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
US Army
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.


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  • I haven’t seen this page posted by Bekki Miller, so I don’t know whether the total omission of context is a misrepresentation on your part or a result of which emails she decided to post. In either case, let’s go ahead and clear up the misconceptions throughout this post:

    1. “It is self-evident the MRFF supplied an organizational email to Sergeant Chalker” – This is not true. I have no organizational email address for MRFF.

    2. “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.” – I object to all religious symbols that appear on official government uniforms, period. I don’t want you Christian fighter pilots to be forced to wear a Satanic pentagram or Muslim mosque any more than I want myself to be forced to wear a Christian cross (no mere “red cross”, but a spiked cross from the Christian Crusades). Nor do I want you to be forced to wear a motto saying “God is a fairy tale”, so why do you insist that the opposite (a motto implying that theism is true and that I am wrong) is an acceptable motto to force me to wear? I had not seen or heard complaints about the emblems with mosques before now, but the same principle applies to any religious symbols that government employees are forced to wear. Mythological symbols are equally problematic, if they violate the conscience of the people wearing them. And that is a factor in what the MRFF pursues: usually somebody must be offended and make a complaint requesting help.

    3. “when that rank and department are used in reference to an ‘agency matter,’” – Out of many emails I responded to in the same period, I used that information in a select few. The exact purpose was because the emails in question (or one of the emails in a chain of responses) explicitly denied the existence of “atheists in foxholes” or said that “no member of the military” would support MRFF. I identified myself and my position for the sole purpose of countering those lies, not to claim authority regarding any agency matter.

    (QUOTES: “Not one actual member of the military wanted Graham’s speech cancelled.”, “As the old saying goes, ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’”)

    Whether or not there are “atheists in foxholes” or “members of the military” who support MRFF is not by any stretch of the imagination an “agency matter.” (And in any case, I did not post these emails for public viewing – I sent them to the individuals in question and MRFF.)

    4. “It is impossible to know the rank of the original writer” – Mostly retirees. One was a higher ranking enlisted soldier.

    5. “the obvious impact the ‘hate mail’ by Chalker has to good order and discipline” – Your whole post disregards context. For instance the phrase “I Trust Myself” was a direct response to the writer’s play on the divisive, non-inclusive phrase “In God We Trust”. He said “In God I Trust”, and I responded with “I Trust Myself”. I chose a fairly innocent example to illustrate the point that what I say throughout my messages is calculated and directed at what they say. I’m not spewing “hate mail.” None have accused me of “hate mail”, because the tone of my emails deliberately reflects the tone of the message I am responding to. If “good order and discipline” is threatened at all, it is gone before I even enter the picture, and usually improves very quickly when fire is fought with fire. Most of the people I respond to apologize and change their positions. Examples:

    “Dear Sgt Chalker……. I sincerely apologize. I had no idea just how correct you are. Many people in this world open their mouth before inserting their size 12 boot…… Consider this my ‘wake-up’ call…….. Thank you for sharing……… I’ll continue to stay abreast of how your organization is doing… without judging. Semper Fi RAY”

    “Dear Dustin, Thank you for replying to my note. I appreciate the job everyone in the military performs to ensure our freedoms are protected.”

    “I was wondering that this war’s issue would be. Looks like you all are shaping it up into religious freedom. Forty years ago we fought the first ethnicity integrated war… Not bad Brothers, not bad at all. Fight the good fight and never let anything disway you in your great endeavor.”

    6. “the military is averse to have people announce their associations when they participate in activities that reflect poorly on the armed forces” – Upholding my oath to support and defend the Constitution does not “reflect poorly” on the armed services. If you have a different view of what the Establishment Clause entails, fine, but I think people are violating it and I think the Constitution outranks all of us. Their actions reflect poorly on the armed services, and the only thing that could make us looks worse would be if nobody had the courage to do something about it.

    7. “Chalker launched into a vitriolic diatribe” – Like I said, my tone matches the emails from the person I am responding to, and you taking this quote completely divorced from the idiotic comments it was directed at is a misrepresentation of my character. (Again, I can’t know for sure whether this is deliberate misrepresentation on your part or an omission by the person who posted those emails.) In fact, I began my email by calling him “vitriolic”, the very same word you’ve chosen to describe my tone – proving my point. Among other things, he called us “someone who would take Osama’s side in a fight”, said that we “Want donations taken away from real soldiers”, and use donations for “paying off the kids you molest.”

    8. “Apparently the MRFF’s demand that the military be ‘inclusive’ was not intended to include an inclusiveness of ‘religious people’.” – My comments were directed and his equivocation of “religion” with charity, not a general statement about the virtue of religious people as a whole. (One need look no further than atheist Bill Gates and his recent creation of the largest wealth give-away in human history to counter the claim that atheists are not charitable.) Also, these comments say nothing whatsoever about my views on military inclusiveness. Just as you draw a dichotomy between how person should feel about the pagan circles as a “Christian” vs. as a “military member”, I am speaking here about the writer’s inconsistency and hypocrisy, not the rights he should have if he were a servicemember. I expressed my views “as a logician”, not “as a military member” and certainly not about what policy should be. (I think he was a civilian, anyway.)

