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Dec 17 2013

Rep. Fleming: NDAA Religious Freedom Language Not a “Touchdown” — New Talking Points Needed

Back in June, when the House passed its first version of the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the anti-gay crowd was doing a victory dance over the fact that the House version of the bill included Rep. John Fleming’s (R-LA) so-called “religious freedom” amendment. If passed, the language of the Fleming amendment, the real purpose of which was anything but religious freedom, would essentially have taken away the ability of military commanders to do anything to stop anti-gay harassment and discrimination within their ranks until it rose from the level of merely being a threat to good order and discipline to the level of already having done “actual harm” to good order and discipline. In other words, it was a sneaky way of reversing the protections gained by LGB service members with the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” by preventing military commanders from doing anything to stop anti-gay “actions and speech” (under the guise of religious freedom, of course) until it was too late and “actual harm” had already been done.

Meanwhile, also back in June, a Senate version of the “religious freedom” amendment, introduced by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), was being voted on by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Lee’s amendment, however, was nothing like Rep. Fleming’s House amendment. Most importantly, it did not contain anything like the Fleming amendment’s language that would strip military commanders of the ability to stop anti-gay harassment and discrimination.

When Sen. Lee’s amendment was passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rep. Fleming, along with a coalition of anti-gay fundamentalist Christian organizations that had been formed to launch a propaganda campaign promoting the Fleming amendment, immediately began praising the Senate committee’s passing of Lee’s version of the amendment. Part of the propaganda was to imply that the Lee amendment was the same as the Fleming amendment, accomplished by describing it as the Senate’s “corresponding” or “companion” amendment to the Fleming amendment, but never saying what the language of the Lee amendment actually was. The point of this deception was to push the notion that Fleming’s “open season on military gays” amendment had bipartisan support. Fleming’s amendment did not have bipartisan support, unless you consider two of the twenty-eight Democrats on the committee voting in favor of it to be bipartisan support, but Lee’s Senate version — being very different from Fleming’s amendment — had gotten yes votes from six Democrats and one Independent, passing with a vote of 19-7 in the Democratically controlled Senate committee.

So important was pushing the erroneous notion that the Fleming and Lee amendments were the same, and claiming that both had bipartisan support, that Rep. Fleming and Sen. Lee put out a joint statement on June 17, which appeared on Rep. Fleming’s website with the heading “Fleming Applauds Passage of Religious Liberty Amendment in Senate Committee” in big red letters, and a sub-heading, in italicized big red letters, “These bipartisan votes strongly reaffirm the vision of our Founding Fathers that free speech, including that which expresses one’s religious beliefs, must not be compromised.”

Fast forward six months to last week. With the deadline for the House to pass the NDAA looming, the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees hashed out a final, compromise version of the bill. This final version of the bill, which was voted on and passed by the House on Thursday, did not contain Fleming’s “religious freedom” amendment. It contained Sen. Lee’s Senate version.

Now, since the Senate amendment really wasn’t the same as Fleming’s House amendment, a change in talking points was necessary. The new talking points were revealed on Friday, when Rep. Fleming appeared on “Washington Watch,” the radio show hosted by Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, the organization that had spearheaded that coalition of anti-gay organizations that was formed back in June to promote the Fleming Amendment. Now, after months of constantly implying that the House’s Fleming amendment and the Senate’s Lee amendment were the same, Fleming and Perkins had to point out that they were not the same, with Fleming saying that the Senate amendment that they had been praising was “not as strong as we would like” and that they “plan in the next year and maybe the next two years, depending on who takes over the Senate, to tighten that language, strengthen it, and take it all the way to a touchdown.”

So, how do they explain to their followers — who for the past six months have been under the desired impression that the House and Senate amendments were the same — that the two amendment are suddenly not the same, and that they now don’t like the Senate amendment? Well, they blame a democrat, of course, and imply that the Senate amendment they had praised had been changed in the final bill, with Fleming telling Perkins, “we had to cooperate with some other viewpoints, likely — and Sen. Levin, a Democrat — and so it’s not as strong as we would like.”

In reality, Sen. Lee’s amendment wasn’t changed at all. With the exception of rearranging the phrases to put them into the final bill language, the amendment that passed in the final bill is exactly the same Lee amendment that Fleming and his cohorts were praising when the Senate Armed Services Committee passed it six months ago.

This was the language from last year’s NDAA (Section 533) that was being amended:

“The Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs of a member of the armed forces reflecting the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such beliefs as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”

 

This was Sen. Lee’s amendment, as passed and reported by the Senate Armed Services Committee back in June:

“The committee recommends a provision that would amend section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239) to require the armed forces to accommodate individual expressions of belief of service members unless such expressions could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline.”

 

And here’s the final language (Section 532) that appears in this year’s NDAA:

“Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a member of the armed forces reflecting the sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such expression of belief as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.”

 

As you can see, every word of Sen. Lee’s amendment — the amendment that was so enthusiastically praised by Fleming and his coalition of anti-gay supporters back in June — made it into the final bill that was passed by the House last week.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the organization I work for, actually sees the greater specificity of the new language as a good thing. We fully agree with the assessment made by the Religion News Service the other day that “the final law weakened gains social conservatives made a year ago,” and that “[t]he new language should also make it easier for military leaders to protect the rights of gays and lesbians in the military.”

