Group Objects After Air Force Pulls Commander’s Article on Faith
The 180th Fighter Wing Commander has reportedly censored an article written by his Medical Group Commander, Col Florencio Marquinez, because of a complaint by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein. (The article can be read here.)
According to the Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), [a civilian] complained about Marquinez’ article, claiming that it was “odious” and “offending.” In response to the complaint, Commander Col. Craig R. Baker ordered the newsletter to be republished without Marquinez’ piece.
Weinstein claimed full credit, praising the commander. The “odious” and “offending” words were his [emphasis added]:
The Commander…is one of the most amazingly impressive leaders I have ever dealt with in all the years of MRFF’s civil rights activism…After merely speaking with me once over the phone…[he] immediately realized the seriousness of this egregious Constitutional and Air Force regulation…violation. Consequently, he ordered the expeditious removal, within at most a couple of hours of MRFF’s intervention, of that odious and offending proselytizing commentary…
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a part of the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, disagreed:
ADF Legal Counsel Joseph La Rue wrote in a report on the matter on Friday that he believes Baker’s actions run counter to the Constitution because they amount to censorship…
“The Supreme Court has explained that, when the government allows discussion by others of certain topics in its publications, it is not allowed to impose restrictions that discriminate among viewpoints on those subjects. So, because the military allows discussions about ‘what has made your life better,’ ‘what helps you as you lead your troops,’ or secular psychological principles, it is not allowed to say that some answers are okay, while others aren’t.”
(Col Marquinez has also previously written for The Stinger.) The military may have room for restricting certain speech, but targeting speech because it is religious probably doesn’t fall in that category. Further, the language itself was benign [emphasis original]:
Common sense tells us that it would be wrong, of course, for Col. Marquinez to order those under his command to attend church, or to follow Jesus. But that’s not what he did. No: he merely said, Jesus has helped me, and if you have problems, you should consider letting Him help you, too. There’s nothing wrong or improper about that.
The Air Force has run into this conflict before. It once censored a chaplain’s article — after a similar complaint from Weinstein’s group — and was then forced to restore it after a public outcry, though it did so with a disclaimer. By contrast, an atheist Air Force article received neither the aggressive attention nor the disclaimer. But then, Weinstein didn’t complain about the atheist article — just the one by a Christian chaplain.
The ADF’s LaRue is correct. Col Marquinez did nothing more than express the foundations upon which he relied, as other commanders in the Air Force have been invited to do. That Weinstein is offended by that is of no consequence. Both society and the military are composed of citizens with opposing views — views they are not only allowed to express, but also encouraged to express. Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh has said “every Airman has a story” and has called on Airmen to make their stories known. That a story may contain references to faith does not make it illegal — but censoring only one story because of its references to faith may be problematic, according to LaRue.
The expression of religious faith in the US military is supposed to be protected by US law, as it has been written into law twice by Congress. The US military tweaked its religious accommodation guidance earlier this year, purportedly in response to that law, but it focused almost exclusively on hair and clothing — a point that frustrated the congressmen who wrote the law. As required by that same law, the military is currently evaluating whether it has promulgated the required regulations to meet the intent of the law.
Weinstein has gained many of his “victories” by bullying Air Force commanders who have never heard of him — which may explain this “rapid response” by an obscure Guard unit (though, interestingly enough, Col Bluto Baker, who took command only last March, is active duty, holding a “dual status” with the National Guard). After they learn who he is, commanders have been less open to his “advice” (advice Air Force JAGs have advised commanders to ignore to begin with), and have even come to regret their initial actions.
Will the Air Force reverse itself again? It will be an interesting situation to watch.
For his part, LaRue encouraged others to use the same avenue Weinstein did, and call the commander — even providing the number to the base. The military has said it gives Weinstein no special access to commanders, so LaRue seems to think others should be able to speak to the commander, too.