When I began working for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) over four years ago, one of the first stories I heard was that of a disabled veteran named Akiva David Miller. This veteran was not only being subjected to relentless Christian proselytizing at a V.A. hospital, but had actually been denied medical treatment -- all because he's a Jew. I could barely believe what I was hearing. This was happening in America? WTF?

Unfortunately, Akiva's story is only one of many that I've now heard. For our atheist and other non-Christian veterans who seek out treatment from the V.A. -- for both medical and mental health issues such as PTSD -- that treatment frequently includes a good dose of "all you need to do is accept Jesus as your savior." Akiva Miller didn't need to find Jesus; he needed medical treatment and pain medication.

Akiva, who is now the Veterans Coordinator at MRFF, spends countless hours in this volunteer position helping other veterans who, like himself, have faced harassment, discrimination, and worse at the hands of the V.A. medical system because of their religious beliefs. Please take a few minutes to read his Veterans Day message.

Veterans Day is always a good time for us to take a few moments to reflect on the way we treat our veterans. Keeping in mind that our veterans have sacrificed years of their life to do a dangerous job too few are willing to do, many have laid their lives on the line, suffered trauma, injury and witnessed the wounding and deaths of their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Those who are fortunate enough to survive armed conflicts across the globe are left to live out their lives with memories of past traumas. In addition to the obvious physical wounds, a vast number of our service members are left to live with PTSD, depression and other psychological wounds that may never disappear.

I am reminded of my beloved grandfather who came home from WWII wounded in ways that few could fathom. My parents have a photograph of his company – my grandfather was one of only two men from that company who survived the war. He survived days behind enemy lines in a freezing blizzard during the Battle of the Bulge. He fought across Germany in the last days of the war, fighting street to street against an enemy that included Hitler youth – having to combat what were essentially children was something from which he never recovered. And in the end, he helped liberate a death camp, and he brought back photographs to prove it. After the war he was never the same.

I grew up during the Vietnam conflict and like many of you I remember just how poorly veterans from that war were treated when they came home; for far too many years our own government fought to deny Vietnam veterans disability benefits for PTSD and lingering health problems related to exposure to Agent Orange. More recently we have witnessed and continue to witness the struggles of Gulf War veterans who continue to suffer terribly with Gulf War Syndrome; they have had to fight and continue to fight to have their disabilities recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In recent years we have done better at reaching out and assisting our veterans. Civilians have done and continue to do much to assist the reintegration of veterans into society, to lend a helping hand to our wounded warriors and to find areas where our veterans tend to fall through the cracks and seek to fill the void. The Department of Veterans Affairs has come a long way too in assisting our veterans; however, they continue to struggle with a terrible lack of funding, particularly funding to meet the mental health needs of our veterans. Funding for services for our wounded warriors hasn’t come close to keeping up with the vast amount of money our nation spends on waging war itself. Further, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to have systemic challenges that seriously impact the delivery of real care to our veterans.

While the V.A. disability system often seems to be rigged to either deny or severely limit benefits to veterans, thus tragically limiting access to needed medical care for far too many veterans, there are other vexing issues that plague the V.A. The issue I want to discuss today is the prevailing presence of religious predation, discrimination and marginalization throughout our V.A. healthcare system.

As the Veterans Coordinator for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation I am regularly contacted by veterans across the United States who are experiencing a variety of challenges with their local V.A. healthcare system related to religion. These issues range from the illicit and permanent posting of religious symbols in common areas throughout V.A. facilities in violation of Dept. of V.A. policy to predatory proselytizing and/or discrimination by V.A. medical and mental health staff and suicide prevention / crisis phone lines manned by staff who think it’s acceptable to tell despondent and suicidal veterans that unless they accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior they’re going to hell.

Often V.A. Medical Centers are attached to local teaching hospitals, and in some cases these teaching hospitals are private, faith-based facilities. The religious practices and policies of these faith-based facilities often leak over into the V.A. facilities. An example of this challenge is the V.A. Medical Center in Loma Linda, California which is attached to and serviced by Loma Linda University Hospital, which is a Seventh Day Adventist facility. I have received numerous complaints from veterans who access care at the Loma Linda facility, veterans who’ve had to deal with burdensome policies and procedures related to palliative pain care due to the Seventh Day Adventists’ aversion to prescribing and dispensing narcotic pain medication. Veterans who access care at this facility are also regularly subjected to unwanted and aggressive proselytizing by Seventh Day Adventist staff, even to the extent of staff following veterans out into the parking lot to yell at them for rejecting their attempts at proselytizing. Over time the number of complaints has grown so large that the hospital administration now refuses to take phone calls from outside the hospital (even calls from patients and/or their advocates) and states all complaints must be presented in writing in order to be considered. This is a typical response to complaints within the V.A. system – rather than address the problems, administration is inclined to just make it more difficult for veterans to complain about problems.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to tell you that I’m a disabled veteran. I first heard of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation a few years back when I was struggling with religious predation and discrimination at the Iowa City V.A. Medical Center. During two separate hospitalizations, while sedated and wired to a heart monitor, in violation of my expressed wishes and written directive, I was visited by an Assembly of God chaplain who stood over my bed and preached to me for about twenty minutes (each time) and told me that if I didn’t accept Jesus as my personal savior I was going to hell. My medical records show that I am Jewish, if my kippah and beard weren’t evidence enough; however, that didn’t matter to the staff who called the chaplain, or the chaplain. Nor did it matter to them that I protested the chaplain’s presence as vigorously as I was capable of considering my sedation, pointing out the obvious, that I am Jewish; still, the Chaplain remained unmoved, telling me that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews as well. In addition to these clear violations of my rights, I frequently endured questions from hospital staff that went something like this: “You’re a Jew, aren’t you? I hear you don’t believe in Jesus; why not?” These, of course, were just a few of the many challenges I faced as a Jewish American veteran at the Iowa City V.A. Medical Center. After a time I grew fed up and, accompanied by my Rabbi, met with a representative from the Chaplains office and Patient Advocates office to lodge a complaint. The meeting did not go well; I was told it was all my fault because I repeatedly failed to protest forcefully enough. Then, the very next day, during a follow-up appointment with my primary care physician (following an earlier emergency room visit where I learned that I was suffering with seven kidney stones) I was informed that the hospital was discontinuing my medical care. When I asked my physician what I was supposed to do about my kidney stones, he responded by saying, “You’re a religious Jew; why don’t you try prayer or meditation.”

Cut off from medical care, I was in bad shape, in the worst pain of my life. That was when a friend told me about Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. I immediately contacted Mikey and he went to work, securing medical care for me at another V.A. facility and putting public pressure on the V.A. As a result of the MRFF’s intervention, the Department of Veterans Affairs dispatched a medical ethicist to investigate my claims. In the end my claims were not only substantiated, but an Anti-Semitic slur in my medical chart was uncovered and ordered removed. Following this incident the Iowa City V.A. was pushed to make some long overdue changes to come into compliance with longstanding V.A. policies and procedures. However, it proved to be an ongoing hostile environment for me, so I packed up and moved to Portland, Oregon, where I previously lived. Maybe it’s due to the larger Jewish community in Portland, but I have yet to experience overtly religious discrimination at the V.A. facility here.

After my ugly experiences with the Iowa City V.A. and my overwhelming positive experiences with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I got involved; I began volunteering for the MRFF, primarily working on veterans’ issues. In time I was appointed the voluntary Veterans Coordinator, and in that capacity I have spoken and corresponded with numerous veterans who daily experience the same sort of religious predation and discrimination I experienced. I’ve had the good fortune to assist numerous veterans, but want to give you just a few examples of what I’ve encountered.