In addition to the Lee amendment, there are two other religious freedom related sections in this year’s NDAA, both of which we at MRFF also welcome and see as potentially very positive:

SEC. 533. INSPECTOR GENERAL INVESTIGATION OF ARMED FORCES COMPLIANCE WITH REGULATIONS FOR THE PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES AND THEIR CHAPLAINS.

(a) Investigation Into Compliance; Report- Not later than 18 months after the date on which regulations are issued implementing the protections afforded by section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Public Law 112-239; 126 Stat. 1727; 10 U.S.C. prec. 1030 note), as amended by section 532, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report–

(1) setting forth the results of an investigation by the Inspector General during that 18-month period into the compliance by the Armed Forces with the elements of such regulations on adverse personnel actions, discrimination, or denials of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment for members of the Armed Forces based on conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs; and

(2) identifying the number of times during the investigation period that the Inspector General of the Department of Defense or the Inspector General of a military department was contacted regarding an incident involving the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of a member of the Armed Forces.

(b) Consultation- In conducting any analysis, investigation, or survey for purposes of this section, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense shall consult with the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, as appropriate.

SEC. 534. SURVEY OF MILITARY CHAPLAINS VIEWS ON DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE POLICY REGARDING CHAPLAIN PRAYERS OUTSIDE OF RELIGIOUS SERVICES.

(a) Survey Required- The Secretary of Defense shall conduct a survey among a statistically valid sample of military chaplains of the regular and reserve components of the Armed Forces, to be selected at random, to assess whether–

(1) restrictions placed on prayers offered in a public or non-religious setting have prevented military chaplains from exercising the tenets of their faith as prescribed by their endorsing faith group; and

(2) those restrictions have had an adverse impact on the ability of military chaplains to fulfill their duties to minister to members of the Armed Forces and their dependents.

(b) Deadline for Completion- The Secretary of Defense shall complete the survey required by subsection (a) within one year after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(c) Submission of Results- Not later than 90 days after completing the survey required by subsection (a), the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report containing–

(1) the survey questionnaire; and

(2) the results of the survey.

 

Why does MRFF welcome this investigation and survey? Because they might just be the way to expose the steady stream of lies and propaganda about Christians in the military being persecuted for their beliefs coming from members of Congress like Rep. Fleming and organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) and the other member organizations of their so-called Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition.

Back in July, the FRC released its first edition of “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military,” a report chock full of alleged incidents of Christians in the military being persecuted for their religious beliefs. We at MRFF, being familiar with almost all of the incidents listed in the FRC’s report, many because of MRFF’s direct involvement in them, know that the FRC’s claims of Christian persecution in the military are simply not true. In fact, we are currently working on our own report here at MRFF (working title: “A Clear and Present Load of Crap”) that will thoroughly debunk the FRC’s report claim by claim.

In addition to the Inspector General investigation called for by the NDAA, Rep. Fleming told Tony Perkins during his appearance on “Washington Watch” that he “plan[s] to have hearings beginning in January/February time frame where we’re going to be highlighting all these abuses of religious liberty.”

There is nothing MRFF would like better than to see Rep. Fleming’s and the FRC’s claims of Christian persecution investigated. So, bring on the hearings and investigations!

MRFF will, of course, be supplying the Inspector General, the Secretary of Defense, and the members of Congress who really do support religious freedom with our “Clear and Present Load of Crap” report (which I promise to think of a better title for) to aid them in any investigations.

Dec 09 2013

Air Force Base Lights Menorah — Too Little, Too Late

Last Thursday night, Travis Air Force Base in California held its annual Christmas tree lighting. In a lame attempt to avoid complaints of not being religiously inclusive, a small menorah was included in the base’s “holiday” display along with the tree and a nativity scene.

The photo below shows what I mean by small. The menorah, which appears to be painted on a piece of wood, is that little thing — not even as tall as the small child standing in front of it — circled in blue in the photo below.

2013-12-09-menorah.jpg

 

The size of the menorah compared to the Christmas tree is, of course, the “too little” part.

But it was the “too late” part that caused someone attending the tree lighting to contact the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) from the event.

What was the problem? The base, while including the obligatory Jewish thing to feign inclusiveness and avoid complaints, apparently didn’t even bother to find out when Hanukkah was, or just didn’t care. The beginning of Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving this year, something that was pretty widely reported because of its rarity. Lighting the menorah as part of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony meant that the menorah wasn’t lit until the last day of Hanukkah! For the first seven days it wasn’t lit, if it was even in place yet.

That’s Travis Air Force Base’s version of religious inclusiveness. Hey, Hanukkah is sometime around Christmas, right? So just throw a little menorah into the Christmas display and, voilà, you got yourself an inclusive “holiday” display. Now those evil “war on Christmas” people can’t complain that the display is exclusively Christian. Problem solved. Who cares when Hanukkah actually is?

While our military bases have to at least make some show of recognition of religions other than Christianity — however half-hearted and obviously ungenuine that show might be — the same does not hold true for the rank and file “Christians.” They are free to express their true feelings towards their Jewish brethren, and express those feelings they do.

