recent swearing in with a Bible

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Martin France
On Jan 14, 2020, at 11:08 AM, Martin France  wrote:
(name withheld) as an Advisory Board Member for the MRFF, I occasionally handle email responses for Mikey.  I’ve attempted to answer your questions below in RED.  I’ve also added a thread that included a response to another letter.  It might help you understand where we’re coming from.  I would, in advance though, like to thank you for your well-written and civil inquiry–a relative rarity compared to what we usually see. Sincerely, M

I am not sure I understand the outrage about someone being sworn in with a Bible.  Would your definition of religious freedom be that each person can decide for themselves how/what to use to be sworn in?  YES! Can someone decide to use a Bible, a cookbook, another religious text or whatever they want? YES!  (However, in my 35+ years of service, I NEVER saw a commander, promotee, or newly commissioned officer EVER use ANY book when taking an oath or assuming command.)
Are you trying to make the point that using the Bible is bad but using other texts would be okay?  NO! I just do not understand the level of outrage inherent in the statement.  I always thought that religious freedom meant that each individual got to choose for themselves what faith to pursue.  No?  My understanding of the “separation of church and state” didn’t mean that a person cannot have faith, or that they cannot express that faith, but that the government could not establish a church, like the Anglican Church in England.  Do you see that differently? YES!  By presuming that a military service (not an individual) needs a Bible or ANY spiritual text to define its values or require sworn fealty to same by all commanders, we’re violating the idea of religious freedom because we would be ESTABLISHING an official religion for that organization.

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Martin France
And now for the thread I mentioned:

(name withheld),

 As an Advisory Board Member for the MRFF, I often answer inane emails like yours–often for my own entertainment and therapy.  You say, “Imagine what the world would be like if everyone could just take a breath, relax, and leave everybody else the fuck alone.”  That’s a nice thought–until it intersects with your rights.  Let’s do a little thought exercise.  What would cause you to complain about something you view as contrary to your rights and privileges as an fully enfranchised American citizen (and I’m assuming here)?  If a senior member of the company you worked for decided that they wanted to have an Imam-blessed Koran placed in your front lobby and then tweeted that all future supervisors at your company (or county, or school board, or state, or military unit) would be sworn in using that Koran, would that bother you or would you just “…take a breath, relax, and leave everybody else the fuck alone?”  As a 35+ year Air Force veteran, that’s how I feel about the tweet in question and the “Space Force Bible.”  I can’t, in good conscience, let ignore this.  I served the United States and the Constitution and still do.  I swore an oath to protect and defend both.  At no time was I required to hold a Bible or any text when I was commissioned, promoted, or took command of an organization.  I wasn’t even required to say “So help me god” at the end of my oath.  Why?  Because the Constitution (and by extension our military) defend the rights of all citizens to believe as they see fit.  We are guaranteed to not face ANY religious test to hold public office and we’re told that the government will take no steps to ESTABLISH a state religion (or discriminate against religion by referring no religion).
The commander of the Space Force can own a bible (or koran or any other book) as part of her or his personal book collection, but they can’t proclaim that bible to be THE spiritual text representing the views or values of those who serve under them.  I know the Chief of Space Operations.  Personally.  He’s a good man.  I do not know his religious beliefs whatsoever, even though I’ve known him for over 20 years.  I think that’s WONDERFUL.  He doesn’t know mine, either.  Instead of discussing personal matters like that or letting those issues trickle into the workplace, we’ve always decided that it’s better to  “…take a breath, relax, and leave everybody else the fuck alone” to believe as they see fit and not IMPOSE our beliefs on anyone underneath us in the command hierarchy–because that’s what the Constitution requires of us.
So, in the end, I BLESS your heart, dear ma’am/sir.  I don’t know what your first name is other than it may begin with an “R”.  I’ll assume that it’s the non-gender-specific “Ricki” for now.  I will not presume based solely on how you choose to spell your name or be called by your friends or that you live in your Mom’s basement–that would be an ad hominem attack (as you well know) and indicative of a feeble mind that reverts to this sort of attack when they cannot fall back on sound logic and arguments.
Sincerely,
M France, PhD
Brigadier General, USAF (Retired)
MRFF Advisory Board Member

Response from MRFF Advisory Board Member Mike Farrell

On Jan 14, 2020, at 6:48 PM, Mike  wrote

(name withheld),
I’m going to take you literally and assume you’re being straightforward in saying you’re not sure you understand our position.