About a year and a half ago I assisted three veterans who were denied access to PTSD groups because their local V.A. facility’s mental health staff would only allow “born again Christians” or those willing to become “born again” into the groups. I’ve worked with veterans on a waiting list to get into drug and alcohol treatment facilities who were farmed out to overtly religious halfway houses where they were compelled to attend Fundamentalist Christian Bible Study Classes and prayer sessions with the threat that if they failed to comply their names would be removed from the waiting list to get into treatment facilities. I have worked with more veterans than I can count who have endured unwanted and predatory proselytizing at their local V.A. facilities. But the most prevalent problem I hear about is the prevalence of V.A. Medical Centers that persist in permanently decorating their chapels with uniquely Christian symbols such as crucifixes and Stations of the Cross; this is of course in direct violation of Veterans Administration policy, which requires that all chapels remain religion neutral except during religious services, thereby making the facilities accessible to veterans of all faiths and no faith. When the Department of Veterans Affairs has dared to intervene and order a local facility to remove or cover up permanent religious displays there has often been protests by local Fundamentalist Christian groups and even public threats by local elected officials.

While all of us will never agree on everything, I hope that most of us can at least agree that our veterans deserve better than they’re getting. Our veterans don’t deserve to endure religious predation, discrimination and marginalization when they attempt to access medical care at their local facilities, regardless of their religious affiliation or absence of religious affiliation. It’s the V.A.’s job to deliver medical care and other needed services to our veterans, not to use federal funds to try to convert them to one religion or another.

The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do a better job of monitoring its facilities and they need to do a better job of creating and maintaining a mechanism for veterans to report complaints regarding incidents of religious predation, discrimination and marginalization. In my experience, and in the unfortunate experience of far too many of our veterans, so-called patient advocates, who are employed by and answer to local hospital administration, too often not only fail to respond to complaints regarding violations of the veterans’ religious rights, but are themselves actually complicit. Recognizing that no one wants to report such violations to the same staff who engage in them (reprisals are a constant factor), the least the V.A. could do is set up a national call center for reporting violations of veterans’ religious rights by V.A. staff and facilities. But of course that’s just a start. The V.A. needs national staff to routinely inspect local facilities to ensure their compliance with regulations that protect veterans from violations of their religious rights, violations that make it less likely they will actually access the medical care they so desperately need and deserve. Veterans have more than earned the right to be treated with this basic level of respect, don’t you think?

Headline today on David Barton's Wallbuilders website: "Atheist Group Takes Down Billboard With Inaccurate Anti-Christian Jefferson Quote."

The headline links to an article on The Blaze, the news website of Barton's cohort Glenn Beck, which begins:

"An Orange County group of skeptics, 'with a heavy atheist `bent,' have become tongue-tied in their campaign for secularism. California-based Backyard Skeptics head Bruce Gleason used $4,000 in anonymous donations to put up billboards with an anti-Christian Thomas Jefferson quote he had discovered.

"Gleason, however, is now apologizing to the secular community after news broke that  The Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello could not find any such quote from the third U.S. president in their records. Gleason now insists that he may have misquoted Jefferson, but did not misrepresent his ideas, and put the billboard up in 'good faith.'"

Wait a minute! Isn't that remarkably similar to what David Barton said of the quotes on his "Unconfirmed Quotations" list? That list of quotes that Barton tells his readers to "refrain from using ... until such time that an original primary source may be found?"

For the first quote on his list, an unconfirmed Patrick Henry quote that Barton was using, he began his excuse: "Few could dispute that this quotation is consistent with Henry's life and character."

For the infamous James Madison Ten Commandments quote -- the one that caused him the most trouble -- Barton begins his excuse: "While these words have been the most controversial of all unconfirmed quotes, they are consistent with Madison's thoughts on religion and government."

And, for his unconfirmed Noah Webster quote, Barton writes: "These words are entirely consistent with the life and character of Noah Webster."

In fact, Barton's excuses for using just about every quote on his "Unconfirmed Quotations" list include, in one way or another, something to the effect of, 'Well, they did say stuff like that.'

So, while the group that put up the Jefferson billboard was really stupid not to verify the source of the Jefferson quote it used, I hardly think David Barton is in any position to say anything about the group's statement that they "did not misrepresent his ideas," given that this is exactly what he says himself when caught using fake quotes.

And Glenn Beck is hardly in a position to criticize either. Besides incessantly promoting his BFF Barton's lies about American history, Beck embarrassed himself last year by going after the Huffington Post for mocking an attendee at his Restoring Honor rally who was wearing a t-shirt sporting a George Washington quote. The problem? It was a fake Washington quote! In fact, it's the #2 quote on Barton's "Unconfirmed Quotations" list -- a quote that Barton himself instructs his followers not to use!


Of course, despite what he says on his website, David Barton clearly doesn't really want his followers to stop using the misquotes on his list, as evidenced by the fact that six of these misquotes were included in the National Council On Bible Curriculum in Public Schools curriculum, a curriculum whose advisory board includes ... um ... David Barton.

Here at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), we get a constant stream of emails from service members telling us about chaplains who just can't seem to uphold the oath they took to the Constitution, and see their position as a chaplain as a vehicle to fight secularism in what is supposed to be -- ummm -- a secular military.

Earlier this week, we heard from an Air Force Academy professor and active duty officer who had attended a new faculty orientation at which the Academy's head chaplain, Colonel Robert Bruno, informed over a hundred new faculty members that there is no wall of separation between church and state.

Here's what the faculty member wrote:

"I saw the recent MRFF release about the USAF Academy (USAFA) Chaplain's office publicizing books for evangelical Christian authors and, frankly, I'm not surprised. After all, what can you expect from an organization headed by a callous, unprofessional and uneducated individual who doesn't even understand the Constitution his organization defends? During new faculty orientation this summer, this same Chaplain (USAF Academy Head Chaplain, Col. Robert Bruno) stood up in front of over a hundred new USAFA faculty and told them that 'there is no wall' between church and state! Maybe for him there isn't, but for the rest of us, it's a pretty clear concept. He then railed against the 'increased secularization' that has eroded morality in our society and proceeded to deliver a 15-minute 'homily' on why USAFA has only the 'perception' of religious intolerance, despite documented instances of proselytization and even 'HR decisions influenced by faith affiliation!' Seriously! If this is the individual that the leadership is relying on for counseling in religious toleration matters, no wonder the institution has completely lost the bubble!"

But was that the worst display of a U.S. military chaplain flagrantly deriding the Constitution that they swore an oath (presumably to God) to protect and defend? Hell no!

We got in one today that may just take the prize. This one came from the U.S. Army's 1st Recruiting Brigade. At last count, forty-one Army recruiters -- thirty-four of them Christians -- have contacted MRFF, stunned and appalled by a "Thought For The Day" email sent out by Major Wayne Keast, the 1st Recruiting Brigade's chaplain.

This is the email from the chaplain, sent out this morning to all Army recruiters up and down the eastern seaboard.

"I was reading an article yesterday about those being trained as officers in the service academies. Those who chose not to go to religious services when they were held were encountered by cadre and put on detail. They were seen as being punished for not going to chapel. Now there is the Atheist and Freethinker groups that are holding their separate meetings. We have equated agnostic, atheistic and other ideas to stand alongside Christendom as a viable belief system. We have freedom to believe or not believe presently in our country. What I wonder is how will this affect our future officer leadership and where will we go in our ethic? Christianity has been the ground and foundation for our Ethical Core Value system ever since George Washington. The further we move away from Christianity in our ethic and practice the greater the problems will get within the infrastructure of our military, (If you haven't noticed). We are removing the foundation for all behavior for all other belief system are based on relativism and nothing objective and unmovable. We are in a constant flux in our values. We will soon remove all GOOD reason for having a workable ethic."

