Chris Rodda Mocks Military Menorah, Ignores White House

It seems the US military can’t please those who criticize its tolerance of religion, no matter what it does.

Over the past week, the Air Force was hammered for bowing to Michael “Mikey” Weinstein — again — and pulling down a Nativity next to the base Christmas tree.

One of the official Air Force positions was that because the Nativity was the “sole display,” it had to be taken down. Many who supported the MRFF’s position similarly claimed it would have been acceptable if other viewpoints had been included.

Those critics either missed or ignored the fact others were invited to participate — and chose not to.

The Travis AFB Christmas tree, flanked by a Menorah, as well as the Nativity the MRFF apparently missed.

Even when an Air Force Base goes out of its way to be inclusive of other displays, however, they still get taken to task.

A few weeks ago this site raised the open question about whether Menorahs would come out on military bases as part of a traditional “holiday season,” even though Hanukkah fell much earlier this year and would be over by the time most Christmas decorations came out.

It seems a pre-offended MRFF member was eagerly waiting for a Menorah to appear, and contacted the MRFF because a Menorah popped up at the Travis Air Force Base Christmas tree lighting on December 5th — the last day of Hanukkah, when the displays are normally removed, not lit.

Proving that even when the military is inclusive its not really inclusive, Rodda was ecstatic, saying in a little-noticed post [formatting original]: 

In a lame attempt to avoid complaints of not being religiously inclusive, a small menorah was included in the base’s “holiday” display along with the tree and a nativity scene.

What was the problem? The base, while including the obligatory Jewish thing to feign inclusiveness and avoid complaints, apparently didn’t even bother to find out when Hanukkah was, or just didn’t care…Lighting the menorah as part of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony meant that the menorah wasn’t lit until the last day of Hanukkah!

Oddly, Rodda held no similar contempt for the Commander-in-Chief of the US military, President Barack Obama, who held his own Hanukkah celebrations exactly the same day. Reporting on the White House event at the Religion Clause, Howard Friedman is widely respected for his factual and stoic reporting on church/state issues — but even he allowed a little implicit criticism to enter his post:

Navy lieutenant Rabbi Amanda Lurer gave a rather tactful introduction to her lighting of the Hanukkah menorah– a day later than the last candle was to be lit according to Jewish law…

She also recited only two of the three traditional blessings…omitting the one praising God for commanding the lighting of Hanukkah candles — since there is no commandment they be lit at the holiday’s end.

Perhaps most important in this discussion is the revelation of Chris Rodda — MRFF special research assistant to Michael “Mikey” Weinstein — about the role of the military and religious holidays. First, note how Rodda mocked the attempts to “feign inclusiveness.”  Rodda presumably represents a religious liberty organization:  What does she think they should have done to actually be inclusive? She doesn’t say — probably because she doesn’t care.  Her intent is to attack Christian religious expression, not protect religious liberty; her view is negative, not positive.  In the end, there doesn’t seem to be anything military could do. In other words, so long as the MRFF is talking about “Christian” holidays in the military, there is no way the military can be “inclusive.”

Further, read the above and what followed carefully to see what role Rodda thinks the Air Force base officially played in the display:

The base…didn’t even bother to find out when Hanukkah was, or just didn’t care.

That’s Travis Air Force Base’s version of religious inclusiveness. Hey, Hanukkah is sometime around Christmas, right? So just throw a little menorah into the Christmas display…

To be clear, the MRFF is blaming the Air Force for the Menorah’s untimeliness. The MRFF thinks the Air Force should be responsible for knowing religious calendars and erecting recognition of holy days.

How’s that separation of church and state thing go again?

It is not, and should not be, the job of the US Air Force to track religious calendars and then proactively erect displays of those events. Those who think that’s the way it works are mistaken.

If a Jewish Airman wants to celebrate Hanukkah, or a Christian Airman wants to celebrate Easter, or a Muslim Airman wants to celebrate Ramadan, or a chaplain of any faith wants to help Airmen celebrate their events, they are the ones who may ask to erect such displays, and the military should, to the extent allowed by military necessity, accommodate those religious practices when they are asked.

Rodda and her MRFF seem to think the Menorah is government action. That might explain their prior opposition to the Nativity at Shaw AFB, if they were sincerely — if erroneously — convinced it was an Air Force action to raise the plastic creche.

But it wasn’t. A local chapel group asked to raise the display. The Air Force didn’t raise it. The Air Force simply allowed it — just as they simultaneously allowed other displays. The Air Force provided equal opportunity for all and favored none.  Permitting religious displays without restriction is at the heart of religious liberty protected by the US Constitution. The Air Force position was neutral toward all faiths and no faith.

At least, critics maintain, it was neutral — until the MRFF got involved.

Even if the Menorah at Travis AFB was erected by a non-Jewish chaplain or member of the community, Rodda cites not a single complaint from a Jewish Airman who finds fault with their action. Most average Airmen, absent Rodda’s biting cynicism, would likely have at least appreciated the attempt — however erroneous — to acknowledge their faith celebration, just as they likely appreciated the same from President Obama that same day.

Rodda chose to use the Menorah as a vehicle to attack the US Air Force’s attempts to protect religious liberty during the Christmas season. Perhaps if religious liberty was her objective, rather than attacking the Air Force and celebrations by military Christians, she’d see the error of her — and the MRFF’s — ways.

Ironically, just after complaining about Shaw Air Force Base’s Nativity, the MRFF ignored the Nativity at Travis, included in the same photograph.

It’s true, then, that the US military can’t please those who criticize its tolerance of religious liberty. Now that everyone understands that, perhaps everyone can move forward without further interference from Michael Weinstein and his special assistants.