November 9, 2020
MRFF President/Founder Mikey Weinstein was contacted on November 8, 2020 by a client representing 13 U.S. Air Force enlisted airmen for assistance in responding to an episode of blatant sectarian religious proselytizing by their commanding officer. The client contacting Mikey identified the group of clients seeking assistance as “Christians (6 Protestants and 3 Roman Catholics), including me, with the others being Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic and Atheist.”
In their email to MRFF, the client representing this group of 13 USAF airmen described the intolerable proselytizing coming from their commanding officer:
(Name and rank of USAF Commander withheld) is our (military unit name withheld) Commander. Recently he placed a large framed document on his office wall (right behind his desk) where all who enter cannot help but to see it.
The framed document states that it is a “Fishing License” which allows the license holder to “fish” people into the Kingdom Of Jesus Christ. There is a large Christian Cross and an official looking seal etc. The framed “fishing license” cites Matthew 4:19 from the New Testament and quotes Jesus Christ declaring that;
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
These MRFF clients originally contacted the MRFF Representative at their base regarding well founded concerns with this commander’s naked attempt to proselytize their subordinates. The MRFF base representative informed these clients that Air Force Instruction (AFI )1-1, Section 2, states that Air Force leaders cannot favor by their words or actions one religious belief over others or even favor them over no beliefs. Due to their discomfort with directly approaching their commander regarding this issue, these 13 USAF enlisted airmen went to the base JAG (Judge Advocate General) office who informed them that DoD Instruction 1300.17 now overrides AFI 1-1, Section 2 and “allows our Commander to display his ‘Christian Fishing License’ as long as his desire to do so is “motivated” by a sincere religious belief.”
Mikey/MRFF had foreseen this type of egregious interpretation by the base JAG office in a statement released on September 18, 2020:
Matthew P. Donovan, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, champion of the Space Force, is now the champion of the fundamentalist Christian lawmakers who are on a mission to obliterate the wall of separation between church and state in our military. Under Secretary Donovan’s recent action in transforming DoD Instruction 1300.17, “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services, ” into an all new DoD Instruction 1300.17, now titled “Religious Liberty in the Military Services,” will allow all manner of otherwise prohibited religious behavior.
The MRFF clients in this matter described their reaction to this response from the base JAG office:
How can this jacked up answer from our JAGs to us possibly be?
We spoke to Mr. Weinstein after what the JAGs told us and he explained the awful impact of this new DoD Reg and how illegal it is. He explained about that Supreme Court case Parker vs. Levy. And how the focus should be on how badly our Commander’s actions are hurting our unit’s cohesion good order discipline and morale.
If our Commander can get away with this then we will go to his direct report who has an “open door policy” and ask for the ok to post in our various workplaces an “Arrest Warrant” for any USAF superior who is “licensed” to “fish” us in to his Christian faith. That is our “sincerely motivated religious belief” in reaction to his. [emphasis added]
Mikey immediately contacted the proselytizing commander’s superior officer regarding this illicit sectarian religious activity and JAG office’s interpretation of this naked display of Christian preference/supremacy in regards to the commander’s subordinates. In response to Mikey’s follow up with the commander’s superior officer, Mikey received an email detailing the action to be taken and appreciation for bringing this matter to their attention:
Thank you for the useful phone conversation we had this morning regarding the framed religious fishing license display in the office of (Active Duty USAF Officer’s name and rank withheld). I have ordered that the display be permanently taken down in his office and anywhere else in the (unit name withheld) area and it will not be returning at any other location in the military workplace here at (installation name withheld).
I will be shortly meeting with one of your several Foundation clients in this matter, (Active Duty NCO’s name and rank withheld), per your and his request as well to ensure that this matter is properly closed, used as a teachable moment for all Airmen concerned and we all turn the page.
Thank you for what you all do to support our Great Air Force and Airmen and have a Great Air Force Day.
The representative of MRFF’s 13 USAF client airmen emailed Mikey regarding the result of MRFF’s intervention:
I just completed a meeting with our immediate Commander’s boss (Active Duty USAF Officer’s name and rank withheld) regarding the “Christian Fishing License” situation. The meeting was very short but very positive.
(Active Duty USAF Officer’s name and rank withheld) confirmed that he had a “very educational” telecon with you this morning and that he had decided to tell our immediate Commander to take down his “Christian Fishing License” immediately. In fact he told me that it had already been taken down. [I called and spoke to another MRFF client who is there and he also just confirmed that it was now removed!]
In our meeting I showed the “Arrest Warrant” to (Active Duty USAF Officer’s name and rank withheld) and he looked shocked and advised me not to frame it and display it in my work area. I know he got the point! What you had explained to him (and us) about how such religious displays in the USAF workplace work to harm unit cohesion and morale and discipline was clear to see.
Thank you Mr. Weinstein and (name, rank and title of installation MRFF Representative withheld) and all of the MRFF for getting this done for us and so quick! If we all get any blowback (could be likely given our immediate Commander’s personality) we will call you all right away.
(MRFF Client’s/Active Duty USAF NCO’s name, rank, AFSC, title, unit and installation all withheld)