ACLJ: Major Victory for Military Religious Freedom

Last week the ACLJ proclaimed a “major victory” for religious freedom in the US military, citing a belated response finally received from the US Air Force JAG office. More than a month after the National Prayer Breakfast, in which General Craig Olson cited his reliance upon God and Michael “Mikey” Weinstein called for his crucifixion, the Air Force JAG finally responded with a terse, one-paragraph response [emphasis added]:

We have thoroughly reviewed the facts and circumstances involving Maj Gen Olson’s participation in the National Day of Prayer Observance held on May 7, 2015, at the Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC. Maj Gen Olson did not violate Air Force policy by participating in this Congressionally-supported event. His remarks were his own personal opinions and did not represent the views of the United States Air Force.

The letter, dated June 24th, is the verbatim response given by Public Affairs of the Air Force more than a month ago.

While the letter almost seems anticlimatic, it is notable for its signature: Mr. Conrad Von Wald, a General Officer-equivalent and director of the Air Force’s Administrative Law Directorate (USAF/JAA). The role of the JAA is to

provide[] legal advice to the Air Staff, the Secretariat, and command and installation staff judge advocates..

and its areas of responsibility include

legal opinions on matters involving religious accommodation, the Establishment Clause, homosexual policy, officer administrative discharges cases, promotion propriety actions, diversity, equal opportunity and promotion board issues…

In other words, the first answer given last month could have been interpreted as simply the Public Affairs response. Now, it is the official (legal) position of the Air Force, and came from the office that provides guidance to lower level commands. As has been noted before, of course, lawyers only advise — it is commanders who act. In this case, Air Force commanders acted in defense of General Olson, and they will hopefully continue to act in the defense of the religious liberties of others who speak publicly of their faith.

In that regard, the ACLJ is absolutely correct: It is a “major victory” for military religious freedom, won by those who want to defend military religious freedom for all against those — like Mikey Weinstein — who do nothing but attack it.