    9. “He has a personal agenda, and it has nothing to do with the words ‘religious freedom’ in the name of his organization.” – Explain exactly how your superiors forcing you to wear a Satanic pentagram can be consistent with your religious freedom. It is no different in principle. Then you will see exactly why this IS an issue that affects a servicemember’s freedom of conscience.

  • To address your points in order:

    1. You misread the article. Nothing says you were given an address.

    2. You quote the article correctly, which says the MRFF — not you — has opposed allusions only to “Christian” symbology. Your self-defense is unnecessary.

    3. The “agency matter” was adequately explained in the article.

    5. Your response appears to be “he started it.” Noted.

    6. The statement had nothing to do with you upholding your oath. It dealt with you using your status as a member of the Army in the same message in which you denigrated the military.

    7. See #5.

    8. You seem to be saying you were only being intolerant of “some” religious people. I suppose you think that’s “inclusive.”

    9. Rather than waxing poetic on hypotheticals, the prior article already dealt with factual examples of “religious” symbology…about which the MRFF has said nothing, and for which the “principle” has already been explained.

  • 1. My apologies.

    2. More to the point, I noted that MRFF has responded to the religious symbolism that has been brought to their attention by service members who felt their freedom of conscience was violated by wearing those symbols. Without a client, a client-rights group has little ground to take action. I would personally encourage Christians to engage the issue rather than wear symbols contrary to their faith.

    5. My response is that I engaged in demonstrably effective communication (as evidenced by the results) and that by dropping the context you have grossly misrepresented my character. Why do you regard reciprocation – the very basis of human morality – as a “hateful” strategy when employed by those you disagree with?

    6. Whether you see it this way or not, I see the words you say “denigrated the military” as being written in defense of the Constitution. And again, I used my “status as a member of the military” only to counter a specific offensive Christian deception, not to give any air of authority to my comments. Why do you have no objections to the abhorrent behavior of these Christians (initiating hate mail replete with demonstrable falsehoods and absurd allegations)? Surely, you know they are wrong, but you pull everything your “enemy” says out of the context that justified such a response for the sole purpose of demonizing us. Since you keep accusing Mikey of this, I think it would be appropriate if you admit that you have an agenda.

    9. Principles are not immune from invalidation through hypothetical examples. The very possibility that you may be forced to wear a witchcraft symbol (to take something you’ve written specifically about) is morally wrong if wearing such a symbol would violate your conscience. Forcing others to wear a Christian symbol is wrong by the same exact principle. You consider witchcraft to be “a false ideology” and “a belief system explicitly and exceptionally contrary to Christian beliefs”. I consider Christianity (and all supernatural beliefs) to be “a false ideology” “explicitly and exceptionally contrary to” my own. It is revealing that the ethical system you’ve adopted from Christianity would deny me basic rights that I would support for you under the simple, self-evident principles of reciprocal respect.

  • Since you keep accusing Mikey of this…

    You lost me. What’s the antecedent of “this?”

    Principles are not immune from invalidation through hypothetical examples…

    The hypothetical you created was no different than the factual ones already discussed. See prior link. You’re trying to make hay out of a pentagram/Satanist/witchcraft thing (fellow MRFFer Longcrier might be offended you’re equating the three), but you’re falling flat.

  • “You lost me. What’s the antecedent of ‘this?’”

    You often accuse Mikey of unfairly attacking others (taking things out of context, sensationalizing the mundane, etc.). You allege he “has a personal agenda” and believes “truth cannot stand on its own.” But here you’ve placed me in a false light, taken my words out of context and sensationalized the mundane for no apparent reason other than that the truth “on its own” would not fulfill your personal agenda.

    “The hypothetical you created was no different than the factual ones already discussed.”

    My examples are different (in degree, not in principle). I use examples more “exceptionally contrary to Christian beliefs” (your words) to illustrate the point with an example that has comparable emotional impact. The principle never changes regardless of the example: Wiccan/Satanist/Muslim/Christian/Buddhist or any other religion/mythology. I did not equivocate those religions – I changed the example to another example with comparable emotional potency to Christians because you had written about it, giving me more insight on your position regarding that religion. I even said that I was taking a different example, so I’m not sure why you attribute the change to an equivocation except to throw the discussion off on a tangent. Back to the subject: you still have not demonstrated how forcing Christians to wear symbols “exceptionally contrary to Christian beliefs” can be acceptable – and if it’s not, why you think it’s acceptable to force non-Christians to wear symbols “exceptionally contrary” to their own beliefs. I think your readers are smart enough to sense the cognitive dissonance in the air…

  • My examples are different (in degree, not in principle).

    And therein lies your error: When it comes to religious freedom, you expect a different response based on degree.