc, but the moment that they begin enlisting their teammates to join them, they create a snowball  that can become an avalanche of coercion–that’s true in ANY team or hierarchical organization and doubly true for a service academy team.

 

  1. I’m a fervent fan of all AFA sports and, in the last 15 years at least, I’ve only seen this sort of thing occur with our football team.  Other teams have huddles, and I’m not certain some of those huddles don’t include prayers, but there’s no obvious and outward sign to the ticketed or viewing public that it’s a meeting centered on ONE religious viewpoint.  It’s obviously a christian prayer at the football games because ALL of the participants (and it seems like it’s all of the team except for the obviously heathen kickers, punter, and long-snappers) are doing a full-fledged “Tebow” in the end-zone, simultaneously.  That’s NOT a coincidence and their intent is quite clear.

 

As with most issues of civil liberty there is wide latitude for opinion …

 

At question here is where to draw the line – is one player pointing upwards after scoring permissible? Tim Tebow performing much more symbolic gesture on the sideline?  Two players kneeling together? 3? 4? The full team?

 

In my view it seems best to start from what is clearly should not be condoned and work down from there until the line between personal liberty and political correctness gets murky.

 

Not permissible is for a government organization to compel members to perform any religious activity – period – during the conduct of official business.  The AFA team is conducting official business during football games and practice on and off the field.

 

If the coaching staff says there is no coercion to join prayer circles, I’d argue that if most players or even just key individuals call for a religious prayer, those choosing not to participate are by definition “not on the team.”  They are trained to be good teammates – that’s a grading/loyalty criteria – so they will naturally feel compelled to join.

 

This leads to the second reason to discontinue the practice – it’s not permissible for a coaching staff to allow sub-groups that can alienate some team members based on religious differences.  Football coaches need to ban activity that might break down the cohesion of their team.

 

The third and last problem in my view is that public sporting events aren’t confined to stadiums or the boundaries of the U.S.  They are available globally.   If our Islamic Extremist propaganda experts use a little imagination the images of cadets praying together on the football field can be equated to servicemen and women conducting a crusade on Middle Eastern battlefields. This plays easily into the hands of those trying to portray Muslims as victims of the West, and who make a case to justify defensive jihad.

 

Bottom line:   Academy leaders and coaches should ensure religious observances in groups are kept off the field and out of the locker room.

 

Dear Mr. Mikey Weinstein and the MRFF,

I am a member of and play on the Air Force Falcons football team. We have a bad problem going on here now. And I have asked the MRFF to please help me and others on the team in a certain matter regarding public religious practices.

Please keep my name out of all of this because of what they could do to me for going to you.

The problem is specifically the kneeling down in public prayer by most of the members of our football team. Certainly the majority. This has been done prior to our games on the playing field right in front of everyone in attendance in the stadiums. And I and others ask for the MRFF to help us get it to stop.

The coaches and others are not officially or directly making us do it together. But some clearly favor it. That is for certain. It is certain cadets on the team who are viewed as leaders (and even some who are not but still have team influence) who are leading the public praying. If you don’t go along with it you are not going to be viewed as a good follower or teammate. I am not alone. There are enough of us who feel pressured to conform and this is wrong. I have not seen any of our opponents do what our so many players on the AFA team have been doing. I mean virtually the whole team kneeling down and praying on the field in front of the crowds. This is wrong for several reasons which I shouldn’t have to go into because it’s obvious. I have seen the statements Mr. Weinstein sent me by the 3 grads. The 2 generals and the other AF officer as to why this so bad and I and the others I’ve shown them to agree with them totally.

I really don’t want to say much more and do not want my name used please. I do not want to get into trouble here at the Academy for asking for the MRFF’s help but there was no other choice. My girlfriend (also a cadet) had gone to the MRFF before on another problem months ago and you all helped her. Her name never came out either so I am trusting the MRFF like she does. We both thank the MRFF for what they do.

I talked with my mom and dad first and they put me in touch with the MRFF after they talked to Mr. Weinstein. I happen to be raised as a Christian and still practice that faith. Not all of us on our team are like my background. It is causing dissension but no one will talk about it. Many don’t even see it. There can be whispers but even that can get you jacked up bad. And if we asked the coaches to help us you better be very careful which coach you go to.

My and the others solution for this is to just have the players kneel in prayer or do other religious stuff out of the public view. And in the locker room and such. There’s tons of non-public praying options for us all.

Thank you for hearing me out and for giving me and the others a way to express our disapproval and fears without getting hurt in the process of doing so. How can we be hurt? A lot of ways. One of the worst is by getting tagged as an informer here at USAFA and having this follow us after we get into the Air Force. None of us should have to deal with this on those terms. We didn’t cause this on the playing field praying epic fail.

V/R

(USAF Academy cadet football player’s name, cadet rank, cadet title, football team position and cadet squadron all withheld)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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