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Sep 14 2011

Thank You General Schwartz For Finally Putting Your 4-Star Foot Down

Everybody’s heard the familiar cliché, “You can’t have freedom of religion without freedom from religion,” but what does that really mean? Well, in the battles waged by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to protect and defend the First Amendment rights of every member of our armed forces, it means that the military must stop allowing the “Free Exercise” clause to trump the “Establishment Clause.” In other words, the military can’t keep ignoring and allowing clearly unconstitutional promotions of religion by claiming that they aren’t violations of the Establishment Clause, but merely the free exercise of religion.

When a chaplain runs a Christian concert as a chapel event, that’s free exercise of religion. But, when a commanding general runs a Christian concert called the “Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert,” and soldiers are punished for not attending this religious event, that’s a violation of the Establishment Clause. Is it really that hard for people to see the difference?

For years, MRFF has been saying that if the military would only start paying equal attention and giving equal weight to both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, many of the problems being reported by our service members would solve themselves. And, at long last, someone is listening — General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The recent revelation by MRFF, reported by Truthout, that a mandatory part of the Air Force’s nuclear missile launch officer “ethics” training was a Christian theological presentation, nicknamed the “Jesus Loves Nukes speech” by some missile officers, was apparently the constitutional violation that broke the camel’s back. Not only did this revelation result in the Air Force immediately suspending the “Jesus Loves Nukes” training, but a review of all of the Air Force’s so-called “ethics” training, much of which is chock full of inappropriate and unconstitutional religious content.

But the Air Force didn’t stop there. General Schwartz has now issued the following memorandum to the Air Force. It doesn’t get more clear than this!

MEMORANDUM FOR ALMAJCOM-FOA-DRU/CC

FROM: HQ USAF/CC
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670

SUBJECT: Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion

Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline.

Chaplain Corps programs, including activities such as religious studies, faith sharing, and prayer meetings, are vital to commanders’ support of individual Airmen’s needs and provide opportunities for the free exercise of religion. Although commanders are responsible for these programs they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.

Our chaplains are trained to provide advice to leadership on matters related to the free exercise of religion and to help commanders care for all of their people, regardless of their beliefs. If you have concerns involving the preservation of government neutrality regarding religious beliefs, consult with your chaplain and staff judge advocate before you act.

NORTON A. SCHWARTZ
General, USAF
Chief of Staff

Upon reading General Schwartz’s memorandum, MRFF Founder and president Mikey Weinstein issued the following statement:

“General Schwartz deserves significant kudos and comprehensive congratulations for being THE most senior Pentagon official to date to ever send this strong a mandate of Constitutional religious compliance to our United States armed forces members. While MRFF wishes that such a letter had been sent by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force a very long time ago, the old adage ‘better late than never’ most certainly applies. While this letter may not be a home run, it is a damn good line drive single to potentially start a rally of Constitutional religious freedom compliance, which has been scandalously lacking in the entire Defense Department for decades. Gen. Schwartz has the U.S. Air Force at least now ‘talking the talk.’ Whether the USAF can ‘walk the walk’ will depend upon many factors, not the least of which is whether ANYONE in the Air Force is EVER punished for violating its clear mandates of Constitutional recognition for BOTH the No Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment. To that end, we must all remember that while the First Commandment says, ‘You can’t have any other Gods before Me,’ the First Amendment says, ‘Oh yes you can!’”

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Artor

    These are comforting words, but I’ll feel alot more comforted when I start seeing evangelizing officers removed from their commands & disciplined for their violations.

  2. 2
    frankb

    If the Armed Forces get on the right track about separation of church and state, maybe that will leak into the general population. Desegregation in the military was a big event, and they are coming around on gay rights. It would be a good step forward.

  3. 3
    Worldtraveller

    I grew up in the military, but never served (I learned my lesson!). Is this sort of memo considered ‘direct orders of a superior officer’? If that’s the case, complaints about inappropriate religious behavior might finally have some proverbial teeth.

    Many kudos to the general.

  4. 4
    b00ger

    This guy gets what so many Christians fail to get.

    For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.

    This sentence says it all (emphasis mine). If you are in a leadership position, often times your personal rights get trumped by the rights of your subordinates. You can be as evangelical Christian as you want in your personal time, but when you use your office to be evangelical you are in direct violation of the establishment clause.

    Now if we can just get this applied to public schools and public meetings we’d be in good shape.

  5. 5
    Pieter B, FCD

    While the First Commandment says, ‘You can’t have any other Gods before Me,’ the First Amendment says, ‘Oh yes you can!’”

    I like that. Consider it stolen, Mikey.

  6. 6
    Nemo

    There’s nothing about de facto mandatory attendance that says “free exercise” to me.

  7. 7
    Pinky

    I read this and again thought about Pat Tillman, the football player who gave up big $ to join the army and was killed by friendly fire.

    The army lied about his death; once inventing a story they could use as a recruitment saga. Could the army have lied again? Was Tillman’s death really a mistake or was he an Atheist singled out for disciplining by a Christian squad?

    Why would I say such a thing about the US army? Well it might be because, among other suspicious things:

    His diary was never returned to his family despite numerous requests.

    An investigation showed no evidence of enemy fire in the area.

    Tillman’s fellow soldiers destroyed evidence, such as body armor, etc., that would have shown what type of weapon killed Tillman.

    Soldiers were told by superior officers to lie to the Tillman’s family.

    Army doctors told the investigators that Tillman’s wounds suggested murder because “the medical evidence did not match-up with the scenario as described.”

    The Associated Press reported that a doctor who examined Tillman’s body after his death wrote, “The medical evidence did not match up with the scenario as described,” also noting that the wound entrances appeared as though he had been shot with an M16 rifle from fewer than 10 yards (9 m) away.

    Punishing soldiers for not attending a blatantly religious concert may be only one step in the effort to turn the US military into an army for Yahweh. Does the army execute Atheists when they think they can get away with it? We need to find out.

    Hey, what am I talking about; you can always trust the big green wienie to be truthful. Am ah’ right?

    ♱ ♰ ✞ ☥ ☦ ☧ ☨ ☩ ✝✟ ✠

    (✞Wikipedia article on Pat Tillman has a short, concise article on Pat Tillman’s life and death along with a lengthly bibliography.)

  8. 8
    michael

    Wow! A memo from head office! Can’t get much tougher than that.

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