The US Military, Religion, and Hypersensitivity

An innocent and heartwarming story was recently published on the official Air Force website about an effort to help an 8-year-old boy get a letter closer to his dad — in heaven:

MacAidan “Mac” Gallegos was only 5 when his father, Army Sgt. Justin Gallegos, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about him…”I wanted to write my dad a letter and get it as close to heaven as possible,” said Mac.

A reserve F-22 pilot volunteered to carry the letter on a flight: 

Lt. Col. Brian Baldwin…met Mac at his F-22 where the little boy handed over the letter to his father written on red construction paper, his dad’s favorite color.

The letter is a moving message from a boy who has no real memory of his father:

Dear dad, I have some questions. What is it like in a tank?…How old are you now? How old were you when you died?…What is your favorite activity? What is it like in heaven? Have you seen what I have accomplished? From your son.

The article inspired positive comments — and two that reflect the signs of the times:

1/29/2013 10:01:34 AM ET
Although I am a firm beleiver that religion should be a matter of personal descretion I do not beleive this particular instance was supporting anything other than a childs curiousity and memory.
MSgt, Southwest

1/29/2013 1:49:01 AM ET
This should have been strictly forbidden by Air Force leadership because it supports religion in the military. Heaven should not be allowed in the Air Force right
Maj, Home for a change

It’s difficult to tell about the first, but the second was clearly sarcastic — though the dripping sarcasm was missed by other commenters.  What could inspire such a cynical view after such a heartwarming story?

The US Air Force has been accused more than once of being “hostile” to religious freedom, and not by just anyone, but by members of the US Congress.  Based on the Congressional statements, it seems those accusations have arisen because of the number of times outside groups have criticized the military about religion, and how quickly the military has “reacted” by eliminating the object of the criticism, without apparent regard to any other facts.

Notably, though, there was one case where the Air Force did stand its ground, and the location of that stand is significant.

You see, most of those criticisms have come from Michael Weinstein, who, with his cohorts, has made significant efforts to stigmatize any association of the military with Christianity — even if the association is benign or protected.

He has had some success — likely due in some part to the special access he claims to have to Air Force leaders, including a high-level advocate in the most recent JAG of the Air Force.  While most people who contact the Air Force would be referred to a Lieutenant Public Affairs officer (at best), Weinstein has claimed four-star Generals at the Pentagon call him (and he lets the answering machine pick up if he’s watching TV).

Weinstein’s pattern of attacks on religious freedom are something the US Air Force Academy, led by General Gould, recognized long ago.  USAFA ultimately started ignoring Weinstein after early efforts to placate him failed — and it worked like a champ, as Weinstein’s complaints fizzled.  After all, if you give a mouse a cookie

So when Weinstein and his “group” came calling again — saying retired Lt Clebe McClary wasn’t a “true Christian” and therefore shouldn’t speak to USAFA — Gen Gould didn’t fold.  He fought.

USAFA and General Gould won, both in court and in the press, where Weinstein was villified for his attack on religious freedom.

Members of Congress — and, if you believe the comments on, even some members of the military — have seen the military’s reactions to accusations about its associations with religion.  Their perception is obvious.

USAFA has the solution:  Don’t give Weinstein the undue special attention he craves so dearly.

You start running, they’ll never stop.  You stand up, push back…  Can’t say no forever, right?
— Steve Rogers, Captain America