Flying Spaghetti Monster Joins Jesus Christ at Travis AFB

The US Air Force has decided to let the nativity and Menorah at Travis AFB stand, despite the prior complaint from Michael Weinstein and his erstwhile atheist ally:

While we appreciate the concerns raised by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the Office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General, upon review, concluded the inclusion of a Wing Chaplain sponsored Nativity Scene and Menorah as part of a broader, secular holiday seasonal display does not violate the establishment clause of the United States Constitution.

Weinstein complained about the timing of the press release, as his most pressing concern is publicity.  (He probably thinks the death of Kim Jong Il was part of the timing plan.)  He then said

We believe they have come to the wrong conclusion based on constitutional law. Rather than telling media through a press release we rather suggest five words: tell it to the judge.

The Air Force has little reason to be concerned.  The last time Weinstein said that he did…nothing.  Weinstein is “the boy who cried wolf” with respect to threats of filing lawsuits.

According to American Atheists’ “military director” Justin Griffith, Travis AFB has agreed to let local military atheists put up a “holiday card” near the other displays on the base.  Ironically, he’s undermined his own ally’s efforts in the process.

Using his typical melodramatic flair, Griffith claimed Travis ‘reversed itself’ to allow the atheist display — though only after his personal influential intervention. In actuality, the original response was the atheists would have to wait until higher headquarters reached a decision on the rest of the display before anything — including the atheist request — would be considered. Headquarters gave their answer, and the atheists got their answer.  Griffith may yet be bending space and time to his will, but that doesn’t appear to be the situation here.

The greater irony may be that with all the gnashing of teeth last week over the “denial” of their application, when Travis finally said they could put up their sign, the atheists didn’t even have one.  US Air Force Staff Sgt Dan Rawlings apparently scrambled late Friday night to produce one — one even some atheists raised their eyebrows at.  The sign bears the phrase “Have a safe holiday season,” but in the center of the “holiday card” is the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  A local (atheist) Air Force spouse responded, saying

I have some concern over the FSM, it can be interpreted as mockery… I would like our group to be taken seriously. Why don’t we just debate over it a little? How about the atom in the middle only?

Though she was too late to change anything, she was right.  The cultural meme of the “flying spaghetti monster” is that it is a parody of religion.  Rawlings had the opportunity to take the high road, and prior reports indicated he might.  He may yet decide to alter the already-printed sign, but for now it appears the ideological purpose of atheism — responding to religion — found its way through.

That ideology is significant, because that is what undermines the cause of Griffith’s ally and military antagonist Michael Weinstein.  By the MRFF’s own admission, there were already “secular” displays in the holiday “lineup.”  In fact, there were about 20 of them.  Thus, it was not an issue of lacking ‘non-religious’ balance to the holiday displays.

However, Griffith’s justification for the Air Force to add the atheist display was the presence of the religious ones — the nativity and Menorah.  Just like their call for atheist chaplains, they clothed their cries in a requirement for “equal treatment” — equal with religion.  Rawlings was explicit in interviews with the local news:

“We have nothing against the plastic Jesus. It’s the concept behind this that can’t allow one without allowing the other,” said Dan Rawlings, a staff sergeant at the base…

Now, thanks to Griffith, to be intellectually consistent, Weinstein must now send another letter to Travis demanding the nativity, Menorah, and the FSM be moved to the chapel grounds.  Of course, Griffith was already out of step with Weinstein, since Griffith demanded the removal of the religious displays, while Weinstein insisted he “only” wanted them moved to the chapel grounds.

Now, to be intellectually consistent, Griffith must demand removal of the nativity, Menorah, and the FSM he reportedly helped erect.  Equal treatment, right?

It seems the prior discussion about military atheists was prescient, when it was said here

Maybe next year military atheists will join their civilian counterparts and demand the ability to denigrate Christianity in displays near the nativity and Menorah.

Does the FSM denigrate faith? Depends on your point of view. But to remove any doubts, Griffith has this to say about his decision to possibly emulate his civilian mentors next year:

If our efforts at American Atheists and MRFF haven’t fixed the situation already, next year’s holiday card will just have to step it up a notch.

“Have a safe holiday season, and you know it’s a myth…?” Eh, we’ve got time.

Nice.  Using on-base, public holiday celebrations as a platform to denigrate your fellow troops’ religious beliefs is a fine way for a member of the military to contribute to morale, good order, and discipline.

If military atheists want to fellowship together in faith, it is perfectly permissible for them to do so.  If they want to celebrate their beliefs publicly, they should be able to do so.  But their unending need to criticize their fellow servicemember’s religious beliefs makes no positive contribution to the military’s pluralistic environment of tolerance.

Does anyone really think a sign could be put up on a military base depicting Mohammed with a bomb in his turban, or anything that remotely mocked Judaism?

Would it be permissible for a sign to go up on the “holiday lane” saying “Merry Christmas! Psalm 14:1!”?

All of these, as well as the FSM, would likely be prohibited under the Air Force’s “zero tolerance” policy, as an equal opportunity officer recently said in an official Air Force article:

In accordance with Air Force policy, use of disparaging terms is considered to be a form of unlawful discrimination. In addition to communicating hate or contempt for others, these terms have a negative impact on individuals, the mission and the installation’s human relations climate

This form of unlawful discrimination causes decreased productivity, legal issues and loss of credibility. Air Force policy states that disparaging terms contribute to a hostile work environment and will not be tolerated. This zero tolerance policy ensures that once a complaint is alleged, immediate and appropriate action will be taken to address the issue and ensure the behavior stops.

“Celebrate reason”: Fine.  Using a public military platform to mock your fellow troops beliefs:  Not so good, and probably in contravention of military policies…unless you’re an atheist.