Linell Letendre Named USAFA Law Department Head (Video)

USAF LtCol Linell Letendre has been named as a new permanent professor to “lead the law department” for the US Air Force Academy:

“Lt. Col. Letendre’s selection for permanent professor indicates the trust placed in her by those who lead our nation,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost, the Academy’s dean of the faculty. “Her impeccable record of service and dedication to education will strengthen the Academy and nation as we strive to develop leaders of character.”

Ordinarily such a staffing decision hardly rates notice, much less an official press release, but the status of permanent professor at a military academy requires Senate approval and bestows a permanent rank of Colonel, making it somewhat notable.

Potentially more notable, however, are LtCol Letendre’s unique qualifications. Far from being an unknown JAG, Letendre has become a veritable “go to” legal officer in cases involving religion or homosexuality (or both).
LtCol Linell Letendre
In 2007, she and retired US Army Major David Fitzkee (also a USAFA law professor) co-authored a paper in the Air Force Law Review entitled “Religion in the Military: Navigating the Channel Between the Religion Clauses“. This paper was called a “definitive work” on the subject. As noted previously, Fitzkee wrote an abridged and updated version of this same article in 2012, and both works contained strong positive and strong negative statements on regarding military religious freedom.

Their paper was subsequently published again in Attitudes Aren’t Free, a collection put together by then-LtCol James Parco (an avowed supporter of Michael “Mikey” Weinstein and frequent critic of Christians in the US Air Force).

Letendre was also the legal advisor to US Army General Carter Ham while he was co-chair of the controversial Comprehensive Review Working Group tasked to assess the impact of repealing the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Letendre’s advice has been sought even outside her normal command channels as commanders have had troops raise conflicts over issues of religion and homosexuality.  She also became a regular speaker at the Naval War College (in 2010, 2012, and 2013), where she made her opinions on issues of religion and homosexuality pretty clear.

According to the Air Force Academy, LtCol Letendre is going to lead the USAFA law department

and teach law for commanders, a senior-level course that prepares cadets to consider legal issues surrounding issues of command.

Her influence on newly commissioned officers could be substantial. What that influence is ultimately remains to be seen, as her prior statements offer conflicting perspectives on military religious freedom.

For example, Letendre has said military members “absolutely” have the right to religious free exercise in their personal capacities (something that is surprisingly contested by critics like Weinstein), and she has allowed that such free exercise can extend even to potentially official settings and in uniform.

On the other hand, Letendre has also made clear that she feels prayer at military functions is indefensible constitutionally (a point she made while acknowledging her job required her to defend the Air Force against that very accusation). That the US military disagrees with her does not affect her ability to pass on her “opinion” to the cadets she will be training.

Letendre is also on record buying in to Mikey Weinstein’s claim about the Trijicon gun sights, talking vaguely at one point about “how many problems they caused” without forthrightly acknowledging the Bible-verse serial numbers caused exactly zero problems; Letendre apparently accepted conjecture as fact.

Perhaps more troubling, LtCol Letendre has demonstrated a somewhat negative attitude toward what even she admits is one of the more common legal issues of the current age: the potential conflict between convictions of faith and the government’s acceptance of homosexuality. For example, when presenting a hypothetical conflict between a “religious” troop and the repeal of DADT, Letendre repeatedly set up the offended troop as one who “refused to serve” with a homosexual.  That straw man minimizes the actual conflicts of those who feel the moral obligation not to affirm homosexuality, or those who express religious beliefs in opposition to it.

Letendre built upon that strawman during a speech in 2012 to directly equate homosexuality and race with an inflammatory comparison:

In the late 1940s there was a bill…coming through the Senate. It said that white officers could decline to command a unit of mixed race. It almost passed. There was one vote that separated that from passage, and that vote was made by a young Lyndon B. Johnson.

Lest you think that is some sort of old issue, last year the House passed a similar amendment that…military members, could make a personal choice, about whether or not they served alongside, slept alongside, individuals of a different sexual orientation. That law did not pass the Senate and it is not law today.

Two weeks ago, the House passed yet another amendment to the NDAA for Fiscal Year 13 and it was slightly different but had very similar connotations. This is not an issue that is just something from our ancient past where we have this idea of personal convictions versus professional responsibilities.

It is disconcerting that such an influential JAG — one bound to become more influential in her role over officers in training — would stoop to such implied invective as equating religious troops with 1940s racists. It is also disturbing because she woefully mischaracterized the NDAA amendments, which said simply

The sincerely held religious or moral beliefs of a member of the Armed Forces concerning the appropriate and inappropriate expression of human sexuality shall be accommodated and shall not be the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.

Objectively, that does not remotely approach what she claims it said. Congress did, in fact, pass an NDAA amendment protecting religious freedom — which Letendre seemed to be derisively describing.  Given her apparent “personal conviction” opposing accommodation of conscience and her role in helping commanders enforce that “professional obligation,” there might be some irony there.

How will LtCol Letendre equip her cadets to be future commanders? Hopefully, she will provide them objective guidance based on the law and the Constitution, even when her personal subjective conclusions differ.

The Air Force needs more JAGs and more commanders who understand the value of religious liberty — something apparently recognized even by current Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh — as opposed to lawyers or commanders concerned more with hypothetical offense than actual rights and liberties.  The perspective that these lawyers and commanders receive as they graduate from the US Air Force Academy — under LtCol Letendre’s tutelage — may substantially influence their own perspectives and careers.

See one of the more interesting lectures given by LtCol Letendre below, particularly starting at minute 54:00: