MRFF Tangles with the Rules. Again.
Michael Weinstein’s MRFF has again demonstrated its tendency to hold others to a standard to which it does not hold itself. It previously exhibited such behavior with its loose honoring of copyright, and also when it distributed letter from a member of the military, and of the MRFF, that was derogatory to military leadership.
This time, the MRFF (specifically, Bekki Miller) posted an email on their website written by Dustin Chalker (the plaintiff in the abandoned MRFF lawsuit). His email was in response to one written to the MRFF.
It is self-evident the MRFF supplied an organizational email to Chalker, and he responded on their behalf. In itself, that is not unacceptable. Military members are permitted to participate in a wide variety of civilian organizations. However, Chalker’s response raises some interesting issues:
(name and rank withheld)
…We are against the institutionalization (forced prayers, religious emblems, etc.) of private beliefs because it creates a divisive and hostile climate to the non-Christians…
The unit patch we’re opposing is no different from forcing Christian soldiers to wear pentagrams, upside-down crosses, or the Star of David. MRFF would oppose all of these. (emphasis added)
But the fact of the matter is that fundamentalist Christians are the ones pushing their beliefs beyond the boundaries of private practice and into the government, in violation of the Establishment Clause. We want to reverse this shameful attack on the Constitution.
The MRFF has every right to use the word “military” because they represent members of the military, including myself. Your petition, should you embark on such a shameful venture, would be a hopeless attack on the First Amendment and a betrayal of your oath. We’ve got a lot of practice defending the First Amendment, so good luck.
Sergeant Dustin Chalker
I Trust Myself
As noted here already, Chalker states an error when he says “we” (the MRFF) would oppose “all of these.” It very evidently hasn’t opposed mosques, Stars of David, Buddhist wheels, and other religious symbology on military emblems, while it has opposed a red cross on a medical unit’s emblem. Conversely, Chalker fails to explain how the military emblem in question is evidence of “fundamentalist Christians…pushing their beliefs…into the government,” as if it is self-evident by its mere presence, while those of the other religions are not. The letter writer’s complaint that the MRFF targets Christianity is validated.
Importantly, however, as the MRFF likes to point out, military members who participate in non-Federal entities in their personal capacities are required to do so apart from their military positions to avoid the appearance of government sanction or endorsement. In this case, Chalker uses “we” to refer to the MRFF, a non-profit, non-Federal entity, speaks directly to military policies regarding symbology and religion, and he signs the email with his military rank and department.
Thus, in a cruel twist, a member of former JAG Weinstein’s organization walks a fine line with regard to the same ethics violations of which he has accused others.
The Joint Ethics Regulations do specifically allow a person to use their rank and department (Sergeant, US Army) in their personal activities (See JER 3-300). However, when that rank and department are used in reference to an “agency matter,” the JERs also require a disclaimer stating that the views are “those of the speaker or author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components” (3-307a1). Arguably, the military emblem in question, as well as the asserted institutionalized religion in the military, are “agency matters” about which Chalker has not (reportedly) been approved to speak. Thus, when Chalker speaks on behalf of the MRFF on matters relevant to the military and uses his rank and department, he should publish a disclaimer.
One could argue the original letter writer has the same obligation, since it appears the MRFF redacted “name and rank” of the writer, except that his letter was personal correspondence to a private organization; Chalker’s, by contrast, was as a representative of a non-Federal entity knowingly written to a fellow Soldier.
Ultimately, the presence or absence of a disclaimer is less important than the impact the “hate mail” by Chalker has to good order and discipline. It is impossible to know the rank of the original writer, but it would be interesting to know if he was writing a peer (ie, of equal rank). Otherwise, if it was a superior, Chalker essentially thumbed his nose and called him “shameful.” If it was a subordinate, Chalker essentially pulled rank on him and denigrated his beliefs with the imprimatur of military rank. Neither is appropriate for what should be an “unofficial” matter outside of purview of military rank and protocol.
In addition, the military is averse to have people announce their associations when they participate in activities that reflect poorly on the armed forces. (Merely bringing “discredit” on the armed forces is a chargeable offense.) In another response to which Chalker signed his rank and service, Chalker adamantly establishes his military credentials and flatly accuses his own leadership and military service of violating the Constitution:
[We] don’t want any religious beliefs shoved down anyone’s throat – an unconstitutional activity the military actively engages in, both as an institution and within individual fundamentalist commands…
[In re: Franklin Graham,] I don’t care if that hateful, inhuman, divisive clergyman wants to preach until he’s blue in the face. He’s free to do it. But MY Army doesn’t have to hand him a microphone.
As noted earlier, the military is rarely receptive to public criticism by those within its ranks. Subsequently, Chalker launched into a vitriolic diatribe almost worthy of Weinstein himself, minus Weinstein’s penchant for alliterative appellations and ellipses:
Religious people may build soup kitchens, but they also build torture chambers for “heathens” and cities of gold and riches that could end global poverty practically overnight if they really cared…How dare you enjoy the comforts of modern life while people are suffering around the world? I can do it because I don’t have your fundamentalist convictions, but you sir are an immeasurably hypocritical monster if your every possession is not given away to charity by the end of this weekend. Will you do it? Just how “religious” are you now?
Army Sergeant Dustin Chalker
Apparently the MRFF’s demand that the military be “inclusive” was not intended to include an inclusiveness of “religious people.”
Since the MRFF is an external organization, it is not bound by military procedure and protocol. On the other hand, Chalker’s actions clearly demonstrate the hypocrisy of the MRFF. Weinstein is quick to point out the (apparent) impropriety of military members who even hint at association between their faith and their rank or service, yet his own organization publicizes a letter from someone who does an equivalent thing on their behalf for their ideological position. Weinstein also demands the military be “inclusive” — while he promotes positions which are very evidently not inclusive.
By his conduct Weinstein demonstrates he isn’t after the enforcement of military protocol, “inclusiveness,” or even defense of the Constitutionally protected freedoms of military members. He has a personal agenda, and it has nothing to do with the words “religious freedom” in the name of his organization. He freely admits he created his non-profit not to defend servicemembers’ rights, but to “battle the evangelical, fundamentalist religious right.” Believing truth cannot stand on its own, he fights against, not for, religious freedom.