LtGen Ronnie Hawkins and the Religious Rights of those in Uniform

Think the issue of LtGen Ronnie Hawkins and his “Ronnie’s Rules” is new?  Military commanders have a long tradition of introducing themselves to their units and including personal biographies and life philosophies when they do so, and there are other current examples of military leaders doing exactly that — and mentioning their faith in Jesus Christ as they did so.  A few critics have complained, naturally, but their vicarious or self-imposed offense has been insufficient to force the military to restrict the mention of “God” in similar military events — and rightly so.

Supporters have also weighed in with well-researched articles, not just passionate press releases.  The Religious Rights of Those in Uniform, which was also printed in an official Air Force publication that also featured the MRFF’s Chris Rodda, was written by Robert Ash (USA, Retired), who is a West Point graduate, served 22 years in the Army, and teaches law at Regent University.  He co-authored the lengthy piece with Dr. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (and debated Michael Weinstein at the US Air Force Academy in 2007).  From their essay [emphasis added]: 

There is no legitimate reason why commanders cannot mention their educational, professional, and religious backgrounds when introducing themselves to their subordinates. The Army Leader Transitions Handbook, a book for leaders based on the “best practices and proven techniques from military and civilian sources,”139 declares, for example, that “talking to all your subordinates . . . about what is important to you and what you value as their leader will help establish trust.”140 The handbook recommends that military leaders discuss the following topics with their subordinates:

  1. the leader’s background;141
  2. the leader’s expectations and standards;142
  3. the leader’s values;143
  4. the leader’s view of ethics;144
  5. the leader’s objectives for the unit;145
  6. the leader’s thoughts on integrity;146
  7. the leader’s priorities;147
  8. the leader’s standards of discipline;148
  9. the leader’s thoughts on training, education, and safety;149
  10. the leader’s thoughts on leadership;150
  11. the leader’s thoughts on caring for Soldiers and their families.151

Sharing such thoughts is essential to informing one’s subordinates of what is expected of them from the leader’s perspective and what they can expect from the leader in return.152

Footnotes are available in the original document.

As has been previously noted, criticisms of LtGen Hawkins — primarily by Michael Weinstein, frequent critic of all things remotely resembling religious freedom in the US military — have been woefully out of context.  Weinstein called for Gen Hawkins’ court-martial, saying Gen Hawkins “violated his oath to the Constitution.”  Weinstein’s researcher Chris Rodda made the asinine assertion Gen Hawkins had made a “clear endorsement of religion in a command setting” because he said he lived by the rules that he

Always put God first, and stay within his will.
Always remember that God is good — all the time!

He expressed his personal life philosophy and the rules he has lived by — nothing more.  Doing so is not only common, it may actually be helpful, as the quoted Army handbook says, because it helps the unit’s members ‘know where the boss is coming from.’

The fact Gen Hawkins’ slides even made the news is an indicator of the hypersensitivity in the US military of even so much as mentioning the word “God.”  When Weinstein received the slides from the “offended” members of the unit, the appropriate thing to do would have been to explain the concept of freedom, noting a personal expression of faith is not an illegal act.

If he was honest, Weinstein would also admit that continuously excoriating individuals and the military for permissible conduct may actually result in an unofficial restriction of religious freedom, as people self-censor — or their leaders encourage them to do so — to avoid controversy at the expense of liberty.  But Weinstein won’t admit that (despite the fact the Colorado Springs Gazette has accused him of causing that very thing) because that’s what he wants to happen.  He claims to run a “religious freedom” charity — yet he advocates against that very thing.

Weinstein saw the opportunity to get publicity (thus, fundraising) and drag the US military through the mud one more time, even if he had to misrepresent LtGen Hawkins in the process.  So he took it.  It’s little more complicated than that.