MRFF Assists Clients in Challenging Commander’s Ongoing Practice of Using Annual Thanksgiving Event for Sectarian Religious Proselytizing

Eleven active duty U.S. Military members contacted MRFF for assistance in responding to their Commander’s continuing practice of using a Thanksgiving luncheon for the purpose of sectarian religious proselytizing to subordinates.  This recurring mandatory attendance event was held at the base Commander’s off post church annex one year ago.  In preparation for this year’s luncheon, around a dozen members of this Commander’s unit were assigned to a working group tasked with organizing this year’s event.  One of MRFF’s client’s in this matter described the environment surrounding the planning for this year’s event in an email to MRFF’s President/Founder Mikey Weinstein:

Me and most of the others in this military working group recall that last year’s Thanksgiving event was held at our Commander’s off post church annex. All I can say was that it was all about proselytizing the Christian religion. Our Thanksgiving event is really mandatory for all personnel. I guess you could not attend but then you’d be screwed. Our Commander is a evangelical Christian who has a bible on his desk at all times and he talks about Jesus in most all of his conversations with us. He is a member of some large military officers Christian organization and tries to get others to join up as well. All the time. This is very well known about him and it intimidates all of us junior in rank to him even if we are also Christians like him. Nobody among the senior staff will ever dare to stand up to him.

The Command Staff reluctantly agreed with the event working group’s recommendation that this year’s Thanksgiving luncheon would be held on base at a large conference area used for other mandatory gatherings rather than at the Commander’s off base church.  However, the Commander made it clear that Christian prayers would be offered by him and the chaplains he invited to attend.  Members of the event working group attempted to inform their Commander that this was inappropriate due to the mandatory nature of the event and the fact that members of the Commander’s unit required to attend represented many different faiths as well as members who do not believe in any god or gods.  The Commander did not deny this was a mandatory event and did not agree to remove the overtly sectarian religious messaging from this year’s luncheon.  It was at this point that the 11 MRFF clients decided to contact Mikey and MRFF for assistance.

After Mikey and several MRFF volunteers at this military installation contacted the Commander’s superiors regarding this situation, the members of the event working group were initially informed that Christian prayers would not be used.  However, this changed several days later when the Commander’s senior staff attempted to re-brand the event as a “Pilgrim Heritage” Thanksgiving luncheon.  According to the MRFF client’ email:

Turns out that the Commander and his staff had decided that the Christian prayers were fine if the luncheon was about “The Pilgrims” and their “heritage”. We were told that this is a “thing” now and that “Pilgrim Heritage” events are being used all over DoD for Thanksgiving now. And as all the Pilgrims were devout Christians the praying of the Christian prayers would not be categorized as a “religious” matter but a “historical” matter. Therefore no basis for us to complain and using the Christian prayers was back on.

Even worse the Commander told (name and rank withheld) who is a member of our Thanksgiving luncheon event working group that it “might be nice” if he wore traditional “Indian clothing” to the event as a “historical accuracy matter”. Everyone was shocked because this same person (name and rank withheld) is a Native American himself and a full tribal member of the (Native American tribal name withheld) Nation. He was angry and embarrassed. We all were.

This rebranding effort appears to be a shameless attempt to capitalize on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Bladensburg ‘Peace Cross’ Case (AMERICAN LEGION v. AMERICAN HUMANIST ASSN.) in order to engage in naked sectarian religious proselytizing by government officials.  MRFF found the claim of DoD wide use of “Pilgrim Heritage” re-branding as a vehicle for sectarian religious proselytizing to be erroneous.  After both Mikey and members of the event working group informed the Commander of this error, the Commander “got angry and told us we were not doing our duties to make the Thanksgiving event happen as he had assigned.”  On the morning of November 7, 2019, the event working group was informed that the Commander cancelled this year’s Thanksgiving luncheon.

Apparently the Commander is now PO’ed that his “Pilgrim Heritage” Thanksgiving sham got blown up by us with the MRFF’s help. So we know we all need to watch our backs. (Name and rank withheld) the Native American member of our Thanksgiving luncheon event working group is planning to file an EEO and IG complaint with the help of the MRFF.  Thanks again and a huge shout out to the MRFF for guiding us through this confrontation. Don’t go away please MRFF because we may still need you!

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