MRFF was contacted on May 8, 2017 by numerous clients regarding sectarian religious preferences being provided under the Air National Guard’s marriage and family program known as ‘Strong Bonds’. MRFF’s clients in this matter come from many faiths and no faiths; however, most of them are practicing Catholics. Of particular concern was the provision that:
“One voluntary worship service will be conducted at all overnight training sessions, serving to the extent possible, the largest religious demographic represented in accordance with the Constitutional mandate to provide for the “free exercise of religion”. (See “ DODI 1300.17”; “AFI 52-101”) (emphasis added).”
The constitutional problem with this provision was very succinctly described by one MRFF client:
No provisions are made for the request of religious service accommodation for any other religion. Moreover, the guidance does not account for the possibility that members of the “largest religious demographic present” (e.g. Protestant Christians) may not be interested in attending a service, while members of a smaller religious demographic (e.g. Catholics) may have more attendees interested in a weekend service. This is clearly the establishment of the majority religion at the expense of everyone else, something that has no place in the tax-payer funded military.
MRFF President/Founder Mikey Weinstein immediately submitted a demand letter on May 9, 2017 to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, General Joseph Lengyel, demanding that this policy be immediately rescinded and replaced with a policy which is fully compliant with all of the aforementioned Constitutional provisions, Federal laws/statutes, Federal case law and DoD and USAF regulatory provisions regarding religious neutrality. MRFF also demanded investigation and punishment of personnel responsible for issuing this clearly sectarian religious aspect of the program.
On May 19, 2017, MRFF was informed by Brigadier General Christian Rofrano on behalf of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau that “the CNGB and his staff take these matters seriously” and that “the Air National Guard leadership is in the process of rescinding and re-issuing its program guidance”.