MAJ Wayne Keast

United States Army 1st Recruiting Brigade Chaplain


(301) 677-2943

Major Keast might just as well have come right out and told all the recruiters he emailed to be careful not to recruit any atheists or agnostics, or, for that matter, any other non-Christians! The message would have been the same. The hell with that pesky "no religious test" clause in that pesky Constitution that the major swore an oath to protect and defend.

After hearing from over three dozen recruiters who received Major Keast's email, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein responded in his usual understated manner:

"DO SOMETHING, Air Force and Army!  But we all know you won't, will you? You NEVER do. Which is precisely why your afflicted come to MRFF by the multiple thousands. The time for action is now! US Air Force Chaplain Colonel Bruno and U.S. Army Chaplain Major Keast should face immediate criminal charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for these disgusting, prima facie examples of dereliction of duty by flagrant violations of the solemn oaths they took; oaths NOT to Jesus or the New Testament but to our clearly secular United States Constitution. They are both heinous Poster Children of unconstitutional, fundamentalist Christian supremacy and exceptionalsm. Thus, they are base and vile criminals and religious predators. Try them both by courts-martial immediately!"

A little over a year ago, a cadet at the Air Force Academy emailed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to tell us about an "underground" group of about a hundred Academy cadets who, in order to maintain good standing among their peers and superiors at the Academy, were actually pretending to be fundamentalist Christians. Their charade included leaving Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian music CDs laying around their rooms; attending fundamentalist Christian Bible studies; and feigning devoutness at the Academy's weekly "Special Programs in Religious Education" (SPIRE) programs. This group of cadets had decided to resort to doing whatever they had to do to play the role of the "right kind" of Christian cadets, all the while living in constant fear of being "outed."

In the words of the cadet who wrote to MRFF last year, who described himself as "kind of the leader" of this underground group: "If any of us gave even the slightest indication that we weren't one of their number, our lives would be even more miserable than they already are due to the fact that we are all living lies here. Despite the Cadet Honor Code we all lie about our lives. We have to."

Who makes up this group of over a hundred cadets who feel that they must pretend to be such devoted fundamentalist Christians? Well, surprisingly, they are mostly Christians -- both mainline Protestants and Catholics -- who aren't "Christian enough" or the "right kind" of Christians for the Air Force Academy. The rest of the group is made up of other assorted heathens, which include members of non-Christian religions, agnostics, and atheists.

That cadet who originally told MRFF about this group and identified himself as its leader also identified himself as a first class cadet (or a senior) at the Academy, which means he would have graduated last year. But the group of fundamentalist Christian impersonators that this former cadet was leading not only continues to exist -- it is growing. Each time an incident occurs showing that Christian fundamentalism still reigns supreme at the Academy, MRFF hears from more cadets who have joined the group, having made the decision that the best way to survive their four years at the Academy is to lie about their religious beliefs.

The most recent email from one of the cadets in this group recounts that cadet's experience at a recent weekly "Bible study," presumably the SPIRE group that they are pretending to be a member of. Since an entire evening each week is set aside for SPIRE -- a program where all the parachurch military ministries come to the Academy to run their programs -- a cadet not belonging to a SPIRE group is quite noticeable, so joining and regularly attending a SPIRE group is an essential part of the masquerade for these cadets who are pretending to be fundamentalist Christians.

(A few notes are needed here to explain everything this cadet was referring to in the email below. The billboard referred to is one that MRFF put up a few weeks ago at a busy intersection in Colorado Springs, the home of the Air Force Academy, when the Academy's leadership failed to distribute a watershed edict from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force on "Religious Neutrality" to the Academy's staff and cadets. The content of the billboard was the full text of the Chief of Staff's memorandum. See my previous post for the full story of this billboard. The reference in the P.S. to the "surprise escort" is referring to this cadet volunteering to escort MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein and his bodyguard through the tight security at the Air Force Academy football game on September 11. The cadet did not tell Weinstein at the time that they were a member of the group of cadets pretending to be fundamentalist Christians, but merely showed up out of nowhere and volunteered to be their cadet escort.)

Subject: Mikey is "Most Dangerous Threat"

Mikey, my name is [USAF Academy cadet's name and cadet rank withheld]. We have met but you probably would not know that. I am one of the cadets here at the Air Force Academy who has been a MRFF client for [number of years and months withheld], I am also one of the many MRFF cadet clients here who appear to be a "super-stoked Christian" to avoid the direct and indirect shitstorm you get for not being one here. alot of us do this and most are clients of the MRFF. Just wanted to let you know how "special" you are Mikey. At our weekly bible study the other night held in [Bible study's USAF Academy location withheld] our group's leader spent an amazing half an hour on you and the "obsessed Christian-hating legacy" which you and your Weinstein family and the MRFF have cursed the Academy with. They showed pictures of you and your wife and kids. From the internet I think. Our bible study group leader said that you Mikey were the most dangerous threat to the Word of Jesus Christ in America today. Everone just nodded approval. I wanted to ask why but didn't. Another cadet in our bible study did though. Our leader mentioned as "evidence'" the billboard you had just put up in C. Springs. What? Then even I could not resist asking naive why that was considered "evidence" of how dangerous to Jesus you were. Another cadet said to me (with the leader's and everyone else's approval) "well, did you actually read what the billboard says"? I told them that the newspapers reported that it only said what the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Schwartz said about making sure there is no religious favoritism in the USAF. No shit Mikey you could have heard a pin drop. Then our study leader said "exactly, now do you see why Weinstein is so dangerous?" Seriously? Trying not to have my head explode I just slowly said yes like I had just had this total revelation or something. I'd laugh but it's not even funny. I live in an alternate universe here, Mikey. So do all the others who fake being a part of it to avoid the religion insanity here which is considered as sanity. Thank you and the MRFF for fighting it for us. (P.S. and say hi to your bodyguard for us all. We saw you guys at the TCU game a month ago. Do you recall your "surprise escort"? Thanks for coming up so we could talk and see you.)


[USAF Academy cadet's name, cadet rank, cadet position title and cadet squadron withheld]

As I wrote in a previous post on my blog at freethoughtblogs.com, "I Want David Barton To Sue ME!," conservative activist and pseudo-historian David Barton has filed a defamation lawsuit against Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau, two former candidates for the Texas State Board of Education back in 2010, and a writer named W.S. Smith, who wrote an article on examiner.com titled “Exposing David Barton,” also back in 2010.

Barton is going after Jennings and Bell-Metereau over a YouTube campaign ad that said he has spoken to white supremacist groups (which is true), and Smith for calling him an admitted liar, referring to that list of “Unconfirmed Quotations” he put out after being called on his use of spurious quotes. What nobody can figure out is why Barton is suing these particular people, who haven't said anything that hasn’t been said many times before over the years by other, much more well known Barton critics.

In his lawsuit, Barton attempts to raise suspicions that there's something fishy about this Smith guy, including his identity, saying: "Smith, likely hiding behind a pseudonym 'W.S. Smith' publishes his ideas and version of events through a third-party website owner and/or internet service provider." But Barton is going to get to the bottom of this suspicious use of the name Smith by the defendant, assuring the court that, "His identity is reasonably expected to become known shortly after filing this petition and an appropriate amended petition, if required, shall be filed."

Last week, Mr. Smith, who is just as baffled as everyone else as to why Barton is coming after him, contacted me to discuss the lawsuit, and sent me the following statement to publish. If Barton intended to scare this guy, he definitely picked the wrong guy!