‘Tis the season for MRFF’s in-box to be full of Christmas cheer, like this heart-warming email that came in yesterday:

From: [email protected]
Subject: All we want for Christmas
Date: December 8, 2013 9:45:28 AM MST
To: <———@militaryreligiousfreedom.org>

is for your wife and children to have there heads explode with brain anyerisms. similtaniously. but not for you mickie jew. We want you to live with it for years and years to come. what the righteous hand of our Lord and Savior struck your little loved ones down with. and to think about it. its all because of you. What you and your father satan do. to keep the Only true Lord Christ from our marines and flyers and soldiers. And from our nation. you think Jesus will not make you pay dearly? for your wickedness mickie jew?
think again when you bury them all.
if you love the US of A thank a Christian. semper fi And Merry Christmas.

Yeah, Merry freakin’ Christmas to you, too. You do understand that you’re celebrating the birth of a Jewish guy, right?

Nov 27 2013

An $88,000 Piano for an Army Chapel? What Military Cutbacks?

Apparently, military cutbacks don’t apply to church music.

Sebastian Sprenger at Inside Defense reports that the Department of Defense has just spent $88,000 for a Steinway piano for a chapel at Fort Riley, Kansas, writing: “That’s some church piano. What might have gone into the Army’s decision to spend almost $90,000 on a concert-pianist grade instrument for a chapel in Ft. Riley, KS, when the service is facing for some serious cuts — not to mention government programs writ large?”

According to Sprenger, a spokesman for Ft. Riley, Kan. said the piano will be used during religious services inside a new chapel being built there.

(Inside Defense is a paid subscription site, so here are the links on the freely accessible Federal Business Opportunities website to what Sprenger found – the original solicitation, the contract award.)

I can’t say that I was surprised to hear about this example of outrageously extravagant spending on a military chapel when someone emailed me about it this morning. Back in 2011, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the organization I work for, did a bit of investigation into just how much the military spends on religious programs. That 2011 investigation was sparked by two things — the complaints received by MRFF from soldiers who were being forced to attend events like Christian concerts, which led to the discovery of the outrageous amounts of money being spent on these religious events, and the excessive spending on military base “chapels” like the $30,000,000 mega-church at Fort Hood.

All of this leads me to something that I just can’t figure out.

In recent months, a coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations along with members of Congress like Rep. John Fleming have been claiming that the persecution of Christians in the military is so great that service members are afraid to even go to church. But the reason given to justify the spending of outrageous amounts of money to build mega-churches on military bases is that there are so many service members attending religious services that our present military base chapels aren’t big enough to accommodate all of them.

Think about it. If service members are so afraid of being “outed” as Christians that they’re afraid to even go to church, as the organizations and Congress members crying Christian persecution claim, then how can there be so many service members attending worship services that the military needs to build mega-church size chapels to accommodate the large crowds showing up for services? Obviously, these two completely contradictory claims can’t both be true. Either service members are afraid to attend church or there are so many of them attending that our military bases need mega-church size chapels to accommodate them all. So, which is it?

Nov 19 2013

MRFF Demands the Immediate Dismissal of “Ex-Gay” Counselor from Air Force Academy

As reported by the Colorado Springs Independent, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) today sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning demanding that Dr. Mike Rosebush be immediately dismissed from his position at the Air Force Academy.

The full article about Dr. Rosebush, the subject of an extensive report by Pam Zubeck, will be out in tomorrow’s edition of the Independent, but, due to the story leaking elsewhere earlier today, the Independent has posted a preview of MRFF’s demand letter, and I am posting the full letter here.

(Colorado Springs Independent article is now up here.)

 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eric Fanning

Acting Secretary of the Air Force

1670 Air Force Pentagon

Washington, DC 20330-1670

Dear Acting Secretary Fanning,

With great shock and an enormous sense of disgust, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been informed of the notorious anti-gay bigot Dr. Mike Rosebush’s employment at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). Needless to say, the employment of a fundamentalist Christian, “gay conversion therapy” advocate comes as a grave insult and palpable threat to USAFA’s lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) cadets, staffers, and faculty members, including MRFF’s 27 LGB clients at the Academy. Accordingly, MRFF demands that USAFA immediately terminate the employment of the notorious homophobe Rosebush.

Rosebush has devoted his entire professional career to the bullying and harassment of the LGBTQ community, carried out under the highly dubious guise of “curing homosexuality,” a sexual orientation that he likens to “addiction” and disease. Rosebush is a former vice president of the rabidly fundamentalist Christian, Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, one of the foremost anti-gay organizations in the country. Additionally, Rosebush has also been a clinical member of NARTH (the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality). According to the promotional materials for his book “Sanctification Coaching,” Rosebush is an “expert” on fighting “unwanted same-sex attractions” among Christian men “acting upon their homoerotic temptations.”The man has gained fame and notoriety by taking insipid quack science to ever-lower depths of absurdity. Indeed, the American Psychological Association (APA), in its “Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts,” has taken great pains to underscore such “therapy” as merely the expression of prejudice and discrimination, with a basis in ignorance and the distortion or active disdain of scientific data. Even Exodus International, the organization for which Rosebush served as Professional Counselors’ Network director, has publicly apologized for the harm caused by the espousal of the patently false notion that homosexuals can be “cured.”

