Without Concrete Action, New USAF Regulations on Church-State Separation Will be as Useful as a “Football Bat”
At the very beginning of August 2012, I blasted outgoing (now-retired) Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force (CSAF), Gen. Norton Schwartz, for his lackadaisical and utterly impotent attitude toward the unconstitutional epidemic of coercive proselytization and innumerable religious violations within the United States Air Force (USAF). Referring to Schwartz as the “Joe Paterno” of the USAF for his truly despicable role in covering up of this cascading torrent of spiritual molestation, predation, and abuse, I cited the years-long, disingenuously cordial and utterly inconsequential string of meetings and telephonic communications between him and me. With great regret and no small amount of frustration, I noted that the General’s “term of service as USAF Chief of Staff has epitomized a tortured, gutless legacy that's now being left behind for the rest of us to wretchedly wallow in.” This dystopian description was in reference to the dire national security repercussions of the ongoing Christian fundamentalist takeover of what constitutes the most formidable and lethal aerial war fighting force devised in human history.
Our criticism of Schwartz’s track record as Chief of Staff hasn’t fallen on entirely deaf ears. As regular readers of this column well know, one of my favorite maxims is a quote from Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Once again this approach has been universally validated. How? In the form of a new official USAF document. This mandatory USAF directive was issued mere days after my Op-Ed condemnation of Schwartz’s term as CSAF was published. Entitled “Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards,” this document establishes a uniform standard of conduct within the USAF and serves to underscore the fatally obscure and confusing series of instructional guidelines that had previously been haphazardly spewed across the entirety of the USAF chain of command. The guidelines laid out within Air Force Instruction 1-1 (AFI 1-1) govern various aspects of the conduct expected of all USAF airmen and cadets in the field of culture, conduct, values, discipline, and performance. According to an Air Force press release, “Having a one-stop shop for standards-related guidelines, while not unprecedented, has long been absent in the Air Force.”
The cover sheet of this 27 page document bears former CSAF Schwartz’s certification, and reads in big, black, and bold type: “COMPLIANCE WITH THIS PUBLICATION IS MANDATORY.” Far more importantly, the cover further explains, “failure to adhere to the standards set out in this instruction can form the basis for adverse action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). An example would be a dereliction of duty offense under [UCMJ] Article 92.” This invokes the draconian possibility of trial by courts-martial faced by armed forces members who willingly or unwillingly fail to obey orders or regulations.
Of particular significance for those of us who value the Constitutional guarantees that prevent us from falling into the grip of fundamentalist Christian tyranny is Section 2.11 of AFI 1-1:
2.11. 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 the constitutional 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. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
Wow! Hold the presses. Imagine that for just one second. Try to mentally picture any member of the USAF actually being subjected to criminal sanction for violating Section 2.11's mandates against religious supremacy, exceptionalism and prejudice. Would that ever seriously happen? Could that ever seriously happen?
Ensuring that it does is the raison d'etre of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Indeed, the very reason for the existence of MRFF, the organization that I head, is the toxic environment of religious bigotry, intolerance, and oppression that lies systemically and ubiquitously across the entirety of the United States armed services as a living, breathing, metastasizing national security threat. This enormous danger has compelled us to tirelessly persevere in our campaign for Constitutional compliance. Schwartz’s issuance of a memo on “Government Neutrality Regarding Religion” back in September 2011 was one result of our fervent Constitutionalism. The memo’s release was terribly discrete and its application appallingly discretionary. At some USAF installations, the men and women under Schwartz’s command treacherously saw fit to keep the memo under de facto quarantine, accessible only to officers of the most senior rank. For weeks this travesty played itself out at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), my alma mater and a hotbed of unconstitutional Christian extremism and Dominionist fundamentalism. Did Schwartz lift a finger against these open acts of obstructionist insubordination? Of course not. Following a literal torrent of complaints from numerous officers, NCOs, staff, and cadets at USAFA, our civil rights foundation was finally forced to erect a highly visible public billboard down the street from the Academy containing the text of the entire memo. This billboard’s display led to frenetic damage control efforts by USAFA that were ultimately crowned by the open distribution of the memo throughout the Academy's Cadet Wing (student body). MRFF’s billboard (and overall efforts) forced that victorious outcome.
In both civilian and military life, respect for human and civil rights exists only in direct proportion to the battles waged to ensure this respect. Schwartz’s literal 11th hour release of Section 2.11 (within Air Force Instruction 1-1) bears much of the essence of his previously released Religious Neutrality memo. Furthermore, it was merely a belated response to MRFF’s continual exposure of his scandalously non-confrontational approach to the Christian extremist predators within the USAF who flout their oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution. It was a transparent and likely guilt-ridden concession by Schwartz, yet it was both too little and too late. With Schwartz’s butt-covering, last second, “midnight drive-by” delivery of AFI 1-1, we have no alternative left but to look to the new USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, to show the all-too-rare backbone once required of all top leaders within the U.S. Military. However, the fundamentalist Christian “American Taliban’s” domineering influence hangs like the ominous Sword of Damocles over the Joint Chiefs’ table. What’s now required? Two things: 1) Our continued dogged persistence and clear demands for Constitutional compliance with guaranteed church-state separation civil rights, and 2) The USAF’s demonstration of a manifest and objective willingness to enforce and punish the legions of fundamentalist religious predators inextricably intertwined within its own ranks. Sans this tandem of concrete corrective action, this brand new Section 2.11 of AFI 1-1 will be about as useful as a “football bat” in preventing an evangelical Fundamentalist coup d’etat within the U.S. Air Force.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein is president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy. He previously served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corp. He is the author of the recently released book, "No Snowflake in an Avalanche: The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Its Battle to Defend the Constitution and One Family's Courageous War Against Religious Extremism in High Places" (2012, Vireo).