To go to your penultimate sentence about the separation of church and state, you have it about right. But the separation of church and state doesn’t mean only that the government cannot establish a church, it means that the government cannot be put into the position of suggesting, implying a preference for, support for or proselytization on behalf of, one faith, religion or belief system over others. To ensure true freedom of religious, or for that matter non-religious, choice, the government must stand aside and not appear to be partial in any way.

That’s why the military has regulations ensuring that no religious preference may be suggested. People, in their private lives and private practices, of course, are free to believe and practice what they will, but they may not do so in an official capacity.

In the military, people take an oath to the Constitution, not to a belief system. Yet, as is the case with this so-called Space Force issue, zealous believers often try to find ways to insinuate their belief system into situations and circumstances wherein it is not appropriate.

I hope that helps clear up your understanding of our position. For a clear statement of the facts of this particular situation, please see Col. Wilkerson’s article below.

Thanks.

Mike Farrell

(MRFF Board of Advisors)

The USAF Is At It Again by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson  MRFF Advisory Board Member, January 14, 2020

This was a Washington National Cathedral tweet on Monday:

Today @WNCathedral blessed the official Bible for the new @SpaceForceDoD, which will be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch.

This tweet on some websites was accompanied by a photograph of what was supposedly the U.S. Air Force Chief of Chaplains holding a Bible while functionaries from the National Cathedral “blessed” it (as if the supposed word of God needed such blessing).  Unless the purpose was ribald humor – and in even that purpose was abject failure and potential sacrilege – this might be the most ridiculous stunt the USAF has ever staged, and that is saying something given that Service’s record for such affairs, particularly when they relate to religion.

Simply the facts destroy the message in the tweet:

First, commanders don’t take oaths as commanders.  They stand at attention while guidons or flags are passed, they exchange salutes – incoming commander to outgoing commander, and perhaps to both’s mutual higher commander – they say a few words, and the command is assumed (and surrendered if a former commander exists).  Operative phrase here is: they don’t take oaths.

Second, no Bible is necessary for assumptions of command or changes of command.  One can be present if one of the officers desires it, but it should not be “on display” because a change of command or an assumption of command is an official event and should not be seen as favoring one religion over another, or religion over none.  That’s regulation; that’s the Constitution – the latter document, by the way, the one that military personnel do in fact swear an oath to support and defend.  Not a Christian Bible.  Not an Islamic Qu’ran.  Not A Jewish Talmud or Torah.  Not anything else.

Third, military commanders, of any stripe, type, or kind are not sworn in.  This might seem a mimicking of the first point above, but it’s not.  It is simply a statement of fact separate from oath-taking so there is no mistaking what military commanders do.  They assume command, period.  There is no swearing whatsoever, unless of course in a person’s remarks after the assumption of command he or she wants to swear to do good, or to uphold the law, or some other personal commitment that the individual believes will seem more powerful if he or she swears to it.  But even if this were to occur, no text should be used to make it seem to favor one religion over another, or religion over no religion.  That’s the Constitution and USAF regulation.

So, one might rightly inquire, why all the publicity for an act that is wrong at best and absolutely bizarre at worst?  Why stage such a farce in the first place?  And why of all places stage it at the venerated National Cathedral, totally unconnected to the U.S. Armed Forces?

For show, of course.  You see, the USAF has an entire group of American taliban in its ranks – commissioned officers, including generals, non-commissioned officers and enlisted ranks.  These people, by self-avowal, want to take over the Armed Forces for Jesus.  And staging and photographing stunts such as this one at the National Cathedral are the way they call attention to themselves. I’m an active member of the Advisory Board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).  Sadly, we at MRFF see these egregious violations of church-state separation on an almost daily basis from all of the DOD branches of service, but especially from the U.S. Air Force.

The best recourse for the rest of us who know better is to call them out as the confused, even demented people they are.  But we must also ensure that they don’t succeed – ever.

 


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