Implausibly, Rosebush now finds his employment at the United States Air Force Academy. Reporter Pam Zubeck, writing for the Colorado Springs Independent on a story about Rosebush, interviewed MRFF just a few days ago. In that interview, Ms. Zubeck informed MRFF that Rosebush was hired at the Academy in 2009 to work in the Academy’s “plans and programs directorate,” which develops institutional policy, plans, and assessment strategies for commanders. That same year, the APA comprehensively debunked Rosebush’s conversion or “reparative” therapy/quackery. Zubeck further advised MRFF that, in 2011, Rosebush transferred to the Academy’s Center for Character and Leadership Development where he develops programs for a team of USAFA counselors. The mind literally boggles at the wretched thought of Rosebush being employed at USAFA anywhere, but especially at a place described as the Academy’s “Center for Character and Leadership Development”!

Mike Rosebush has absolutely no place in the hallowed halls of our military service academies. Such casehardened proponents of old-school horrific bigotry and putrescent prejudice, if employed by the United States Air Force Academy, will no doubt use their positions to erode and denigrate the precious civil rights of airmen, cadets, faculty and staff. We call on the leadership of the United States Air Force to expeditiously and comprehensively root out this menace to good order, morale, and discipline at USAFA.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation demands that USAFA exercises its responsibility towards the civil rights and protections of cadets, staff, and faculty, and immediately terminate the employment of “ex-gay” fraudster Dr. Mike Rosebush.

Sincerely,

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.

Founder and President

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Edith A. Disler, PhD, MBA, Lt. Col. (USAF) Ret.

MRFF Director for LGBT Affairs,

Advisory Board Member,

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

CC:

General Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force

Lieutenant General Michelle D. Johnson, Superintendent of USAFA

Nov 15 2013

Operation Hijack Hashtag #militaryfreedom

Last night on the House floor, there was an hour of speeches from Louie Gohmert and some other fundie congress members ranting about how Christians are being persecuted in the military. Gohmert and all the fundie organizations that have banded together into a coalition to destroy religious freedom in the military (for everybody except anti-gay Christians) are telling people to tweet to #militaryfreedom.

Please watch Gohmert’s speech from last night, and tweet your comments to THEIR hashtag – #militaryfreedom

The guy from Thomas More Law Center accidentally retweeted my tweet of our “The Truth About Mikey Weinstein” video last night to their 34,000 followers!!! He deleted it when he realized that it was a tweet from me and that the video, made by a MRFF supporter, really was the truth about Mikey!!!

Screengrab of email to me from Twitter proving that the Thomas More Law Center retweeted my tweet

Help us hijack their hashtag! #militaryfreedom

 


Nov 13 2013

Emails to MRFF from Two Very Different Kinds of Christians

As the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), I read a lot of emails that come into the foundation — emails from supporters, from people asking for our help, and, of course, from detractors.

Because the overwhelming majority of MRFF’s clients are Christians, most of the emails I read from people who have come to us for help are from Christians.

The emails from detractors are also from Christians. These Christians believe the lies coming from media outlets like Fox News and breitbart.com, far-right Christian organizations, and even members of Congress that MRFF is an anti-Christian organization (despite the fact that 96% of MRFF’s clients are Christians) and that MRFF’s founder, Mikey Weinstein, is a militant athiest who’s trying to rid the military of all Christians.

While reading my emails from yesterday, it occurred to me that the best way to illustrate the difference between these two very different kinds of Christians who contact MRFF would be to simply post the last two emails I had read. The first of these two emails was from the father of an Air Force Academy cadet who had come to MRFF for help but was afraid to talk to anyone at the Academy about the incident that led him to contact MRFF. The second email was from the other type of Christian who contacts us.

From: USAF Academy Cadet’s Parent’s E-Mail Address Withheld
Subject: My AF Academy Cadet Son Was Right to Be Afraid
Date: November 12, 2013 9:20:32 AM MST
To: ———- <——[email protected]

To: Mr. Mikey Weinstein and the MRFF

My name is (name withheld) and my wife and our (number withheld) children live in (city and state withheld). We have a son (name withheld) who attends the AF Academy in the Class of 20(last two numbers of USAFA class year withheld) and is currently a member of Cadet Squadron (number withheld). We are members of our local AF Academy Parents Club here in (city withheld). We are practicing (Protestant denomination withheld) and have attended (church name withheld) here in (city name withheld) for many years in fact (number of years withheld).

My wife and I write and ask you to send this on to whom it may concern but especially the head of the AF Academy Gen. Johnson. Please delete any information about our identities. It is because we and our son fear that the AF Academy would try to seek revenge against us for coming forward like this to you and the MRFF. This is the most important thing that we ask you to protect, Mr. Weinstein.

Our son was one of the cadets who came to you for help a few weeks ago. It was when his (course name withheld) instructor, (name and rank withheld) wrote on the blackboard for his whole class to see something that confused and hurt our son and our family too. (name and rank withheld) told the whole class that the “only equation they needed to use to get through this class for the semester” was “1 plus 3 equals 4″. (name and rank withheld) then added some words on the blackboard to the eqation numbers so that the equation now said “1 cross plus three nails equals forgiven.” Our son told us that many in the class were stunned but did not know what to do. The cadet next to my son took a picture of the equation with his phone. We have seen it and I know you have it too. When our son told us what happened later that day we advised him to report it immediately to the AF Academy. He and the other cadets would not do so he told us out of fear of facing retribution. From their professor and many others there he told us. We actually begged him to report this to AF Academy authorities. His mother cried on the phone more than once trying to get him to do this. He and 6 other cadets in that class contacted you and the MRFF. Even you were not able to convince him and the other cadets to come forward due to their fear. But we thank you for being there for them all and their families Mr. Weinstein.