My name is W.S. Smith (yes, that's my real name; not a pseudonym) and I am being sued for libel by David Barton. Mr. Barton's lawsuit against me (and the other defendants) is as factually baseless as his historical statements.

When I was a kid, my father used to tell me what he thought were the rules that guided what made a good man stand apart from a bad man. His rules for being a good man were simple:

1) Be honest.
2) Treat others with courtesy and, if earned, respect.
3) Don't take crap from anyone.
4) Avoid a fight, if possible, but defend yourself if need be.

I've never in my life cowtowed to bullies and I'm not about to start now. Just because someone is bigger (more prominent), stronger (wealthier) or better trained (lots of political connections and power-lawyers at their disposal) doesn't make them right.  In fact, the one or two times bullies tried to pick on me as a kid, they walked away with bruised testicles and bloody noses. I intend to do the same with this bully (Mr. Barton) only, rather than using my hands and feet, I plan to use the law.

I will not back down from what I know (and can prove in court) is the truth and I will not be threatened to do so by a self-appointed mouthpiece for a deity. If Mr. Barton insists on taking this case all the way to court, I'll be happy to meet him there. Why? Because the truth in on my side.

I find the whole affair quite amusing and am reveling in the irony of it all. How is it ironic? The only reason Mr. Barton hasn't been sued for libel or slander himself is because the people he has libeled and slandered have been dead for a couple of hundred years. It's easy to be brave when putting words in the mouths of dead men. It's also easy to be brave when confronted with a frivolous lawsuit, regardless of how big the bully threatening you is.

If this is what you want, Mr. Barton, then let's do it. Bring it on. Bring it on. Bring it on. The path you've chosen will lead only to your embarrassment and ruin.

As late as three days ago, September 26, the leadership at the U.S. Air Force Academy was still unwilling to distribute a watershed memorandum issued by Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz on "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion." Coming on the heels of the recent revelation by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) that a mandatory part of the Air Force's nuclear missile launch officer "ethics" training was a Christian theological presentation, nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech" by some nuclear missile officers, General Schwartz's memorandum -- an edict that stated in no uncertain terms that no commander or other leader in the Air Force can promote, or even give the appearance of promoting, their personal religious beliefs to any subordinate personnel -- was received by all Air Force commands on or around September 13.

General Schwartz's memorandum (the full text of which can be found in my previous post) quickly made its way down through the ranks at bases throughout the Air Force, as one would expect an important statement of policy from the Chief of Staff would. One notable exception, however, was the Air Force Academy, where the top leadership did not distribute it to either cadets or staff, but kept it confined to a small group of senior officers at a staff meeting.

When Academy cadets and staff started seeing General Schwartz's memorandum in other places, like the September 16 article from the Air Force Times, many started contacting MRFF, disgusted and angry that something this important had not been immediately distributed to everyone at the Academy.

One cadet wrote to MRFF reporting that when he asked if he could post the Chief of Staff's memorandum on a bulletin board at the Academy, the response he got was, "Don't go there. Who's side are you on?" Apparently, wanting to post a memorandum from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force now means you're on the "wrong side" at the Air Force Academy. Like most Academy cadets and staff who have contacted MRFF about the Academy's failure to distribute the memorandum, this cadet first contacted a friend at another Air Force base to find out what other bases had done with it. This cadet, who identified himself as a Baptist in his email, has now become a MRFF client, and he's not alone. In fact, the number of MRFF's clients at the Academy jumped from 297 to 341 in the week and a half between the Air Force Times article and this Wednesday, when the Academy finally decided to distribute the memorandum, weeks after it was issued. (This cadet's email, along with emails from two other cadets, are included at the end of this post. I urge everyone to please read these emails, which describe the situation at the Academy far better than anything I could ever write.)

So, why the sudden change of heart on the part of the Academy leadership? Why did they finally decide to distribute General Schwartz's memorandum after weeks of withholding it? Well, maybe it was this nice big billboard, containing the entire text of the memorandum, put up by MRFF on Tuesday at a very busy intersection in Colorado Springs, the home of the Air Force Academy.


Of course, the Air Force Academy is doing its best to deny that the billboard had anything to do with its sudden decision to distribute the memorandum right after the billboard went up. But, in doing so, Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan has succeeded only in contradicting himself to a point where nobody could possibly believe the version of the story he's putting out.

Lt. Col. Bryan said to the Colorado Springs Independent, "I don't know why it's such an issue. Has every cadet seen this? Probably not. Has every permanent party [faculty and staff] seen this? Probably not. That memo wasn't written for the academy."

OK, so Lt. Col. Bryan is saying that the memorandum doesn't apply to the Academy. That's his reason for it not being distributed at the Academy.

But wait! Lt. Col Bryan also told the Independent that Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould had directed the handful of officers at their staff meeting weeks earlier to distribute the memorandum to all staff and cadets, saying that at this staff meeting Lt. Gen. Gould "passed out some copies of the CSAF memo and discussed its message with those senior USAFA commanders and directors -- directing them to ensure this message got out to permanent party, staff and cadets, here." Huh? If the memorandum wasn't meant to apply to the Academy, as Lt. Col Bryan claims, then why would the Academy Superintendent have allegedly directed it to be distributed to everyone at the Academy, as Lt. Col Bryan also claims?

So, which is it? Was the memorandum only intended for Vandenberg Air Force Base, the base where the "Jesus Loves Nukes" nuclear missile training was exposed, as Lt. Col. Bryan also told the Independent, or did it also apply to the Air Force Academy. Well, that's not hard question to answer, and Lt. Col. Bryan, as spokesman for the Academy, should have had no problem figuring this out. Besides the obvious -- why would the Chief of Staff send a memorandum to all bases if it was only meant to apply to one particular base -- the memorandum was very clearly addressed in big capital letters right at the top to "ALMAJCOM-FOA-DRU/CC." That string of acronyms means all Major Commands and every Field Operating Agency and Direct Reporting Unit, as Lt.. Col. Bryan would know. What is the Air Force Academy? Well, it's a Direct Reporting Unit, as Lt. Col. Bryan would also know. Yet he is now trying to get away with saying that the memorandum didn't apply to the Academy!

(As I've been writing this piece, the Independent posted the following update to its article: "Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan has called to tell us he misspoke: Bryan now says he doesn't know specifically the impetus for Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz's letter, but that the academy fully understands the message it contains." So now Lt. Col. Bryan is saying that the "Jesus Loves Nukes" missle officer training wasn't what led to General Schwartz's "Religious Neutrality" memorandum? I give up. I'm not even going to try to sort out any more of this guy's confusingly conflicting statements.)

So, the only question that remains is this: Was the Air Force Academy really planning to distribute the Chief of Staff's "Religious Neutrality" edict to its staff and cadets all along, or was it the posting of it on the billboard in their own backyard that forced their hand? Well, it is mighty coincidental that the memorandum was suddenly distributed immediately after the billboard went up, after being withheld for weeks. But, the accompanying cover letter from Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, sent to cadets along with the memorandum, was dated September 19, which was before the billboard went up. Why would Brig. Gen. Clark have prepared this letter on September 19 if he wasn't planning to distribute the memorandum. Well, two things would account for that. September 19 (a Monday) was the first working day after the Air Force Times article came out (a Friday), and cadets and staff were starting to question why they had heard nothing of this memorandum until reading about it in the Air Force Times article. And it was also the day that MRFF's founder and president Mikey Weinstein, after a weekend of hearing from countless Academy cadets and staff who were disgusted with the Academy's leadership for not distributing the memorandum, sent a strongly worded warning to the Academy Superintendent, demanding that it be immediately distributed. Weinstein didn't indicate in this warning exactly what MRFF was planning to do if the memorandum wasn't distributed, but the Academy knows MRFF well enough by now to have been worried enough to have something prepared just in case their hand was forced and they did end up having to distribute it. And it appears that the billboard was what did it. Nothing else could explain why Brig. Gen. Clark held onto his letter, dated September 19, and the memorandum, until September 28, the day after the billboard went up. Of course the Academy will certainly deny that one thing had anything to do with the other, but the many Academy cadets and staff members who have emailed MRFF since finally receiving the memorandum are all attributing this completely out of the blue turnaround by the Academy's leadership to the billboard, and aren't buying any other excuses or explanations. And neither is MRFF, as Mikey Weinstein wrote in the following statement he issued as the calls and emails started flooding in on Wednesday morning from Academy cadets who had at long last received the Chief of Staff's memorandum.

