MRFF received complaints and a request for assistance from 8 active duty U.S. Army clients with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York (half of whom are practicing Christians) regarding overtly religious videos posted to the Official Facebook page of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade.
While the Army has insisted over and over that “Spiritual Fitness” does not mean religion, Fort Drum Chaplain (CPT) Amy Smith, in two videos, says that two of the post’s “Spiritual Fitness” facilities, the “Spiritual Fitness Trail” and the “Fort Drum Labyrinth,” are for religious worship.
In a video posted on April 17, Chaplain Smith, repeatedly using the words “pray” and “God,” says that the so-called “Spiritual Fitness” trail “is designed to be used as a prayer walk;” that there are “nine different stations where you’re invited to pray;” that it is a place to “connect with God” that “helps us to get in tune with him.”
In a video posted on April 8, Chaplain Smith compares walking the Fort Drum Labyrinth to “our walk with God” and “asking God, where are you, where are you in the midst of this COVID-19?;” that when you get to the center, “you can hear God’s voice, and you can hear him and you can sense him;” that the labyrinth “is designed to get me closer and connect with God,” and be “in line with God, in direction with him;” that “it’s a tool to use to exercise our faith, to trust God in the midst of all this chaos.”
For additional context regarding the clear proselytizing intent of these videos under the color of command authority, it should be noted that the Fort Drum Chapel Facebook page has only 348 followers while the official Facebook page of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade has 7,828 followers. MRFF and its clients in this matter ask: If you were a chaplain bent on proselytizing, which page would you want your videos on?
On behalf of MRFF’s clients in this matter, MRFF President/Founder Mikey Weinstein spoke with the senior leadership staff of Major General Brian Mennes, the 10th’s Commanding General, as well as subordinate senior staff of Colonel Matt Bresko, the Commander of the10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade. These senior Fort Drum staffers were professional and courteous and swiftly removed these unconstitutional religious videos.
MRFF’s successes here at Fort Drum (and previously at Fort Hamilton and the Air Force Reserve) regarding removal of Christian proselytizing COVID-19 videos from official military Facebook pages and posted ONLY on chapel pages has drawn both praise and criticism, and hate emails coming in at an astounding rate of one every 20 to 25 seconds. In response, Mikey commented:
[Military] chaplains have a Facebook (FB) page whereon they can do all the praying and lecturing and teaching and enlightening they’d like. But that’s a separate page from that of the unit leader or commanding officer which is also the actual main FB page of the military installation. The commander’s (or main installation’s) FB page may not be used to promote one particular belief system over others (or even non-faith belief systems) because doing so amounts to government endorsement of a particular faith and violates the separation of church and state.