But now we have seen how the AF Academy dealt with the statement e-mailed to you a few days ago by one of its official staffers (Allen Willoughby). “I am on staff at USAFA and will talk about Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior to everyone that I work with.” The AF Academy saw nothing wrong here? Impossible! We are saddened as are many other families in our (city name withheld) Academy Parents Club. We now fully support our son’s and the other cadets’ decision not to come forward to the AF Academy about what their faculty professor (name and rank withheld) wrote on the blackboard. To (son’s name withheld) and the other 6 cadets who came to you and the MRFF the AF Academy’s ruling that what Willoughby wrote to you was acceptable is completely unacceptable. My wife and I feel the same way. So do many others we have talked to in (city name withheld). We would never have believed any of this had we not seen it all happen.

It is clear to us all that if our son and the other cadets had come forward they would have become targets themselves of the religious persecution at the AF Academy. And our son is a (Protestant denomination withheld) himself. He tells us that the other 6 cadets are all Christians too. My wife (name withheld) and I had never really believed all the stories we’d heard about this out of control evangelical Christian pressure at the AF Academy. Then this happened to our own son and the other cadets in his class. It is all too true to us now.

Our son was right to be afraid to come forward. We are also afraid. He feels helpless. We do too.

Thank you for standing up for us all.

From: won hunglow <[email protected]>
Date: November 12, 2013 at 5:05:37 PM MST
To: ———@militaryreligiousfreedom.org
Subject: Dirty FUCKING KIKES!!!!

All you evil low life serpent KIKES will never win!!!!

‘Nuff said.

Nov 07 2013

A New MRFF Hate Mail Reading (VIDEO)

The latest emails from people sharing the love of Jesus with MRFF:

Nov 06 2013

The Lies Used by Jay Sekulow to Defend an Oath Against Lying: An Open Letter to the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy

Last month, to issues regarding cadets at the Air Force Academy being forced to say “so help me God” when taking oaths came up.

The first, which got little media attention, was that cadets were sent an email telling them that if they did not say these words their commissioning oath would not be legal, an obvious and blatant violation of the “no religious test” clause found in Article 6 of the Constitution.

The second, which has gotten and continues to get an abundance of attention, is the cadet Honor Oath — the oath where cadets vow not to lie, steal, or cheat. This oath began in 1959 as the Academy’s Honor Code, and at that time simply said, “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” In 1984, the Honor Code was turned into an oath by adding the line “Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorable, so help me God.”

Optionally adding the words “so help me God” is, of course, anyone’s right. These words, however, should not be a part of the official oath, where they inevitably lead to situations in which cadets are forced or coerced to say them. Therefore, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has demanded that the words be removed. This, of course, has caused a media firestorm, and even proposed legislation to prevent the oath from being changed.

The defenders of “so help me God” are claiming that things like this were the intent of the founders and have deep historical roots, and, as expected are using quite a few lies about American history to support this claim — ironically lying to defend an oath in which cadets swear not to … um … lie.

One of these “so help me God” defenders is Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), who, on October 24, wrote a letter to Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson — a letter full of lies about American history.

MRFF has also written a letter to Lt. Gen. Johnson.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson

Superintendent, United States Air Force Academy

2304 Cadet Dr., Ste. 3300

USAF Academy, CO 80840-5001

Dear Lt. Gen. Johnson,

You recently received a letter, dated October 24, 2013, from Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). This letter was on the subject of the words “So help me God” being added to oaths, and contained what Mr. Sekulow presented as historical evidence supporting the inclusion of these words. Mr. Sekulow’s historical evidence, however, is full of the same misrepresentations and outright lies found in the revisionist history books that he cites throughout his letter’s footnotes.

Mr. Sekulow’s letter contains very little on the history of the issue at hand, but relies primarily on unrelated historical claims, which are prefaced by this statement:

“One of the methods used by the Supreme Court of the United States for interpreting the meaning and legal reach of the First Amendment is to examine how early Congresses acted in light of the Amendment’s express terms. One can begin to understand what the Establishment Clause allows (and disallows) by examining what transpired in the earliest years of our Nation during the period when Congress drafted the First Amendment and after the states ratified it.”

We at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) couldn’t agree more that the actions of the early congresses should be looked at in determining the meaning and legal reach of the First Amendment, and also of the clause in Article 6 of the Constitution commonly known as the “no religious test” clause — the clause that is most relevant when discussing the issue of oaths. The other actions of the early congresses presented by Mr. Sekulow in his letter will also be addressed here, but first let’s look at what he has to say about oaths.

Most of what Mr. Sekulow uses to justify the inclusion of “So help me God” in military oaths consists of examples of current oaths containing these words, while deliberately omitting the history of this practice. Why would Mr. Sekulow omit this history? The answer is obvious — an examination of “how early Congresses acted” on the subject of oaths would reveal that the original military oaths written by the first Congress in 1789 did not include these words. The phrase “So help me God” was not added to the officer’s oath until 1862, when the Civil War made it necessary to write a new oath adding a statement that the officer had never borne arms against the United States. The words weren’t added to the enlisted oath until a century later in 1962.

