Your commentary on USAFA football prayers and the MRFF

Roy Exum: Air Force Bombs Atheist

Mikey Weinstein, a self-avowed atheist whose goal in life is to eliminate religious faith from our military, just got a well-deserved and quite pointed slap …

Good Day, Mr. Exum, and Happy New Year – 


 
I’ve just read your opinion piece at Chattanooga.com, re: the recent issue raised by the MRFF about the end zone prayers of the USAFA football team. I did not see a mechanism for commenting online, so I am sending my thoughts to you directly. As for who I am — I am lifelong, committed, and active Christian; USAF Academy graduate (’85); Air Force veteran; and staunch supporter of the MRFF.
 
First off, your opening sentence reveals both a poor grasp of the facts and a clear expession of your bias. Mikey Weinstein is not a “self-avowed atheist”, and it is not the goal of the MRFF “to eliminate religious faith from our military.” It is unfortunate that you would start your critique of the situation from such a poorly researched position.  But then again, perhaps that is not surprising if your goal is merely to advance a particular agenda, and not to relay accurate information.
 
I’ve actively supported the MRFF in a variety of ways over the past several years, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the goals of the organization are no different than what is clearly described at the opening of our mission statement —-
 
“The Military Religious Freedom Foundation 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.”   (You can read more about it on your own — www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/about/our-mission/)
 
Despite what is regularly misrepresented by conservative media outlets (including, apparently, Chattanooga.com), those of us involved with the MRFF believe very strongly that every military member’s individual right of religious freedom is to be aggressively and unconditionally protected.  But note that the key word in that sentence is “individual”.  Our military service organizations, and their leaders at all levels when acting in an official capacity or under the color of their authority, are enjoined from demonstrating any preference, approval, or other type of favoritism for any specific sectarian religious belief, including non-belief. 
 
As it pertains to the actions of service members generally, and leaders in particular, there are very specific rules and limits placed on the appropriate time, place, and manner for an individual to publicly express a personal conviction on many subjects, including religious belief.  I’m always left to scratch my head when I see those breathless objections which claim every military member has an absolute right under the Constitution to express any personal belief, of any type, at any time.  Simply stated, that is flat wrong.  Consider it ironic if you wish, but the reality of military service is that individuals must surrender a portion of their own Constitutional rights, in the interest of military order and discipline, in order to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”.
 
So with that backdrop, let’s look again at the USAFA football situation.  The prayer event that has been held at the outset of this season’s games is far from an individual, spontaneous expression of religious belief being made in an appropriate time, place, and manner.  Rather, it is little more than a public spectacle that wrongly serves to give notice that the USAFA football team is a Christian team.  Keep in mind, this is the same team that was once taken to task for a banner in the locker room that said, “I’m a member of Team Jesus Christ”. The only difference between that banner and today’s public prayer spectacle is that one is a bit more heavy handed than the other… but only a little bit more, and both cross a line.  As I’ve mentioned to some of my own USAFA classmates when discussing this issue, it may be appropriate to debate where the line exists between appropriate and inappropriate expression. But we should be able to agree wholeheartedly that there is such a line… something that I’ll address again before I close this note. 
 
The pictures of the USAFA football public prayer spectacle that I have seen show nearly the entire team participating in the event, which strains any credulity about it being either a spontaneous or entirely-voluntary event.  And given the input that the MRFF has received from cadets and others close to the football program, it is neither.  And did you notice that during the recent bowl game, some Air Force players used eye black to fashion a cross on their cheeks?  I give those young men a bit of slack because I still remember how it was to be an impetuous 20 year old, but USAFA leadership should know better… in fact, I’d wager they do know better, but they have no problem allowing an inappropriate religious display to continue because it suits their own religious predilections.
 
The most important aspect of the MRFF position on this matter is that we would have objected to an inappropriate religious display regardless of the particular sectarian belief. Said another way, we’re not simply picking on Christians, and would have raised the exact same concerns if the offending parties were Jewish, Muslim, atheist, or representative of any of the myriad religious beliefs that exist among the American citizenry.  That is because we see a very clear line between what is Constitutional behavior and what is unconstitutional behavior, as it pertains to military members who are on duty and in uniform. 
 
Unfortunately, that line is ignored far too often by some of my Christian brethren. Usually, these are the same folks who say silly things like “But America is a Christian country!”… “I thought it was freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion?!”… or any number of other ridiculous assertions that suppose Christians in America should be allowed to demonstrate a degree of supremacy over other religious beliefs. That is a very dangerous belief from a Constitutional perspective, particularly when it is espoused by military leaders. 
 
As for me and others like me — Christians and non-Christians, believers and non-believers — all of whom are decent, honorable people with a passion for defending the Constitution and opposing any effort to use our governmental institutions, including the military, to promote one religious belief over others, or belief over non-belief, or non-belief over belief… we will continue to speak up whenever we see conduct by military leaders and organizations that jeopardizes the purpose and meaning of the US Constitution.
 
 
Peace,
 
Mike Challman
Christian, USAF veteran, MRFF supporter

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