“Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.” William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar", Act 3, Scene 1, Line 273
“Justice delayed is justice denied”; these salient words apply in full to the conditions and prospects of religious liberty in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). What lies at stake is the alteration (and possible evisceration) of one of the only protective barriers restraining the brutal spread of ruthless fundamentalist Christianity spread throughout the U.S. military: Air Force Instruction 1-1, specifically Section 2 .11 (AFI 1-1).
Would the United States Air Force sooner throw the basic religious rights of Air Force personnel into a stinking garbage heap than “court controversy” with Tea Party bigots and religious extremists in the United States Congress and their incestuous gangs of fundamentalist Christian, parasitic parachurch organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), the American Family Association (AFA), Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Officers Christian Fellowship (OCF) to name only a few of these rapaciously religious extremist entities?
Sadly, telltale signs of dubious, constitutional queasiness and pathetically faux ambivalence by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III have clearly revealed that this may well be the case. The floodgates of state-sponsored evangelizing/proselytizing and fundamentalist Christian supremacy, exceptionalism and primacy by newly emboldened “Hobby Lobby”-style Christian fundamentalists within the Air Force are set to literally fly open, with devastating effect.
It should be a no-brainer: AFI 1-1 and similar protections and regulations on religious expressions should, if anything, be strengthened – not deliberately and so shamefully diluted. Instead, the changes being considered by the USAF, as it craters and cowers before these fundamentalist Christian lawmakers and their private sector parachurch persecutors, will authorize “witnessing,” preaching and proselytizing on the tax-payer’s dime provided the “tormentor” airman is projecting his/her “sincerely held” religious beliefs upon the “tormentee” airman. Prohibition on such “testifying” would ONLY apply if these expressions are determined to “have a real, not hypothetical adverse impact” (according, of course, to the subjective, arbitrary and clearly conflicted determination of Air Force leadership).
Look, let’s just call it what it is. “Spiritual rape” perpetrated by “fundamentalist Christian religious predators” is how we at the civil rights organization I lead — the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF)— describe the profound sense of vicious, personal violation that is being mercilessly inflicted upon tens of thousands of our MRFF military clients, 96% of whom are practicing Christians themselves. Forced religious indoctrination, mandatory prayer sessions, active, abusive measures towards the promotion of one or another fundamentalist Christian sect, the shaming and savaging of freethinking, atheist, and agnostic service members – these barbaric tactics define the monstrous modus operandi of the Christian dominionist hegemony that lies as a cancerous plague metastasizing briskly across the whole of the Air Force and the U.S. Military.
By fatally handicapping and consciously crippling the hard-fought AFI 1-1, top USAF brass will be effectively legalizing hate speech, coercive proselytizing, and religious extremist extremism. It’s REALLY that damn serious, folks. Anti-LGBTQ bigotry, anti-Semitism,Islamophobia, racism, and heinous misogyny – all will be gleefully allowable if the views of any and all superior ranking tormenting airman are (cue the harp music please) “sincere”, heartfelt, “and have a real impact”. To the well over 37,000 armed forces clients currently being represented by MRFF, it’s akin to stating that domestic violence and abuse aren’t “real” unless there are clear bruises, black eyes, scars, and broken bones. The word “unconscionable” comes immediately to mind. There are other (unprintable) words of unbridled outrage that also more than merit being screamed from every mountaintop.
In fact, the preposterous, proposed changes go even further and actually assert that EACH and EVERY one of the respective criteria constituting a USAF regulation violation must be fulfilled and proven before the restrictions come into effect. Thus, a superior ranking officer who regularly proselytizes his or her defenseless subordinates will only be potentially found in violation of regulations if it’s proven that the officer’s words deleteriously affect military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline, health, safety, AND military accomplishment. One can violate without repercussions any combination of the foregoing, minus one, any one at all, of the above constituent elements – the health and morale of subordinates, to provide just one example. However, unless ALL of the other elements are likewise measurably breached, the matter at hand can NEVER rise to become even a possibility of a violation. Not enough yet to enrage you? How about we assume that a USAF leader has somehow managed to actually violate ALL of the above “new AFI 1-1” infraction criteria; can he or she receive ANY meaningful punishment even in such a nearly impossible-to-conceive of scenario? Ready to be thunderstruck, for the answer is a resounding NO! Believe it or not, there is additional proposed language, being seriously considered by senior USAF leadership, which would actually bar or fully immunize any USAF supervisor or commander found guilty of exercising religious bigotry or prejudice under this “new AFI 1-1” from suffering any criminal and administrative consequences (to include that he or she may not be removed from their position as a supervisor or relieved from command.) Are you getting the picture now, my friends? The legions of the victims of fundamentalist Christian oppression in the USAF, the “battered,” in this case, know much better – hence the terribly critical necessity for such basic guidelines of “Do’s and Don’ts” that came in the form of layers of the original, unadulterated AFI 1-1 protective shield which went into effect on August 7, 2012.