The following was the original military oath written by the first Congress in 1789. This oath was actually two oaths, both of which were required for both officers and enlisted:

“I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States.”

“I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

Even before the adoption of the Constitution and its “no religious test” clause, our founders did not include the words “So help me God” in military oaths. The first military oath, written in 1775 by the Continental Congress, did not contain the words. Neither did the oath that replaced that oath in 1776. This was the oath written in 1776 by the Continental Congress as part of the Articles of War:

“I swear, or affirm, (as the case may be,) to be true to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever; and to observe and obey the orders of the Continental Congress, and the orders of the generals and officers set over me by them.”

In 1778, the first officer’s oath was written. This oath, an oath of allegiance signed by all officers of the Continental Army, not only didn’t contain the words “So help me God,” but left a blank space for each officer to fill in whether they were choosing to “swear” or “affirm.” The following image is the officer’s oath, signed by George Washington at Valley Forge on May 12, 1778. After signing his own oath, Washington immediately proceeded to personally administer the same oath to his generals, one of whom, General James Mitchell Varnum, opted to affirm rather than swear.

GW oath color

 

 

Rather than include these historical facts about military oaths, Mr. Sekulow cites much more recent sources, such as the several oaths currently found in R.C.M. 807(b)(2) in the Manual for Courts-Martial (oaths which themselves have the words “So help me God” set apart in parentheses to clearly indicate that they are optional) and the current oath of enlistment. What Mr. Sekulow’s point is in citing the current use of this phrase is unclear, other than it being a means to avoid the true history of our country’s military oaths and the intent of the founders who wrote those oaths.

Mr. Sekulow includes only one historical claim about oaths:

“President George Washington himself added the phrase to the Presidential oath of office when he took it for the first time as our First President.”

First of all, it is widely held by historians that George Washington did not add the phrase when taking his presidential oath of office, and that the story is merely a myth that originated in the 1850s with Washington Irving’s biography of George Washington. But, whether or not Washington added the words is not important. All that is important is that these words are not included in the official oath as written in the Constitution. Even if Washington did add them, he did so entirely by choice, and not because the words are part of the official, written oath.

Unable to make any historical arguments that are relevant to the issue of oaths, Mr. Sekulow proceeds to diverge into a litany of unrelated historical claims. He points out that George Washington and John Adams issued proclamations for days of prayer (omitting, of course, that John Adams’s proclamation caused a riot in Philadelphia because of its mixing of religion and politics, and that Adams himself had to hide in his house for his own safety on the appointed day of prayer).

Then, as expected in any litany of Christian nationalist historical revisionism, Mr. Sekulow zeroes in on Thomas Jefferson, writing:

“Even President Thomas Jefferson — a man often described as a strong defender of strict church-state separation — undertook similar actions. In particular, President Jefferson signed multiple congressional acts providing for Christian missionary activity among the Indians.”

This claim is completely untrue. Thomas Jefferson never signed a single congressional act providing for Christian missionary activity among the Indians, let alone “multiple congressional acts” as Mr. Sekulow claims.

This popular lie is typically supported by historical revisionists with two types of alleged sources. The first is a series of acts signed by Jefferson that in reality had nothing to do with religion but were merely acts regarding military land grants; the second are certain Indian treaties signed by Jefferson. Mr. Sekulow opts for the lie about the Indian treaties, footnoting his claim with the following:

“See Daniel L. Dreisbach, Real Threat and Mere Shadow: Religious Liberty and the First Amendment 127 (1987) (noting that the 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians included federal funds to pay a Catholic missionary priest; noting further treaties made with the Wyandotte and Cherokee tribes involving state-supported missionary activity).”

During his presidency, Thomas Jefferson signed over forty treaties with various Indian nations. The 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskia is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion, and even that one had nothing to do with promoting “Christian missionary activity among the Indians.” No other Indian treaty signed by Jefferson, including the other two used by Mr. Sekulow in his footnote, contained any mention of religion.

When Jefferson signed the treaty with the Kaskaskia in 1803, these Indians were already Catholic and had been for generations. They had begun converting to Catholicism in the late 1600s after a Jesuit priest from France, Father Jacques Marquette, first encountered them in 1673 while exploring the Mississippi River with Louis Jolliet. By 1803, “the greater part of the said tribe have been baptized and received into the Catholic Church,” as Article 3 of the treaty signed by Jefferson states.

Lies like this one used by Mr. Sekulow always use words like “Christian missionary” to make it sound as if that Jefferson was trying to convert the Indians to Christianity. Obviously, this was not the case with the Kaskaskia treaty, since these Indians were already Catholic. The support of a priest and help building a new church were among the provisions that they asked for in exchange for ceding nine million acres of land to the United States, not something the government was pushing on them.

As Jefferson was well aware, there was nothing unconstitutional about granting these provisions. This was a treaty with a sovereign nation. It was not an act of Congress as Mr. Sekulow claims. As was made very clear in a lengthy 1796 debate in the House of Representatives on the treaty making power, unless a treaty provision threatened the rights or interests of American citizens, there was no constitutional reason not to allow it, even if that same provision would be unconstitutional in a law made by Congress for the American people.

