The Horrific Specter of the "Post-Fleming Amendment" Fundamentalist Christian Military
From its inception, our American republic has been a melting pot among nations. Citizens originating from every region of the world, from every religious background and no religious background, and from every ethnicity have sought to make a living for themselves and their families within our borders. This cultural and ethnic alloy has only been made possible by the foundational protections established within our Constitution, its construing federal and state case law, and the subordinate laws serving to uphold it. Recently, a perversion of the sacrosanct principle of freedom of religion enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution has found its way to Congress through the evil bigotry of a repugnant Christian fundamentalist carpetbagger and Congressman by the name of John Fleming (R-LA 4th).
The Constitutionally-derelict Rep. Fleming believes that any way to abridge the ability of servicemembers to express their deeply-held religious convictions somehow constitutes a conspiratorial "threat" to their rights of free speech. At first glance, his Religious Liberty Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 would seem innocuous enough. In actual practice, however, the bill would give carte blanche to those who would wreak havoc on the morale, good order, and discipline of U.S. servicemembers who faithfully serve in the United States armed forces. What Fleming's amendment would do is add any type of "actions and speech" to the protected religious freedoms of servicemembers, thus rendering commanders all but helpless to stop potential problems until such actions or speech reach the point that they "actually harm" (a euphemistic phrase for “irreparably damage”) good order and discipline.
As the Obama White House rightly stated in its objection to the amendment:
"By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment."
We at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) know all too well what the true consequences stemming from the signing of this "Christian Talibanistic" amendment would be. It would generate a thoroughly dreadful nightmare of civil rights desecration wrought by a tsunami of unabated fundamentalist Christian supremacy, exceptionalism, and tyranny.
Within the last 72 hours, we received yet another signal, among thousands, of exactly what our military would look like if Fleming's despicable amendment is signed into law. In a fit of philosophical dissonance that I like to call “G.I. Jesus Tourette’s Syndrome,” Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Zach Frith of the USAF's 187th Fighter Wing took it upon himself to steer his fellow airmen away from what he believes to be the “wrong religion” through a literally shocking and shameful email addressed to the entirety of the 187th:
Dear friends of the 187th,
Due to the influential power that a chaplain might have over the life of a military member, I'm strongly compelled to inform you of what is True in regard to how one may come before or come to know God. That truth is in the word of God and that truths' name is Jesus Christ.
(JOHN 14:6) Jesus said to him (Thomas, the doubter), "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father(God) but through Me".
And I understand that this e-mail might have consequences or ridicule to follow but I'd rather suffer that than have those around me be lied to about something that could have a detrimental impact on their soul.
Sincerely, SSgt Zach Frith
SSgt Frith was prompted to inform his peers, superiors, and subordinates that his personal religion of choice is superior to all others after a military chaplain had merely shared an informative interview that described the traditions surrounding Ramadan. In doing so, this fundamentalist Christian religious predator committed egregious violations of the United States Constitution, DoD directives, regulations, and instructions, as well as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The mere offering by an armed forces chaplain of even the slightest scintilla of perspective and information about religious traditions that “deviate” from his favorite flavor of fundamentalist Christian tradition was seen as a dastardly threat to SSgt Frith's beliefs granting him “just cause” to degrade, denigrate, and belittle those who don’t subscribe to his wretchedly parochial conception of his chosen faith. Fleming's despicable amendment, if signed into law, would revoke any meaningful authority that military commanders have to prevent and punish utterly reprehensible behavior like that of the ignoble SSgt Frith.
To his credit, COL Black, the Air Force's Commander of the 187th, was quick to notify his Wing of exactly why SSgt Frith's "actions and speech" in sending his email were wrong:
In light of today's mass email, I would like to re-emphasize the role of chaplains in our wing....It is no surprise some folks have very strong religious views and are not hesitant to share them; however, using a DoD system to express your personal viewpoint is inappropriate and will be addressed....We may not always agree with others' viewpoints regardless of the subject matter, but we need to be respectful of everyone's right to hold their beliefs.
Had the Fleming amendment been in effect, however, COL Black would not have been able to address the self-serving statements of vicious religious bigotry in SSgt Frith's email. Instead, Frith's "actions and speech" would have been protected under the guise of Rep. Fleming's insidious mockery of religious freedom.
In short, Fleming wants to give free reign to every fundamentalist evangelical dominionist Christian in our military to be as hostile, tyrannical, and disrespectful to others as they want. This travesty of Old School fundamentalist Christian triumphalism is the true content of “religious liberty” as cooked up by Fleming and his dominionist ilk. Here we have a Staff Sergeant - a non-commissioned officer - publicly telling his USAF subordinates via unsolicited mass email that if they don't believe in his version of weaponized Jesus they're simply wrong and seriously endangering their eternal souls. Arrogance, thy name indeed be Frith.
Meanwhile, a seditious alliance of representatives in Congress is feverishly laboring to make sure that these types of unconstitutional train wrecks happen at an even greater pace with absolutely no repercussions. It takes a twisted and tortured crusader mentality to think that encouraging this vulgar, seditious behavior will do anything but annihilate the good order, morale, and discipline of our valiant war fighters.
There is some remnant of comfort to be derived from the acknowledgement that the command does not approve of the unlawful use of government networks and military rank to hammer into the heads of our servicemembers the order that they have only one religion to choose from. The 15 MRFF client-whistleblowers (14 of whom are Protestant Christians) from the 187th who courageously reported this incident to MRFF are surely grateful. However, the glaring question still stands; what will be done? Will this rapaciously proselytizing, fundamentalist, USAF SSgt Christian bully simply be given a perfunctory tongue lashing and/or wrist slap and be sent happily on his way? Will there be any consequences of ANY significance whatsoever for so willfully, flagrantly, and blatantly violating his oath to the U.S. Constitution as well as DoD and Air Force policy? Or is this simply yet another pathetic example of our military shrinking in the face of the law, rendering it inapplicable and impotent when the name of Jesus is publicly invoked, especially to helpless subordinates?
It is the hope of all of us at MRFF that COL Black will have the intestinal fortitude to appropriately discipline SSgt Frith, however dubious the odds. As St. Augustine said, "Punishment is justice for the unjust."
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Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the five-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra" Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. Mikey is an honor graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Mikey was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense by Defense News. He is the author of "With God On Our Side" (2006, St. Martin's Press) and "No Snowflake in an Avalanche" (2012, Vireo).