"Earlier this morning, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was notified by many of its now 341 Air Force Academy clients, that the Commandant of Cadets, Brigadier General Richard Clark, had sent out to all members of the Academy's Cadet Wing a cover letter emphasizing the import of Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz's Sept. 1, 2011 watershed directive of 'Religious Neutrality.' Academy Commandant Clark's cover letter had Gen. Schwartz's letter appended thereto. This mass distribution by the Air Force Academy Commandant is a true victory for the Constitution. It is also a sad lesson to contemplate in that, but for MRFF's plastering of Gen. Schwartz's edict on a giant billboard in a busy area of Colorado Springs just the day before, Commandant Clark's distribution of Gen. Schwartz's directive would NEVER have happened.

"I am certain that the Air Force Academy will fall all over itself denying that the MRFF billboard had ANYTHING to do with this morning's sudden mass distribution to the Cadet Wing of Gen. Schwartz's ground-breaking 'Religious Neutrality' edict. If anyone is either naive or stupid enough to believe THAT 'coincidence,' then they would immediately be qualified to replace Academy Superintendent Michael Gould who, apparently, has STILL not yet distributed the Chief of Staff's directive to either the thousands of airmen who comprise the Academy's 10th Air Base Wing or the faculty at the Academy.

"We note, in closing, that it was NOT Lt. Gen. Gould himself who distributed Gen. Schwartz's directive, and that the person who did distribute it, Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, dated his cover letter as 'Sept. 19, 2011,' some 10 days ago, even though it only went out today. Interesting mystery there? Maybe not. As recently as yesterday, the Academy was responding to press inquiries about the MRFF billboard by saying that the Academy didn't have to distribute Gen. Schwartz's memo because 'it was never mandated' to be done. Meanwhile, MRFF will enthusiastically celebrate this clear victory for our hundreds of Air Force Academy clients. We will await all other Academy personnel being likewise in swift receipt of Gen. Schwartz's 'Religious Neutrality' edict. How much longer will Lt. Gen. Gould make them all wait? I don't know, but right now I'm going to go have a celebratory beer because, as Sammy Davis, Jr. said, alcohol gives you infinite patience for stupidity."

(As of this writing, the memorandum has still not been distributed to Academy's faculty and 10th Air Base Wing.)

What follow are three of the many emails that MRFF has received from Academy cadets, the first from September 25, three days before the Academy finally distributed the Chief of Staff's memorandum; the second from September 28, the day the memorandum was distributed; and the third this morning, September 29, the day after the memorandum was distributed.



Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF, my name is (USAF Academy cadets's name, cadet rank and title withheld). I became an official client of MRFF just a day ago after personally witnessing the appalling reaction of my USAFA Cadet chain of command and USAFA Officer chain of command to Gen. Schwartz's awesome memo dated 1 Sept. 11 on "Religious Neutrality." I called Mr. Weinstein to verify the truth and existence of Gen. Schwartz's memo and we spoke for a few minutes. I couldn't believe it was actually him himself when he answered my call. I told this to other cadets and they called him too. He answered the phone call each time himself. He told us that the memo from Gen. Schwartz was very real and did exist.

For the record, I am a Christian (Protestant/Baptist) and occasionally attend worship services here at the Air Force Academy or elsewhere downtown. I only found out about Gen Schwartz's memo because I saw and heard an officer and 3 other cadets saying some very bad things about you and General Schwartz's memo, Mr. Weinstein, in the Fairchild Hall academic building at the end of last week. I was really shocked by the messed up things they said about you and the MRFF in particular, very personal and hateful. I googled as Mr. Weinstein suggested and had no problem finding out about Gen. Schwartz's memo from some websites. Including primarily of course MRFF's, but others like Air Force Times and the C. Springs Independent and the story by Chris Rodda on Alternet. The "cow milking" thing was pretty unbelievable to me and many of my classmates as all of this sad situation is here. Noone would believe it. But we do now.

This weekend I "informally asked" so as not to arouse suspicion, my cadet chain of command if I could verbally brief my (USAF Academy cadet's Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld) about the Chief of Staff's memo. I also asked, in lieu of briefing my (USAF Academy cadet's Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld), if I could post General Schwartz's memo on the bulletin and message boards etc. located in my (USAF Academy cadet's Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld). I was told the following words exactly; "Don't go there. Who's side are you on"? Not knowing how to respond, and being shocked, I just said nothing. But the damage has been done and my eyes are now open to the religious bigotry of Christian bullies here at the Air Force Academy. I did not fully see it before. But I definitely do now. So do many of us. I discussed becoming a MRFF client with my mom and dad and another good friend who graduated from the Academy a few years ago. My friend (USAF Academy grad and Officer's name and rank withheld) said that his/her Wing Commander at (USAF military installation's name and location withheld) sent out General Schwartz's religious neutrality memo to all USAF personnel in his/her Wing right after receiving it. Anyways, my friend and parents all encouraged me to do become a MRFF client and I'm encouraging others to do it too. Thank you Mr Weinstein and the MRFF for giving us a place to go for help. It's clear that if you even ask for help here you are taking a bad risk.

Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF, what about an idea I have? If you wrote a letter to USAF Academy Superintendent General Gould and asked him to please send out the USAF Chief of Staff's memo on religious neutrality to USAFA cadets and staff, do you think he would agree to it? If you can do this, please tell Gen. Gould that you have heard from many cadets in the Cadet Wing who want to see the Chief of Staff's important memo being sent out by him, Gen. Gould. That way we would all know that our Academy and Cadet chains of command also see the Chief of Staff's memo as equally important. If he doesn't do it, we will all know just the opposite.


(USAF Academy cadet's name, cadet rank and title and Wing/Group/Squadron designation withheld)


(Note: The cadet's references to "spire" and "cru" in this email refer to the Academy's weekly religion night, called Special Programs in Religious Education, or S.P.I.R.E., when outside parachurch military ministries such as Campus Crusade for Christ, known as "cru" for "crusade," come into the Academy.)

Date: September 28, 2011

Subject: Progress at the Academy?

Dear Mikey,

This morning at about 0800 I got an email saying we had new read files, which are documents that every cadet must read and then initial that they signed it. While I believe this is a good step, I'm not sure all cadets will fully read the documents and an issue such as this should be briefed where all cadets will listen. It's funny that it took you posting a billboard with the letter on it for the academy to do something about it. Do they really not think it is an issue or do they just not care? I thought I would give spire a chance, just to see how it was so I went to Cru. It was fine at first but when I didn't show up one Monday a few of the cadets made small comments saying that God would help me with my grades more than EI (Academic "Extra Instruction") will. Who says that? Seriously, I mean what are they teaching these cadets to make them think their religion and going to Spire on a Monday is going to help them more than going to get EI with a teacher. So then I stopped showing up to spire and realized just how much of a big deal this is. Yeah they try to tell us it isn't a problem but I saw firsthand how it really is a problem, and when it takes a month to send an email to us cadets from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force it shows how messed up our leadership is. I sat around for weeks wondering if any cadets would hear about this email, if our leadership would show what kind of problem was at this school and they failed...again. They covered it up just like anything else they don't want to deal with. I'm glad you were able to show the message to the community and force General Gould's hand to do the right thing. Mikey you fight everyday to make this place safe for the cadets who are pressured by the spire groups, and the cadets that attend spire.