So what of the other two treaties in Mr. Sekulow’s footnote? Well, here he is being completely dishonest about what the source he cites actually says. In no way did Daniel L. Dreisbach say in his book Real Threat and Mere Shadow that these treaties with the Wyandottes and Cherokees involved state-supported missionary activity. This book says the exact opposite. These treaties were mentioned because they didn’t contain any religious provisions. What they did contain were provisions for money that wasn’t designated for a particular purpose. Dreisbach used these two treaties as examples in a footnote to argue that Jefferson, if he had wanted to avoid listing the provisions for religious purposes in the Kaskaskia treaty, could have done so with a provision that did not specify what the money was for, such as the provisions found in these Wyandotte and Cherokee treaties. So, Mr. Sekulow is not only lying about Jefferson’s actions; he is blatantly lying about what his source says to support his lie.

Mr. Sekulow’s next claim about Jefferson is also a flat out lie:

“Further, during his presidency, President Jefferson also developed a school curriculum for the District of Columbia that used the Bible and a Christian hymnal as the primary texts to teach reading …”

This popular lie was concocted by taking the fact that in 1805, while serving as President of the United States, Jefferson was named as president of the brand new Washington, D.C. school board, and then combining that fact with an 1813 report from a school in Washington that was using the Bible and a hymnal as reading texts. The problem with this story? The school in question didn’t even exist when Jefferson was president. It didn’t open until 1812 — three years after Jefferson had left Washington.

Mr. Sekulow’s footnote for this lie is:

“John W. Whitehead, The Second American Revolution 100 (1982) (citing 1 J.O. Wilson, Public Schools of Washington 5 (1897)).”

Here, Mr. Sekulow is citing a revisionist history book that claims to be citing another source. But that source, J.O. Wilson’s Public Schools of Washington, does not support the claim made by John W. Whitehead and repeated by Mr. Sekulow. In fact, J.O. Wilson’s debunks this claim.

Jefferson had nothing whatsoever to do with the curriculum of any school in Washington, not even the ones that actually did open during his presidency. He was elected president of the school board in 1805 (at a meeting that he didn’t even attend), but, according to the minutes of the school board, never took an active role in this position. His only actual involvement was to make a donation of $200 when money was being raised to start the school system.

The Washington school board attempted to establish and maintain two public schools beginning in 1806. These first two schools were the only schools that existed in Washington during Jefferson’s presidency. When the city council decided to cut the public funding for these schools in half in 1809, one of the two schools was forced to close. The school buildings had been paid for with private donations, but the school board couldn’t afford to pay high enough salaries to hire and keep qualified teachers.

In 1811, two years after the end of Jefferson’s presidency, the teacher of a Lancasterian school that had been opened in Georgetown wrote to the Washington school board suggesting that this type of school might solve their problem. Lancasterian schools used a plan of education developed by Joseph Lancaster in England as an economical way to educate large numbers of poor children. By using the older students to teach the younger ones, Lancaster’s method allowed one teacher to oversee the education of hundreds of children. The school in Georgetown was teaching three hundred and fifty students with one teacher.

In 1812, the Washington school board decided to try the Lancasterian method. Henry Ould, a teacher trained by Joseph Lancaster in England, was brought over to run the new Lancasterian school.

In 1813, Mr. Ould submitted a progress report to the school board in which he said that the Bible and Watts’s Hymns were being used as reading texts. This 1813 report, when anachronistically combined with the fact that Jefferson had been elected school board president eight years earlier, is used to make the completely false claim that Mr. Sekulow makes in his letter — that Jefferson “developed a school curriculum for the District of Columbia that used the Bible and a Christian hymnal.”

Mr. Sekulow also points out that Jefferson “signed the Articles of War, which “[e]arnestly recommended to all officers and soldiers, diligently to attend divine services.” It is true that these words were Articles of War when Jefferson signed them, but this really had nothing to do with Jefferson. When Congress decided in 1804 that the Revolutionary War era military regulations needed to be updated, they did so by adding about thirty new regulations but leaving the old regulations from the original Articles of War untouched. So, this regulation about attending church, which actually had more to do with soldiers in the Revolutionary War behaving themselves in places of worship than attending them, remained in the new regulations, the final version of which was passed in 1806 and signed by Jefferson.

Mr. Sekulow’s last tidbit of history was actually from the Adams administration, not the Jefferson administration:

“Once the U.S. Navy was formed, Congress also enacted legislation directing the holding of, and attendance at, divine services aboard U.S. Navy ships.”

What Mr. Sekulow doesn’t mention is that this 1800 law mandating religious services in the Navy, passed by the very religious congress during Adams administration, was protested in the mid-1800s by Navy officers who objected to being forced by the government to attend church. In 1858, these Navy officers petitioned Congress in 1858 to amend this law and make religious services optional.

“By Mr. Kelly: The memorial of officers of the navy of the United States, praying that the act of Congress passed April 23, 1800, compelling commanders of all ships or vessels in the navy, having chaplains on board, to take care that Divine service is performed twice a day, be so amended as to read that the commanders or captains invite all to attend; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.”

This issue became part of a widespread, decades-long campaign to abolish both the military chaplaincy and all other government chaplains that had begun in 1848, when the first of what would be hundreds of petitions signed by countless thousands of Americans was received by Congress. Although Mr. Sekulow would probably label the writers and signers of these petitions anti-Christian activists, the first of these petitions, and many of the hundreds that followed, came from religious organizations. The first one came from a Baptist association in North Carolina.

