Alexander's Column

Obama's DoD v The Constitution

Suppressing 1st Amendment Religious Expression in the Air Force

By Mark Alexander · Mar. 19, 2014

“God who gave us life gave us Liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.” –Thomas Jefferson (1774)

Yet another case of BO’s D-O-D v G-O-D…

During the rancorous debates that preceded passage of the 2014 Defense budget – the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 – one of the proposed amendments was designed to protect the First Amendment rights of members of the Armed Services.

The NDAA as signed by Barack Hussein Obama in December of 2013 included an amendment based on the protective rights language proposed by Rep. John Calvin Fleming (R-LA). Regarding that amendment, Fleming noted: “The conscience rights of our men and women in uniform and their chaplains must be protected. While existing protections have focused on their beliefs, my amendment will extend that protection to the liberty granted by the U.S. Constitution, namely the freedom to exercise those beliefs in speech and actions. This amendment is aimed at stopping the unjust threats and reprimands against service members who have been speaking or acting in accord with their deeply held beliefs, while ensuring that military necessity and readiness are not compromised.”

Indeed, Section 532 of the NDAA, the “Enhancement of protection of rights of conscience of members of the Armed Forces and chaplains of such members,” was implemented as a first step toward achieving that goal.

Last week, however, the Air Force Academy, with a little help from perennial atheist agitator Mikey Weinstein, tested the protection of those rights. Recall that Weinstein heads the “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” or what would be more aptly named the “Military Freedom From Religion Foundation.” (Other Service Academies are not burdened with Weinstein because he has made the AFA his testing ground for atheist challenges.)

One of Weinstein’s resident cadre of campus atheists complained to the Academy’s Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, about a Bible verse posted on a Cadet’s dorm door whiteboard: “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal. 2:20) Those erasable whiteboards are on all Cadet doors, and they are used for personal messages and statements. There is no AFA restriction on what can be posted on them, and Cadets have a respectful understanding of what might be offensive to others – which most assuredly should not include a Bible verse.

That notwithstanding, it was promptly “suggested” to the Cadet that he remove the Bible verse, even though such posts are common.

Johnson claimed in an official statement, “The scripture [on the Cadet’s door] could cause subordinates to doubt the leader’s religious impartiality.”

Really?

On Tuesday of this week, a Cadet with the same leadership rank and position in his squadron as the Cadet who posted the Bible verse on his dorm door, invited the entire Cadet Wing, both in a public announcement to the Wing assembled and by official AFA email, to the “Ask and Atheist Day” event. The event flyer was advertised all week on Academy bulletin screens.

So, are we to believe then that promoting atheism to the entire Cadet Wing through official channels does not raise doubts about “the leader’s religious impartiality”?

The Cadets who contacted me about the atheist event indicated that they were not objecting to the promotion of that event, but to the hypocrisy of that promotion, versus a fellow Cadet being asked to remove a Bible verse from his door. Obviously, only the Christian expression of faith is the target of AFA discrimination, and it is Johnson’s “religious impartiality” which should be in contention.

Of note, Johnson’s press release stated, “While we swear an oath to Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States, Airmen are also bound by [Air Force Instruction 1-1].” (Shouldn’t that read “Airpersons”?) Instruction 1-1 is a regulation put into place in 2009 by Obama’s DoD administrators to suppress religious speech.

Johnson’s reference to “swear an oath” is ironic, given that, as The Patriot Post first reported last year, somebody at the AFA removed the words “So Help Me God” from the Officer and Enlisted Oaths in the AFA’s official handbook. Those words were removed in 2010 and are still AWOL from the current handbook – in violation of federal statutes and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

My column, “End Run on ‘So Help Me God’,” details this omission, and the matter is now the subject of a Freedom of Information Act inquiry to determine who removed those words and why. (I bet Mikey Weinstein’s name pops up.) Suffice it to say that removing “So Help Me God” from official oaths is a far more egregious offense than the current dispute over the Bible verse, but both fall into the same category of faith suppression. However, we may never get an answer given that “the most transparent administration” has stonewalled far more FOIA requests than any other administration.

Comment | Share

Regarding the whiteboard Bible verse, Weinstein told Fox News that it “clearly elevated [fundamentalist Christianity] over all others at an already virulently hyper-fundamentalist Christian institution.” He added, “It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at USAFA. You cannot put a picture in front of your room of a white person whipping a black person. You can’t put a picture of anything that’s denigrating outside your room.”