AFI 1-1’s specious revision threatens to subsume and absolutely obliterate religious liberty in the Air Force, setting a horrific example for the other service branches. One can only imagine if similar policies were laid out regarding sexual assault, harassment, and racial discrimination. Unless USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Welsh makes the right decision, USAF airmen will be universally discouraged from filing complaints on the basis that their justified anxiety and grief will be shrugged aside as merely “hypothetical” rather than “real.” Then, oh my, my, my, just watch as the USAF chain of command “reprisal and retribution games” begin in earnest for those who had the temerity and integrity to try stand up and seek redress and help for their civil rights suffering in the Brave New World of the now gutted AFI 1-1, “as amended”.
The men and women who bravely serve in our Air Force deserve better than that, far better.
Hey, wait a minute. Has the United States Supreme Court ever ruled on the legality of “protecting” the First Amendment “right” of military leaders to freely proselytize their helpless subordinates? For that is the entire justification utilized by the fundamentalist Christian supremacists in Congress (and their adoring legions of parachurch organizations and Pentagon sycophants) for the obliteration of the formidable current AFI 1-1 protections. Surprise! Indeed our nation’s highest Court HAS so opined, and over 40 years ago, by one of the most conservative Chief Justices ever to sit on the Court. In a 6-2 decision in Parker vs. Levy (1974), written by the extremely “non-liberal” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and still considered to be unimpeachable law to this very day, the Supreme Court said the following about whether it’s permissible to place limits on the Constitutional rights of armed forces members (for instance, as presently appropriately exists with the not-yet-destroyed-but-about-to-be AFI 1-1) which might otherwise NOT belabor them if they were civilians instead:
“This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society. We have also recognized that the military has, again by necessity, developed laws and traditions of its own during its long history. The differences between the military and civilian communities result from the fact that “it is the primary business of armies and navies to fight or be ready to fight wars should the occasion arise. … An army is not a deliberative body. It is the executive arm. Its law is that of obedience. No question can be left open as to the right to command in the officer or the duty of obedience in the soldier. … While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it. … In the armed forces, some restrictions exist for reasons that have no counterpart in the civilian community. Disrespectful and contemptuous speech, even advocacy of violent change, is tolerable in the civilian community, for it does not directly affect the capacity of the Government to discharge its responsibilities unless it both is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action. … In military life, however, other considerations must be weighed. The armed forces depend on a command structure that, at times must commit men to combat, not only hazarding their lives but also ultimately involving the security of the Nation itself. Speech that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command. If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected.”
Our United States Supreme Court and Chief Justice Rehnquist could not POSSIBLY be more clear: permitting “free-ranging”, limitless, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing by USAF superiors to their defenseless subordinates on the justification of the “free speech” and “freedom of religion” rights of those very same USAF superiors is simply and absolutely WRONG and ILLEGAL!The civil rights religious views (or lack thereof) of all USAF airmen must remain utterly inviolable, precisely as envisioned by those who drafted our magnificent United States Constitution and its beautiful Bill of Rights.
Civil “rights” indeed. They are NOT merely “civil privileges”. Everyone who is a U. S. citizen gets them, especially junior and subordinate ranking members of the USAF. Particularly if they choose NOT to accept the fundamentalist Christian religious faith of their “Purpose Driven Life”, USAF oppressors who are tormenting them as mean spirited and/or even “Good News”, glad-handing leaders, commanders and superiors.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. 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. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).