A cadet who wouldn't feel safe here without you and what you do.


Date: September 29, 2011

Subject: It's A Jewish Thing, A Money Thing

Mr. Weinstein, my cadet roommate (cadet name and rank withheld) told me last night that one of his friends and classmates was in a class yesterday afternoon in Fairchild when another cadet in the class by the name of (cadet name and rank withheld) was telling people in the class that the only reason that Military Religious Foundation put up the billboard was to attack Christianity at the Academy. Another cadet challenged that statement and the cadet who said it responded by saying that you only put the billboard up because "It's a Jewish thing, a money thing. He's just crucifying Christ again for the same 20 pieces of silver." I'm sorry to pass this on. I am not Jewish. I am Catholic and face the same pressure to convert to being a "complete Christian" all the time. All I can say is that none of us knew anything about General Schwartz's letter until sometime on Wednesday morning which is the day after you put the sign up in the Springs. Thanks for all you do for all of us here at the Academy. If you want to hear more my class schedule is very tough today and I have alot of GR's and some papers due but my cell number is (cadet's cell number withheld). What the leadership has done with General Schwartz's letter is real messed up. We see the lies. They hate you guys here. But many of us don't.

(USAF Academy cadet's name, rank, title and Cadet Squadron withheld)

So, what do you think happens when the Chief of Staff of the Air Force issues an important memorandum to the whole Air Force? If you guessed that it gets distributed to the whole Air Force, you would, of course, be correct. And that's exactly what happened earlier this month when General Norton Schwartz, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, issued his watershed edict on "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion." This memorandum properly made its way down the chains of command at Air Force Bases everywhere, with one notable exception -- the Air Force Academy, where the top leadership have apparently decided to keep it to themselves.

General Schwartz's memorandum came on the heels of the recent revelation by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) that a mandatory part of the Air Force's nuclear missile launch officer "ethics" training was a Christian theological presentation, nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech" by some nuclear missile officers. Things moved fast once the content of this training was exposed by Truthout at the end of July. Not only did the Air Force immediately suspend the "Jesus Loves Nukes" training, but a review of all of the Air Force's so-called "ethics" training, much of which is chock full of inappropriate and unconstitutional religious content, was initiated.

This memorandum, the clearest blanket statement of Air Force policy on religious activity ever issued, from the boss of every member of the Air Force, from cadets to generals, stated in no uncertain terms that no commander or supervisor can promote, or even give the appearance of promoting, their personal religious beliefs to any subordinate personnel.

As expected, MRFF quickly began receiving a slew of emails from personnel all over the Air Force as they read General Schwartz's words, both expressing their elation and congratulating MRFF on being the catalyst for what is being lauded as a huge turning point in the quest for unconditional religious freedom in the military. But then, the bubble burst. Emails began coming in from the Air Force Academy, from both cadets and staff, wondering why they hadn't heard anything about this incredibly important edict from the Chief of Staff until they read about it from sources outside of the Academy, like the September 16 article from the Air Force Times.

Well, it seems that the leadership at the Academy, namely the Academy's Superintendent, Lieutenant General Mike Gould, and the Dean of Faculty, Brigadier General Dana Born, decided to keep General Schwartz's pronouncement to themselves and a small group of senior officers, and not let it go beyond their weekly staff meeting. Wouldn't want all those pesky underlings to know that their Chief of Staff had just put into writing a definitive policy that would stop so many of the religion problems plaguing the Academy, now would we, Generals Gould and Born?

So, how are the staff and cadets at the Academy reacting to the withholding of General Schwartz's memorandum? Well, with a combination of disbelief and nausea. As one staff member emailed to MRFF:

"This just makes me sick to my stomach. Absolutely no mention of Gen Schwartz's letter of religious neutrality. You would think that something as significant as this letter would make it down to all personnel at USAFA, especially the cadets. Hasn't been a single peep from the people behind the curtain. Nothing to see here!"

Even a cadet, who knew what the big "ALMAJCOM-FOA-DRU/CC" at the top of the memorandum meant -- that all Major Commands and the commanders of every Field Operating Agency and Direct Reporting Unit should have gotten this thing -- wrote to MRFF, asking:

"Wasn’t the letter supposed to be distributed to anyone in the Air Force with commander in their job title? Which Air Officer in COMMANDING or Squadron COMMANDER, even the Flight COMMANDERS have seen this? Pretty sure that would be none of them…such a sad problem here."

What struck others was the sheer irony that General Schwartz's memorandum wasn't sent out to the entire Academy via its "Dist P" mailing list, the same base wide email distribution list that has been used to distribute exactly the kind of religious announcements from commanders that the memorandum specifically says commanders can't send out.

As one Academy official put it:

"[S]o far the Academy leadership has not sent an electronic copy of the letter in the type of blanket, base-wide e-mail (called 'Dist P') that is used to announce prayer luncheons and chaplains programs or the need for volunteers at a wild cow-milking competition. Apparently, wild cow-milking is more important than CSAF guidance here."

Yes, this email, clearly a matter of far greater import than an edict from the Chief of Staff on what is one of the most contentious issues at the Academy, recently went out to the entire Academy via the "Dist P" mailing list.

To: Dist P
Subject: 2011 Wild Cow Milking (WCM) schedule so far


Due to last minute cancellations with the 2 USAFA cow-milking teams we (USAFA) are in dire need of replacements. If you are interested, see attachments and get back with me soon. Event is Saturday, 16 July 2011.

And here's what didn't didn't make the cut:


1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670

SUBJECT: Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion

Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual's free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit's morale, good order, and discipline.

Chaplain Corps programs, including activities such as religious studies, faith sharing, and prayer meetings, are vital to commanders' support of individual Airmen's needs and provide opportunities for the free exercise of religion. Although commanders are responsible for these programs they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.

Our chaplains are trained to provide advice to leadership on matters related to the free exercise of religion and to help commanders care for all of their people, regardless of their beliefs. If you have concerns involving the preservation of government neutrality regarding religious beliefs, consult with your chaplain and staff judge advocate before you act.

General, USAF
Chief of Staff

Is it any wonder that cadets and staff at the Air Force Academy have lost all faith (no pun intended) in the Academy's leadership?

Everybody's heard the familiar cliché, "You can't have freedom of religion without freedom from religion," but what does that really mean? Well, in the battles waged by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to protect and defend the First Amendment rights of every member of our armed forces, it means that the military must stop allowing the "Free Exercise" clause to trump the "Establishment Clause." In other words, the military can't keep ignoring and allowing clearly unconstitutional promotions of religion by claiming that they aren't violations of the Establishment Clause, but merely the free exercise of religion.

When a chaplain runs a Christian concert as a chapel event, that's free exercise of religion. But, when a commanding general runs a Christian concert called the "Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert," and soldiers are punished for not attending this religious event, that's a violation of the Establishment Clause. Is it really that hard for people to see the difference?

For years, MRFF has been saying that if the military would only start paying equal attention and giving equal weight to both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, many of the problems being reported by our service members would solve themselves. And, at long last, someone is listening -- General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The recent revelation by MRFF, reported by Truthout, that a mandatory part of the Air Force's nuclear missile launch officer "ethics" training was a Christian theological presentation, nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech" by some missile officers, was apparently the constitutional violation that broke the camel's back. Not only did this revelation result in the Air Force immediately suspending the "Jesus Loves Nukes" training, but a review of all of the Air Force's so-called "ethics" training, much of which is chock full of inappropriate and unconstitutional religious content.