Got that? Posting a passage from the Bible on one’s personal whiteboard is akin to posting a picture “of a white person whipping a black person.” (Shades of Joseph Goebbels in Weinstein’s über -hyperbolic rhetoric.)

Former spec ops commander Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin (USA Ret.) says, “The very troops who defend our religious freedom are at risk of having their own taken away. The worst thing we can do is to stop Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, especially the chaplains, from the free exercise of their faith. … If a scripture scares [the AFA administrators] this much, then [some of those they are training] may not be very effective when confronted by a committed enemy who is willing to die for his or her beliefs. This academy should be training warriors. Scripture is hardly a threat.”

James and Welsh

The AFA’s leadership malfeasance spilled over into Air Force budget testimony before Congress last Friday, with both Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh being asked for a detailed explanation of why the AFA is suppressing religious expression. Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Michael Turner (R-OH), Mike McIntyre (D-NC) and Randy Forbes (R-VA) pressed for answers.

Lamborn noted, “The Air Force Academy is in my district, and … I’m very disturbed by what happened with this Cadet. I think it’s a suppression of religious rights.” He has written a letter of protest to Johnson, noting, “We are asking future officers to perhaps give even their very lives to protect and defend the Constitution and yet denying them rights from that same Constitution.”

As Forbes put it to Sec. James, “Can you imagine a young Cadet when he’s forced with the entire chain of command coming in there and telling him basically this is inappropriate?” He objected further, “Perhaps most offensive, the Air Force said this was a teaching moment, that the Cadet’s action of putting the Bible verse on [the whiteboard] was inappropriate based on leadership principles.”

Forbes then asked Gen. Welsh, “What other inspirational quotes have Cadets been forced to remove from their personal whiteboards other than verses from the Bible?”

Welsh insisted the “single biggest frustration I’ve had in this job is the perception that somehow there is religious persecution in the United States Air Force.” He added, “We remove hundreds of quotes from those boards. … You have to get the facts right on every one of these cases.”

Now, I’ve met Gen. Welsh, and I found him to be in possession of strong character and leadership qualities – and a devoted Christian. But if he’s been told that the AFA has removed “hundreds of quotes from those boards,” I for one would like to see the evidence of those removals, preferably without issuing another FOIA request. According to a response I received from Gen. Welsh regarding the issue of “So Help Me God” being removed from the AFA’s official handbook, he was told that was “a printing error on a wall calendar,” not an obvious omission from the handbook.

Memo to Gen. Welsh: You can’t “get the facts right” if somebody at the AFA is feeding you misinformation.

Comment | Share

So what now?

To ratchet up the stakes, some AFA Cadets are standing their ground in protest by posting this offensive note on their door whiteboards: “IN GOD WE TRUST”

By “offensive,” I mean an offensive strategic move to challenge the culture of religious suppression at the AFA. (The Patriot Post is offering 4"x6" stickers with our flag over the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” free of charge to Cadets at any service academy. E-mail GodTrust@PatriotPost.US to inquire about obtaining quantities of these stickers.)

Of course, Mikey Weinstein is furious: “This is an absolutely horrible, shameful disgrace. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an open rebellion like this happening at any military academy. It’s like they’re sticking their middle finger up at what the academy did.”

Will AFA Superintendent Johnson demand our National Motto be removed from her Cadets' doors?

If so, a religious Liberty coalition, including the Family Research Council, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Liberty Counsel, the Liberty Institute and the Thomas More Law Center, announced they will provide legal defense for any Cadet brought up on charges.

Liberty Institute attorney Mike Berry believes the AFA actions are a direct violation of Section 532 of the NDAA as noted previously, saying, “If the Cadet didn’t violate any rules, then why was the quote removed? … This is not only morally wrong, it’s illegal. … We met with Col. Paul Barzler, the Air Force Academy Staff Judge Advocate [and] pointed out that under the Constitution, federal law, and military regulations, Cadets have the right to religious exercise. I was shocked when he responded that [according to Obama’s DoD policy] the term ‘religious exercise’ does not include written or verbal speech.”

Personally, I’m not sure why anyone would be shocked at any directive from the Obama administration.

Under the pretense of “religious tolerance,” Obama’s administration has been advancing his mandate to remove all expressions of faith from government forums. This eradication serves the Left’s strategic objective of replacing Rule of Law with the rule of men – because the former is predicated on the principle of Liberty “endowed by our Creator,” while the latter asserts that Liberty is the gift of government.

Stand your ground, Cadets!

Pro Deo et Constitutione – Libertas aut Mors
Semper Fortis Vigilate Paratus et Fidelis

Click here to show comments