“Mr. BADGER presented the memorial, petition, and remonstrance of the ministers and delegates representing the churches which compose the Kehukee Primitive Baptist Association, assembled in Conference with the Baptist Church at Great Swamp, Pitt county, North Carolina praying that Congress will abolish all laws or resolutions now in force respecting the establishment of religion, whereby Chaplains to Congress, the army, and navy, are employed and paid to exercise their religious functions.”

The hundreds of petitions from all over the country that followed this one all said basically the same thing as this first petition from this Baptist organization. And what led to this widespread, national campaign to abolish the chaplaincy in the 1800s? Exactly the same issues that we’re seeing today — forced religion in the military and one form of religion being preferred and promoted by the government.

In Mr. Sekulow’s conclusion of the history portion of his letter, he writes:

“As one honestly examines governmental acts contemporaneous with and shortly after the adoption of the First Amendment, it is difficult to deny that, in the early days of our Republic, church and state existed comfortably (and closely) together, with contemporaries of the drafters of the First Amendment showing little concern that such acts violated the Establishment Clause.”

Yes, one certainly should honestly examine governmental acts contemporaneous with and shortly after the adoption of the First Amendment, something that Mr. Sekulow clearly has not done in his letter. He has proven himself to be a liar, ironically in a letter supporting the swearing to God of an oath that says “We will not lie.”

But, all of Mr. Sekulow’s history lies aside, the bottom line is that the original military oaths written by our nation’s founders did not contain the words “So help me God.” If this was good enough for George Washington when he signed his oath in 1778, why isn’t it good enough for the Air Force Academy?

Sincerely,

Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.

Founder and President

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Chris Rodda

Senior Research Director

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

 

In addition to explaining the real history of military oaths to Lt. Gen. Johnson in this letter, MRFF has put up a little sign near the Air Force Academy as a reminder of the true history of military oaths.

Close Up

Nov 05 2013

There Will Be No More Sunday Funnies

The sanctimonious commenters win. They’ve succeeded in sucking the fun out of Sunday Funnies and will just have to find somewhere else to go rant about how grievously offended they are.

Oct 30 2013

In the Interest of Historical Accuracy and Honesty, I Must Correct Myself

On Sunday morning, during an appearance on CNN’s New Day, I made a statement that was incorrect, so, in the interest of historical accuracy and honesty, I need to issue a correction.

I was debating Ron Crews, the head of an organization called the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, on the issue of cadets at the Air Force Academy being forced to swear religious oaths that end with the words “So help me God.”

When responding to the usual rhetoric about the founders and oaths, I pointed out that the first military oaths under the Constitution, written by the founders in 1789, did not include the words “So help me God,” and that these words weren’t added until much later — not until 1862 for officers, and 1962 for enlisted personnel. Unable to argue with these historical facts about military oaths, Mr. Crews tried to change the subject by launching into a completely unrelated and irrelevant story about how religious the founders were, saying:

“Well, I find it interesting that on the same day that this complaint was filed in 1781 Congress heard of the American victory at Yorktown and they immediately processed en masse to a church in Philadelphia to give thanks. That’s what our founders did in 1781 when they heard the victory they — Congress left the hall that they were meeting in, processed together to a church to give thanks. That’s the founding of our country.”

I wrongly assumed that there was no truth to this story.

Here’s the video of the whole segment:

 

I assumed at the time that Mr. Crews’s Congress-goes-to-church story was was just one of the many similar stories I’ve seen and heard over the years that have no truth to them whatsoever, such as the one about the Constitutional Convention marching to church to pray for three days when things weren’t going well, so I said that story wasn’t true. In this case, however, the story actually was basically true. It was just exaggerated a bit. The Congress did, in fact, attend a church service on the day that the news of the victory at Yorktown reached Philadelphia. They didn’t immediately jump up and march off to church, as Crews said, but they did go later that day.

When word reached Philadelphia on the morning of October 24, 1781 that the British had surrendered at Yorktown, a city-wide celebration began, and part of this celebration was a church service performed that afternoon by one of the chaplains of Congress, Rev. George Duffield. A resolution was introduced by Edmund Randolph that the Congress attend this afternoon service together, and it passed. According to newspaper accounts of the day, the celebration began at noon, with an artillery salute being fired in the state house yard, coinciding with the ships in the harbor also firing a salute at the same time. The church service was at 2:00 p.m., and it was reported in a Philadelphia newspaper a few days later that “the honorable the congress, the minister of France, the council, the chief officers of the state, and a considerable number of great and respectable characters, both in the civil and military line, attended.” So, yes, the Congress did attend this service.

Of course, even a true story of the Continental Congress attending a church service in 1781 still has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue at hand, which is the constitutionality of cadets being made to swear religious oaths at the Air Force Academy.

What is relevant about the members of that 1781 Congress who attended that church service, however, is that many of them were the very same men who, in 1778, wrote the oath signed by the officers of the Revolutionary Army — an oath that not only didn’t include the words “So help me God,” but also left a blank space for each officer to fill in for themselves whether they were choosing to “swear” or “affirm.”

This was the oath signed by George Washington and all his generals and other officers:

GW_oath

 

If this was good enough for George Washington, why isn’t it good enough for the Air Force Academy?

 

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