Religious freedoms

I am appalled by your stance and intolerance of the bible.  Your organization needs to study the first amendment fully. Your persecution of Major Steve Lewis is ridiculous.  He was not preaching the bible. Just because he had a bible on his desk does not mean he was preaching the bible. Whether you like it or not, this country was founded on Judeo Christian values. God is mentioned in our constitution.  The first amendment prohibits establishing a state sponsored religion, it prohibits impeding the free excercise of religion. Your group is violating the free excercise of religion.

(name withheld)

Response from MRFF Legal Affairs Coordinator Tobanna Barker


Dear Mr. Valles –


I am writing in response to your August 17, 2016 email to the Military Religion Freedom Foundation (“MRFF”).  You claim that we need to study the First Amendment, but it is clear that you are truly the one in need of the lesson.


First, there is absolutely no mention of God anywhere in the Constitution.  Further, even if the Founding Fathers were Christians, they very specifically declined to create a government based on religious principles by including the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment.


Second, the question of whether Major Lewis’s practice of keeping a highlighted Bible on his desk violates the Establishment Clause is not limited to the issue of whether he was “preaching the Bible.”  As a state actor, the military (through the actions of military leaders, such as Major Lewis) is prohibited from endorsing one religion over others, or religion over nonreligion.  It is important to note that Major Lewis kept his Bible open to the same pages in a common work environment for years.  Therefore, this is not a matter of simply leaving his Bible out after reading it and causing a few visitors to notice it, which would be constitutionally permissible.  Instead, he created a religious display that endorsed his personal religious beliefs as the preferred religion among those under his command.


You should also know that constitutional law does not require that anyone who saw Major Lewis’s religious display prove that a hostile work environment existed because of it.  An act or policy of a government entity or person acting in the capacity of an agent of the government violates the Establishment Clause if any one of the following is shown: (1) its purpose is not secular; (2) its principal/primary effect either advances or inhibits religion; or (3) it fosters an excessive entanglement with religion.  Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).


As for your concern that MRFF is impeding the free exercise of Major Lewis’s religion, it is simply untrue.  The First Amendment forbids the government from preventing individuals from practicing the religion of their choice, but it allows restrictions on the time, place, and manner such religion is expressed.  For example, while the government cannot prevent someone from practicing a religion that requires prayer or meditation every hour, it can prevent that person from stopping his/her car in the middle of traffic to pray or meditate.


This is particularly true in the context of a military environment.  “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.”  Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 758-759 (1974).


This is, of course, an extremely abbreviated lesson in constitutional law.  If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.


Blessed be,


Tobanna Barker

MRFF Legal Affairs Coordinator










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