But the Air Force didn't stop there. General Schwartz has now issued the following memorandum to the Air Force. It doesn't get more clear than this!


1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670

SUBJECT: Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion

Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual's free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit's morale, good order, and discipline.

Chaplain Corps programs, including activities such as religious studies, faith sharing, and prayer meetings, are vital to commanders' support of individual Airmen's needs and provide opportunities for the free exercise of religion. Although commanders are responsible for these programs they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs.

Our chaplains are trained to provide advice to leadership on matters related to the free exercise of religion and to help commanders care for all of their people, regardless of their beliefs. If you have concerns involving the preservation of government neutrality regarding religious beliefs, consult with your chaplain and staff judge advocate before you act.

General, USAF
Chief of Staff

Upon reading General Schwartz's memorandum, MRFF Founder and president Mikey Weinstein issued the following statement:

"General Schwartz deserves significant kudos and comprehensive congratulations for being THE most senior Pentagon official to date to ever send this strong a mandate of Constitutional religious compliance to our United States armed forces members. While MRFF wishes that such a letter had been sent by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force a very long time ago, the old adage 'better late than never' most certainly applies. While this letter may not be a home run, it is a damn good line drive single to potentially start a rally of Constitutional religious freedom compliance, which has been scandalously lacking in the entire Defense Department for decades. Gen. Schwartz has the U.S. Air Force at least now 'talking the talk.' Whether the USAF can 'walk the walk' will depend upon many factors, not the least of which is whether ANYONE in the Air Force is EVER punished for violating its clear mandates of Constitutional recognition for BOTH the No Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the Bill of Rights' First Amendment. To that end, we must all remember that while the First Commandment says, 'You can't have any other Gods before Me,' the First Amendment says, 'Oh yes you can!'"

This summer, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) scored a big victory, getting the Air Force to review all of its so-called "ethics" training. This decision by Air Force leadership was made after thirty-one Air Force officers decided to take a stand against what some officers had nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech," part of the Air Force's missile launch officer training. These Air Force officers came to MRFF for help with getting this overtly Christian "ethics" training removed from the "Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare" class, a mandatory part of the first week of training for all officers in missile launch training at Vandenberg Air Force Base. In late July, Truthout.org exposed the content of this training in an article titled "Air Force Cites New Testament, Ex-Nazi, to Train Officers on Ethics of Launching Nuclear Weapons." The Air Force immediately suspended the training. David Smith, the spokesman for the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command, made the following statements to Fox News Radio explaining the Air Force's decision: "In an effort to serve all faiths, we try to introduce none in our briefings and our lectures. Once we heard there were concerns, we looked at the course and said we could do better," and, "The military is made up of people from all walks of life, all faiths. It's most appropriate to let folks practice their faith on their own and not try to introduce something else to them." Nobody could have a problem with this, right? Wrong. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, doesn't like the Air Force's decision, and has written the following letter to Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.
The Honorable Michael B. Donley Department of the Air Force 1670 Air Force Pentagon Washington, DC 20330 Dear Secretary Donley: I write to express my concern regarding recent reports that the Department of the Air Force has suspended a course entitled "Christian Just War Theory." It is my understanding that this course, taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base, was suspended and is currently under review by Air Force officials after complaints were made that the curriculum referenced passages from the Bible. As you may know, the reports indicate that a spokesman for the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command has said that the main purpose of the course was to enable missile launch officers to understand that "what they are embarking on is very difficult and you have to have a certain amount of ethics about what you are doing to do that job." Our military services, like our nation, are comprised of people representing all faiths. However, that fact does not preclude military chaplains from teaching a course on just war theory -- a theory that has been a part of moral philosophy and the law of war for centuries -- merely because it has historically been predicated on religious texts. Moreover, suspending a course like this because of references to religious texts misinterprets the First Amendment. Although our Founding Fathers rightly included language in the Constitution that precludes the Federal government from establishing an official religion, this language does not, as some have argued, protect them from exposure to religious references. The First Amendment is intended to guarantee an individual's right to the free exercise of religion according to his or her conscience. The Air Force personnel who have taken this course for the past 20 years have been free to determine, according to their own consciences, whether they accept or reject the premises of just war theory. With these concerns in mind, I strongly urge you to ensure that a correct interpretation of the First Amendment is applied in resolving this situation. Moreover, I ask that you provide me with a detailed report on any actions taken by Air Force officials in response to these complaints. I appreciate your attention to this request. Thank you for your service to the men and women of the United States Air Force and our nation.
Let's get something straight here: This isn't about a few Bible references. It's about slide after slide of Bible verses, as well as a slide presenting former Nazi and SS officer Werhner Von Braun not as a scientist, but as a moral authority promoting the Bible (for some reason, defenders of this training like Senator Cornyn keep leaving that pesky little detail out). The training quoted Von Braun, upon surrendering to American forces in 1945, saying: "We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured." Another fact: Twenty-nine of the thirty-one Air Force officers who came to MRFF for help in getting this training stopped are Christians -- both Catholics and Protestants. Got that? The overwhelming majority of the officers who complained about so-called "free exercise of religion" are objecting to the Air Force inappropriately pushing THEIR OWN religion. In the few days since Fox News Radio released Sen. Cornyn's letter, thirty-eight more Air Force officers have contacted MRFF wanting to join the original thirty-one. Thirty-two of these thirty-eight are also Christians. (So you don't have to do the math, that's sixty-one Christian Air Force officers who completely disagree with Sen. Cornyn.) The "Just War Theory" section of the presentation begins with a slide containing an image of Augustine of Hippo, the 4th century Catholic bishop most closely associated with this set of ethical principles, although an earlier version of these principles dates back to Cicero two centuries earlier. Ironically, immediately preceding the Just War Theory slides in this uber-religious ethics presentation, George Washington is used as an example on a slide titled "Can a Person of Faith fight in a War?," even though Washington's wartime ethics were more in line with Cicero's principles of Just War than Augustine's version. And there were also the writings of later thinkers like Hugo Grotius, whose writings were based on international and natural law, and had largely supplanted Augustine's Just War Theory by the time of the founding of our country. But, of course, presenting Washington as a religious figure is to be expected in military training promoting religion. The next two slides simply list "Augustine's Qualifications for Just War" -- Just Cause, Just Intent, Legitimate Authority, A Reasonable Prospect for Success, and Last Resort. That's all fine. It's simply a list of criteria from Augustine's theory, which, although from an historically religious figure, are criteria still accepted by many ethicists, both religious and secular, to determine if a war is morally justified. If the Air Force's presentation stopped here and continued with a discussion of these five principles, divorced from any particular religion, there would be no problem with this section of the training. But, instead, the presentation continues with six slides of Bible verses, each with the big heading of "Christian Just War Theory" at the top. This includes the slides with Old Testament verses, which the defenders of this presentation are pointing out to say, "See, they included Jewish stuff, so it's not a Christian presentation." And, of course, slapping a clip art menorah on one of the slides that's titled "Christian Just War Theory" (seriously, that's what they did) also makes this presentation inclusive of other religions. In addition to the number of Bible verses in this training, it's hard to figure out what some of them even have to do with Just War Theory. For example, the presentation cites 2 Timothy 2:3, saying, "Paul chooses three illustrations to show what it means to be a good disciple of Christ," one of which is a soldier. Sure, this verse mentions a soldier -- it says "Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." So, our U.S. Air Force missile officers are supposed to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ? Well, of course! The next and final Bible verse in the presentation explains it all. That one is from Revelation 19:11 -- "Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior." Is it any wonder that this presentation has been nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes speech," or that so many Christian Air Force officers are complaining about it? As often is the case, once MRFF goes public with something like this training presentation, others around the military start coming forward and reporting similar things that they've seen going on that they want to do something about. So, within days of the news that the Air Force had stopped the "Jesus Loves Nukes" training, MRFF received another PowerPoint, this one from an ROTC instructor. This one was the Air Force ROTC's "Core Values and the Air Force Member" training presentation. The complaints about this training? Well, let's start with the "Have no other Gods before me" commandment in the Ten Commandments part of the training, which along with the Sermon on the Mount, is what the Air Force ROTC is using at colleges across the country as its "Examples of Ethical Values." As reported by the Air Force Times, upon the revelation of this second completely inappropriate Air Force training presentation, the Air Force has now decided to review all of its ethics training materials. According to spokesman David Smith, "Air Education and Training Command is conducting a comprehensive review of training materials that address morals, ethics, core values and related character development issues to ensure appropriate and balanced use of all religious and secular source material." That should make Senator Cornyn's head explode. MRFF will continue work to hold the Air Force accountable to freedom of religion. Add your voice by signing the petition and tell Senator Cornyn you support the Air Force’s action, and that all members of the military are owed the honor of serving their country without being preached at. The petition can be found here: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/cornyn_petition/

