A while back, a group of about a dozen service members were assigned by their commander to plan this year’s Thanksgiving luncheon for their military organization.
Last year’s event was held at the commander’s off-base church and, according to the service member who ended up contacting the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) for help, was, not surprisingly, a Christian proselytizing event, something that the service members did not want repeated this year.
The service members tasked with planning the event told the commander and his staff that this year’s event would not be held at the commander’s church, but would be held in the large conference room on base that is used for other mandatory gatherings. This change of location was reluctantly agreed to by the commander, but he still insisted that Christian prayers would be delivered by himself and the chaplains he had invited to attend. It was at this point that one of the service members contacted MRFF for help.
MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein immediately contacted the commander’s superiors, and a few days later the service members were told that there would not be Christian prayers at the event. It appeared that the problem was solved. But then, a few days later, the service members were told that the Christian prayers were back on. Why? Because the event was now going to be called a “Pilgrim Heritage” Thanksgiving luncheon, supposedly making Christian prayers historical and not religious, since the Pilgrims were Christians.
To make matters even worse, one of the service members in the group planning the event, who happens to be a native American, was asked to dress up like an “Indian” to add to the “historical” nature of the event!
At this point, MRFF was contacted by the service members again, and Mikey Weinstein once again contacted the commander’s superiors.
The entire event has now been canceled, and MRFF is assisting the native American member of the group with filing an EO and IG complaint for being demeaningly asked to dress up like an “Indian.”
The whole story is related in the following email from one of the brave service members who had the guts to say no to their fundamentalist Christian commander’s attempt to use Thanksgiving to proselytize his subordinates.
From: Active Duty U.S. Armed Forces Member/MRFF Client’s E-Mail Address withheld
Subject: "Pilgrim Heritage" Military Thanksgiving Luncheon
Date: November 7, 2019 at 12:49:37 PM MST
To: Information Weinstein <email@example.com>
Thank you to all the MRFF staff and Mr. Weinstein for the below action of intervention for the members of our whole (military branch name withheld) unit:
1. I am an active duty member of the (military branch name withheld) stationed at a large (military branch name withheld) installation here in (state name withheld). I am Catholic. Please do not reveal any of the names of anybody below about what happened to avoid retaliation from our Commander. Please do not reveal his or his staff’s names or our unit/installation information at this point. This restriction may change if he ever decides to take revenge action against any of us.
2. I was assigned a while back as an additional duty by our Commander as part of a group of about a dozen members of my unit to set up a Thanksgiving luncheon for our entire organization. Me and most of the others in this military working group recall that last year’s Thanksgiving event was held at our Commander’s off post church annex. All I can say was that it was all about proselytizing the Christian religion. Our Thanksgiving event is really mandatory for all personnel. I guess you could not attend but then you’d be screwed. Our Commander is a evangelical Christian who has a bible on his desk at all times and he talks about Jesus in most all of his conversations with us. He is a member of some large military officers Christian organization and tries to get others to join up as well. All the time. This is very well known about him and it intimidates all of us junior in rank to him even if we are also Christians like him. Nobody among the senior staff will ever dare to stand up to him.
3. Nobody wanted a repeat of what happened at last year’s Thanksgiving luncheon. We in the working group all understand about our oaths to the Constitution. But not our Commander and his staff.
4. First we told the Commander and his staff that this year’s event would not be held at his off base church but instead on base at a large conference area we use for other mandatory gatherings. They reluctantly agreed to that. But the Commander made it clear that Christian prayers would still be prayed by him and the chaplains who he had invited to attend. Just like what happened last year. I and the rest of our working group tried to tell him that that was wrong as this Thanksgiving luncheon is viewed as a mandatory event. Plus our unit has members of many different faiths as well as members who do not believe in any god or gods. He did not deny that it was viewed as mandatory.
5. When he refused to not make this Thanksgiving luncheon about Christianity again as he did last year at his own church we contacted Mr Weinstein at the MRFF.
6. Mr. Weinstein and some MRFF volunteers at our installation immediately engaged with our Commander’s superiors and a couple days later we were informed by the senior staff that they now agreed that Christian prayers would not be used at this mandatory event. We were really happy! We thought we were all ok now. But we were wrong.
7. Just a few days after being told about no Christian prayers we were told that suddenly it was now ok to have the Christian prayers again. The senior staff told us that the luncheon was no longer a “regular" Thanksgiving luncheon but was now to be something called a “Pilgrim Heritage” Thanksgiving luncheon. What the hell is that we all wondered?
8. Turns out that the Commander and his staff had decided that the Christian prayers were fine if the luncheon was about “The Pilgrims” and their “heritage”. We were told that this is a “thing" now and that “Pilgrim Heritage” events are being used all over DoD for Thanksgiving now. And as all the Pilgrims were devout Christians the praying of the Christian prayers would not be categorized as a “religious” matter but a “historical“ matter. Therefore no basis for us to complain and using the Christian prayers was back on.
9. Even worse the Commander told (name and rank withheld) who is a member of our Thanksgiving luncheon event working group that it “might be nice” if he wore traditional “Indian clothing” to the event as a ”historical accuracy matter”. Everyone was shocked because this same person (name and rank withheld) is a Native American himself and a full tribal member of the (Native American tribal name withheld) Nation. He was angry and embarrassed. We all were.
10. We contacted back to the MRFF and told them of all of this. Mr Weinstein had the MRFF check on this whole supposedly “Pilgrim Heritage” Thanksgiving event thing. Turns out it’s all bullshit. Just a made up excuse to make our Thanksgiving luncheon a Christian event again like last year. Mr. Weinstein reengaged with our Commander’s chain again on this.
11. When Mr. Weinstein said it was now time to do it our unit working group reengaged our Commander again about this. He got angry and told us we were not doing our duties to make the Thanksgiving event happen as he had assigned.
12. This morning we were told that the Commander just cancelled the whole Thanksgiving luncheon event.
13. We are fine with this result and knew it might be coming ever since we asked the MRFF for help in this whole thing.
14. Apparently the Commander is now PO'ed that his “Pilgrim Heritage” Thanksgiving sham got blown up by us with the MRFF’s help. So we know we all need to watch our backs.
15. (Name and rank withheld) the Native American member of our Thanksgiving luncheon event working group is planning to file an EEO and IG complaint with the help of the MRFF.
16. Thanks again and a huge shout out to the MRFF for guiding us through this confrontation. Don’t go away please MRFF because we may still need you!
(MRFF Client’s name, rank, title, unit and installation all withheld)