Air Force Commander’s #1 Priority For His Troops: "Be Devoted Christians First and Foremost"
It has long been taken for granted that Christian nationalism enjoys a vise-like grip on the psyche of a significant segment of the U.S. populace, and it goes without saying that this truism isn’t a recent phenomenon. Such profound Christian supremacy left a strong impression on French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville as far back as the early 19th century, when he remarked “Christianity... reigns without obstacle, by universal consent.” Fast forward to 2015; the United States has become a far more multicultural, religiously diverse nation and the relationship between Christianity and the broad U.S. citizenry is oftentimes of a quite nonconsensual nature (bordering on spiritual rape) – despite the bedrock Constitutional enshrinement of the separation of church and state. Just witness the appallingly unconstitutional remarks of certain presumptive presidential candidates! However, the presidential primary stump circuit – suited as it is for disingenuous demagogues of all stripes – is an altogether different venue than the ranks of the United States Armed Forces. As such, Christian nationalist proselytizing is a crystal-clear violation of the No Establishment Clause of the Bill of Right’s First Amendment, the No Religious Test of Clause 3 Article VI of the body of the Constitution, specific U.S. Supreme Court holdings as well as numerous relevant Department of Defense regulations, instructions and directives. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, the watchdog civil rights organization I head) has noted time and time again for well over a decade, however, that these regulations, instructions and directives have done precious little in stopping unconstitutional criminals-in-uniform from continuing to viciously violate these basic civil rights laws on the taxpayer’s dime.
A recent cry for help received by an officer in the United States Air Force (whose identity shall remain confidential for fear of retribution) speaks directly to this hideous reality. Reaching out to MRFF on behalf of himself and his 7 USAF comrades (all 8 of them, practicing Christians), this Air Force officer attested to an actual criminal act; a nauseatingly maudlin and self-serving speech-cum-sectarian Christian sermon given during a newly appointed Commander’s first official staff meeting. According to this USAF officer client, the Commander opened the meeting by telling the assembled personnel, all of whom now WORK FOR HIM, that he wanted them to know “exactly the kind of person” he is. Uh oh. We’ve sure as hell seen this movie many, many times before.
According to our MRFF client-whistleblower, the officer then proceeded to flesh out “exactly” what kind of unconstitutional, fundamentalist, Christian religious bully he is:
“Understand this. I am always a devoted Christian first and foremost. I was brought to Christ at the Air Force Academy and walk with him (sic) daily. I am a family man second and thirdly an Air Force Officer. I’m not saying that you need to be like me but I have found that specific order in my life to be the best path for success. And I emphasize the word specific. I want you all to know who I am and how I see my walk in this world. I want all of you to succeed as I have.”
As if that wasn’t horrendous enough, the cherry on top of the above illicit entreaty was the Commander’s solicitation that all of his brand new subordinates bow their heads in a silent devotional prayer... which the Commander stated was henceforth to become the standard means and protocol of initiating all future staff meetings.
Of course, given the nature of the U.S. military our 8 MRFF clients (4 of whom are USAF Academy graduates) had little recourse within the existing command structures and related remedial agencies to actually redress their grievances. Knowing that they would be “screwed from the get-go” if they directly addressed or confronted their new commander, they went to their second-in-command for help. His response? No joy there. The battle is unwinnable, “none of us can win.” Which brings us to the article that you, our dear allies and friends, are reading right now.
As mentioned above, none of the aforementioned unlawful, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing/preaching emanates from a distant and desolate vacuum. In 2007, USAF Major General Jack Catton Jr., a 1976 USAF Academy graduate and son of a 4-Star USAF General, delivered a nearly identical speech while in uniform and on duty in the Pentagon in a promotional video endorsing the so-called "Christian Embassy”. This pathetic video of Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism was later determined to be misconduct by the DoD Inspector General’s office. Line-for-line, it’s clear that our nameless Commander in this current case was literally reading from the same church choir sheet as Maj. Gen. Catton, who piously stated:
I found a wonderful opportunity as a Director on the Joint Staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate, and I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family, and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am… You know, we talk about that kind of stuff, and I think it's a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God's counsel and wisdom as we advise the Chairman and the Secretary of Defense. Hallelujah!
Remember that the United States military is comprised of Americans from all walks of life: Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, atheists, agnostics, you name it. In today's American military, the prime directive, or compelling governmental interest as it were, of all leaders at any level of command is the safeguarding, indeed the very maximization, of good order, unit cohesion, morale and discipline. Quite markedly on the contrary, it is most certainly NOT the preaching of this-or-that favored religious preference of those who captain our service members.
As Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 1974, THE seminal U.S. Supreme Court case directly on point states:
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… Speech [to include religious speech] that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command. If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected.
Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 (violations of which are punishable as military crimes pursuant to Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice) further establishes the clear-cut standards expected of USAF leadership:
Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.
There you have it, my friends. Those regulations sure look great on paper but without concrete, chain-of-command, enforcement action they are as toothless as a newborn infant and just about as useful as a football bat. Indeed, tragically, they are adhered to far more in their universal breach than in their slightest conformance. Believe me when I tell you that our MRFF Air Force clients here damn well know it too.
Where the official USAF command structure has failed our brave aggrieved clients, once again MRFF has been asked by those victimized to step into the void of command-influenced, fundamentalist Christian extremism.
Now let’s see what the Inspector General’s office and the Air Force Military Equal Opportunity Program have to say about our fresh-faced Commander’s Troika of Disgrace; to wit, (1) his "Jesus Christ Primacy Pronouncement”; (2) his Christian-dominated "path to success" formula for his underlings; and, (3) his follow-on orders to open all future staff meetings with silent, collective prayer with the full and eager participation of his otherwise helpless USAF subordinates.
This new Commander’s actions constitute a Christian-religion-touting, Hat Trick of bold, shameless, lawless and spitefully selfish denigration of his supposed solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.
And NOT to “support and defend” his unbridled proselytizing of his personally approved version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his completely captive audience of lower ranking airmen.
Air Force leadership MUST justly punish this Commander-tyrant right here and right now for all to see.
Sic Semper Tyrannis.