Throughout the U.S. military, with chapters on virtually every military installation worldwide, lurks an organization of over 15,500 fundamentalist Christian military officers who think their real duty is not to protect and defend the Constitution, but to raise up "a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit." These officers belong to an organization called the Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF), and range in rank from future officers in ROTC and at the U.S. military's service academies to generals and admirals.

Unlike the other fundamentalist Christian para-church military ministries, which  employ retired military personnel to be their "insiders," about 80 percent of OCF members are true insiders. They are current military officers, many of them commanders with authority over large numbers of service members and even entire bases and larger commands.

When people ask why our service members don't just complain through military channels about religious issues, and instead come to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) for help, our answer is usually just to say that these service members are afraid to go to their military superiors. Most people, however, probably don't understand why so many service members have this fear of going to their superiors and filing formal complaints, so I thought a little more of an explanation might be helpful, and explaining a bit about OCF is a good place to start.

Imagine for a moment that you're a service member whose entire unit just received an email blast from your superior officer on your official military email, with the subject line "Why We Serve." You open that email to find a lengthy religious message that ends with the following:

"We are blessed to be able, through our lives in the military, to demonstrate the message of salvation to those who have not heard or received it. It was by God's grace through faith that we were brought fully into His family and presence. Our love for Him motivates us to serve Him in our military, to serve and work for our families, and to serve and work to enable the message of salvation to reach those who have yet to accept Him as Lord and Savior. As Jesus spoke in the Gospel of John.

"Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him (John 14:21)."

You know that it is completely inappropriate and against military policy for your superior to be using official email to send religious messages to their subordinates. You want to report the officer who is sending out emails like this, but who do you report them to? Your chain of command, right? But wait, the first link in your chain of command is the officer who just sent out the email. And if you go file a complaint through other military channels, it'll get back to the officer who sent the email, who has the power to make your life miserable. See the problem?

(The above was a real situation reported to MRFF. The content of the email titled "Why We Serve" was an essay from the OCF website, written by a retired 3-star general and past OCF president.)

What if you're being hounded by one of the fundamentalist Christian para-church ministries on your base? You know it's wrong for your superiors to be allowing people from this ministry to invade your barracks to "encourage" you to attend their next Bible study. But it's your chain of command who are allowing this, so they must approve of it, and you're smart enough to realize that complaining to the very people who are allowing this to happen would be a very stupid move, especially if you are a soldier in a basic or other training situation. The last thing you want to do is stand out as being non-religious or of the "wrong" religion.

Now, what if you happen to be young service member with the guts to step up and complain about what this para-church ministry is doing? Well, you could go to your unit's chaplain, right? Chaplains have the authority to stop the activities of an outside religious group. But, of course, it was probably your chaplain who invited them there in the first place, so they're not likely to take your complaint too seriously.

So, who else has the power to stop these civilian "missionaries" from trying to save you? Well, your commanding officer. But what if your commanding officer is a member of the OCF? Well, then you're kind of out of luck because the OCF endorses and supports the work of para-church military ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry, which has come right out and said that their goal is to turn the U.S. military into a force of "government paid missionaries for Christ" and "evangelize and disciple all enlisted members of the U.S. military," and Cadence International, which preys specifically on young service members in training who are likely to be facing deployment soon, stating as a reason for their success, "Deployment and possibly deadly combat are ever-present possibilities. They are shaken. Shaken people are usually more ready to hear about God than those who are at ease, making them more responsive to the gospel."

If you're a service member who has the misfortune of having an OCF member somewhere in their chain of command, you're probably already fighting a losing battle, and with about 12,400 current officers in the OCF (80% of their total membership) in a military that has about 240,000 officers, the odds of any given chain of command having at least one OCF member in it are fairly high.

How much help can a service member who has a complaint about being proselytized by a superior, chaplain, or para-church ministry expect from an officer who's an OCF member? Let's look at some statements from OCF's latest batch of nominees for the organization's council positions. Reading some of these statements should give everybody a pretty good idea of the OCF's attitute towards the Constitution, and their desire to circumvent it to convert the military.

"The main challenge is to continuously strive to advance the kingdom of Christ to ensure a godly America in a hostile world that continues to reject and resist the truth of Jesus Christ and his Holy Word."

"OCF faces a challenge that is critical to our nation's military health--the "challenge of balance" -- assisting chaplains and military personnel in keeping the First Amendment from becoming an idol of religious authority."

"In a society and military community that increasingly leans towards secularism and political correctness, how does OCF aggressively proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ so that everyone has a life changing experience with God?"

OCF "must permeate the ranks and enlarge our membership and presence in the military."

And my favorite:

"I think the most important issue facing OCF is the growing fear and reticence among many Christian officers to live out their faith and present biblical truth to those they lead. Many officers are afraid to acknowledge their faith in Jesus in private and many more will never publicly stand up for their faith based upon a fear of offending or violating the uniform code of military justice, command policy or regulations."

U.S. miltary officers who are afraid of "violating the uniform code of military justice, command policy or regulations" by publicly espousing their religious views is a problem? To the rest of us that's a solution!

As already mentioned, OCF members range in rank from cadets to generals, so I'll end this with a quote from an OCF council nominee who was "saved" by OCF while at the Air Force Academy, and one from a 2-star Marine general, a former Catholic who doesn't seem too fond of Catholics (who, of course, aren't "real" Christians).

This is from the "Personal Testimony" section of the OCF council campaign pitch of Major Warren "Blair" Watkinson II, who was saved by OCF from his heresy of accepting religious pluralism while at the Air Force Academy.

"Though I grew up attending church every week, by the time I was in college, I had developed post-modern views, believing there were many ways to heaven. God used the Air Force Academy OCF cadet ministry and leaders to lovingly confront my heresy and make me aware of my need for a Savior."

And this is from the "Personal Testimony" section of Major General Melvin G. Spiese's OCF council campaign pitch, in which he publicly calls Catholicism, the religion of about 25 percent of the military, "obedience to a dead Lord."

"I was a practicing Catholic and changed to Anglicanism as an adult. I met all church rituals duties and obligations. While attending a chapel sponsored program hosted by COL King Coffman, I was questioned of my faith and challenged to make a non-ritual profession on the altar of the main Protestant chapel. I did, and it changed my life as I finally understood and met the living Lord -- a step beyond obedience to a dead Lord."