The Latest on MRFF

Saturday, March 7, 2009

By Ed Brayton

I had an interesting conversation with a former Navy chaplain who was seated at the same table with Richard Dawkins, Rob Pennock, Carl Bajema and me on Sunday. We spoke about the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and their work to combat religious coercion and proselytization in the military. She agreed that there are a lot of chaplains like Klingenschmitt who do not understand that their job is to support the emotional needs of soldiers, not to exploit those needs to woo them into their religion.

The New York Times had an article about MRFF on Sunday that looked at a lot of related issues. I like this statement from the plaintiff in MRFF's lawsuit against the Pentagon:

"The Army enforces policies against racism and sexism, but doesn't bat an eye at these kinds of religious discrimination," said Specialist Dustin Chalker, an Army medic based at Fort Detrick, in Maryland, who was raised in a Christian home but is now an atheist. "Why is it acceptable that soldiers are unable to serve this nation without attending state-led religious practices they find offensive and false?"

The article also points to a new case:

David Horn, a former fighter pilot in the Air Force Reserve, is among those who have sought the group's help. He tells of returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and, like Specialist Chalker, hearing prayers "in Jesus' name" at homecoming ceremonies. He was so bothered, he said in an interview, that he wrote a letter to his local newspaper complaining about what he called the "unconstitutional" intrusion of religion in military life.

Four days later, Mr. Horn said, he received a negative evaluation -- after years of positive appraisals -- and ultimately lost his flying certification and his post. With his flying career in jeopardy, he plans to join the lawsuit against the Pentagon.

Last week, the Justice Department got an extension until March 30 to file its response in federal court to the suit brought in December. Under the Bush administration, the department argued in court last July that the accusations of bias raised by the foundation in an earlier version of the suit were "not systemic problems, but isolated instances," best handled through internal military procedures and not in the courts.

And says that Mikey recently got to meet with one of the Joint Chiefs to discuss the issue:

Mr. Weinstein met last Tuesday with the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the first time the group has gotten an audience with a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Weinstein said of the meeting with General Schwartz that "the thing I found encouraging is that not only did he take it very seriously, but he also acknowledged that there is a problem, which is always a first step."

And the usual lies from the religious right:

"You can't and shouldn't eliminate the spiritual component in the military," said Bruce L. Fister, a retired Air Force general who is executive director of the Officers' Christian Fellowship, which is active on 200 bases worldwide.

Leaders of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation "would be happy if there were no religion whatsoever in the military," General Fister said in an interview. "But the problem is that Christians are going to operate one way or the other, and whenever the church has been persecuted, it's grown stronger."

The same old slander that if someone thinks the government shouldn't coerce people into religious exercises, it wants religion eliminated entirely. Such a tired old lie.

Selected reader comments:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Here are a few quotes from the Officers' Christian Fellowship, the organization of nearly 15,000 officers that Fister is the Executive Director of:

The vision of the OCF is: "A spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ inuniform empowered by the Holy Spirit."

The purpose of the OCF is: "Christian officers exercising Biblical leadership to raise up a godly military."

The OCF also has a goal of "reclaiming territory for Christ in the military." Referring to what it calls it's “Pray and Obey” plan, one OCF Bible study guide, titled "Mission Accomplished," states:

"As that plan emerges, we will need to press ahead obediently, sharing that vision with others, encouraging as many as possible to participate, and not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military."

Posted by: Chris Rodda

Sunday, March 8, 2009

JD - What is your position on the higher priority for military officers:
Ensuring military officers are able to and actually proselytize other military personnel in regards to the Ch ristian faith as demanded of them by the Bible, or officers insuring that military personnel are not deprived of their individual right to not be pressured to participate in religious activities that violate their freedom of conscience rights.

I have yet to see you directly confront the core issue at hand so please do not dance around the opportunities for sophistry given my overly-holistic question. I am perfectly cognizant that officers and the military can never completely eradicate individual personnel proselytizing another and that is not what I am referring to here, nor am I referring to the opportunity for Christian witness that can take place voluntarily or merely by setting an example in how one acts.

Instead I'm wondering if you believe that the Christian missi on to evangelize "the lost" justifies behavior in violation of the Constitution and/or those ideals instead of actively defending the individual rights of soldiers to not see their careers compromised or their military experience to suffer merely because they refuse to honor Christian officers or teams led by Christians who attempt or actually engage in religious activities or formal, semi-formal, and/or repeated proselytization efforts, either indirectly, e.g., group prayer, or directly.

Your comment posts to date, not just in this thread but going back to your first engagement in this forum several months ago, appear to put you in the camp that Christians should both proselytize personnel at every opportunity while also obscuring this activity in order to perpetuate these activities in the future. Is that really your position?

If you attempt to have it both ways, i.e., we can evangelize with limits (voluntary intercourse) while still defending individual rights, may I remind you that the MRFF has provided numerous examples of that not happening to the point we can be reasonably certain there is a pattern of violations, especially given the documented objectives of some Christian officers who collectively work to evangelize within the military. We should also remind ourselves that our founding framers were smart enough to realize that it was impossible for government to broadly protect our religious freedom rights without a second clause to severely limit government's power to establish a religion, a primary reason we have two religion clauses rather than one in the 1st Amendment.

I anticipate sophistry. Please surprise me and answer directly on what you believe is more important for the military officer, proselytization or defense of each military personnel's individual right to not be pressured by such acts.

Posted by: Michael Heath

Monday, March 9, 2009

Actually, JD, the DoD Inspector General's report...

Actually, the IG's conclusions had nothing to do with Christian Embassy itself, and specifically dealt only with the actions of military officers. It did NOTHING to address Christian Embassy itself, because the IG has no authority over a private organization.

Ed said:

Same old stupid strawman. No one is claiming that OCF violates the Constitution.

Your strawman has flesh:

From the MRFF newsletter linked in a previous comment: In a posting that discusses only OCF and CCC, two private organizations, and after listing OCF and CCC's "activity...that violate [sic] the very constitutional provisions that protect the free practice of religion...", the conclusion is (unedited):

I submit that based on their current modus operandi, unregulated or unmonitored Christian evangelical organizations, churches and evangelical protestant military Chaplains allowed to operate by means of dogmatic, coercive and overt Christian proselytizing is unconstitutional.

Richard Baker
Regional Director
Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

So the MRFF does, in fact, claim that OCF (and CCC, and churches, and chaplains, and other "evangelical organizations") violates the Constitution.

Posted by: JD

Monday, March 9, 2009

JD wrote: "So the MRFF does, in fact, claim that OCF (and CCC, and churches, and chaplains, and other "evangelical organizations") violates the Constitution."

But, MRFF isn't suing the OCF, CCC, or any other individual evangelical organization for violating the Constitution. MRFF is suing the Department of Defense for condoning, promoting, and facilitating the constitutional and military regulation violations of these organizations. All of this is part of the "pattern and practice" that the lawsuit will demonstrate.

Posted by: Chris Rodda

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