Lawrence Wilkerson: “The Devil—and the Lord—Is in the Details” (guest column)
This guest Op-Ed from dear friend, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Advisory Board member, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson, comes in light of an unprecedented Christian fundamentalist furor. This disingenuous hue and cry surrounds our ongoing fight against dominionist hegemony at my alma mater, the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, CO, long a hotbed of nationalistic Christian supremacist extremism. Sadly, the scandal has reinforced the fact that many of the worst opponents of the U.S. Constitution are our elected representatives themselves… Mikey.
Congressman Doug Lamborn (R, CO) has just penned a letter to the Superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, Lieutenant General Michele Johnson. In the letter, the Congressman lectures the “Supe” in religious freedom and the U.S. Constitution. It is quite clear from the letter that Congressman Lamborn knows extremely little about the Constitution, religious freedom, or the military.
The most egregious demonstration of abject ignorance of the military and the Constitution is this statement in Lamborn’s letter: “We are asking future officers to perhaps give even their very lives to protect and defend the Constitution and yet denying them rights from that same Constitution.”
Military personnel, particularly officers, surrender several Constitutional rights immediately upon becoming members of the armed forces. For example, they cannot speak out politically; they cannot criticize publicly their chain of command—to include the President; they cannot vote in uniform and armed (I found that out in Columbus, Georgia—the hard way); they cannot promote religion to their subordinates; they cannot associate their uniform with a commercial enterprise; and so on. Thus, every hour of the day we deny military members certain of their Constitutional rights. It is an integral part of the civil-military relationship in America.
Compounding Lamborn’s error is this statement from his letter: “I am deeply concerned and outraged by recent news reports indicating that an Air Force Cadet was forced to remove a Bible verse from the whiteboard posted outside his room. I was further troubled to learn that the apparent reason the Cadet in question had to remove this verse was due to the fact that he is in a position of leadership. This suggests that a Cadet in a leadership role may have less religious freedom than Cadets in the rank and file.”
This statement is simply full of ignorance as well as illogic. The “apparent reason”, as Lamborn terms it, is precisely accurate. From a position of leadership, no military member may advocate a particular religion or absence thereof. Moreover, this restriction on a military member is to promote religious freedom, not constrain it. How can there be freedom of religion if people in power over others are allowed to appear—or actually to do so—to favor one religion over another, or no religion over religion? The clear answer is, there can’t be.
Not content to be simply illogical and ignorant, the Congressman goes on to write: “those who pursue leadership positions should not be forced to sacrifice their religious freedom in order to lead.”
Of course such leaders are not sacrificing their religious freedom. They are able to go to the church, synagogue, or mosque of their choice, or believe in no divine providence whatsoever; they are simply not allowed, by their position of power over others, to try to cause others to adhere to their beliefs or even subtly to influence them to do so. This policy promotes religious freedom for everyone, it does not constrain it and it most certainly does not sacrifice it for anyone.
Congressman Lamborn then delivers the blow that is at the heart of his apparent angst: “I would also appreciate an explanation of the apparent influence the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has at the Air Force Academy in legal and media issues relating to decisions on Cadets’ religious practices over the past 5 years (sic). The MRFF is an organization that seems to detest religious expression of any faith, and has become so outlandish in its claims that it should simply be ignored.”
Now we detect the real reason for Lamborn’s outburst. Like the other fundamentalist Christian sects—the so-called “Dominionists” lead the way in this regard—which are so up in arms over the MRFF because it supports religiously (no pun intended) the real and important heart of religious freedom—the separation at all times of church and state—Lamborn worries that MRFF might be too successful.
I hope in that respect he is absolutely correct. It would be the only thing in his letter that is.
Col. (U.S. Army-retired) Lawrence Wilkerson is a professor of government and public policy at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He served 31 years in the U.S. Army, both in the enlisted and officer ranks.