US Air Force Removes Bible From Airman’s Desk
Michael “Mikey” Weinstein celebrated yesterday after his complaint resulted in a Peterson Air Force Base officer having a Bible removed from his desk. As cited by Fox News:
“[The Bible] is very obviously a statement of Christian preference, Christian primacy,” MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein told me. “Had that been the Book of Satan or the Koran there would be blood in the freaking streets.”
He accused Maj. Steve Lewis, a supervisor at the Reserve National Security Space Institute, of “harboring and encouraging a truly abhorrent example of First Amendment civil rights violations.”
To be fair, Mikey Weinstein has been after Bibles-on-desks for a long time. It’s just that for years the Air Force has been telling him to take a hike:
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., asked James if it’s acceptable for an airman to have a Bible on his desk…
James told Vitter: “Having a Bible on your desk, that doesn’t seem like it should be banned.”
Air Force spokeswoman LtCol Laura Tingley: “I can tell you that military members are allowed to have religious materials on their desks.”
(The Air Force issued some of these statements and others similar to them as a result of Mikey Weinstein trying to tell people what the Air Force regulations were — including his erroneous interpretation of AFI 1-1 banning Bibles. The Air Force’s statements caused Mikey Weinstein to say Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James was “aligning herself with extremists.”)
As early as 2007, David Fitzkee and then-LtCol Linell Letendre wrote an extensive article in The Air Force Law Review within which they concluded religious texts on Airmen’s desks were not only acceptable but also legally defensible. Now-Col Letendre is the permanent professor of the Law Department at the US Air Force Academy — and she remains the Air Force’s “go to” legal analyst on issues of religious liberty, the military, and the law.
The Air Force even requires semi-annual computer-based “Religious Freedom Training”. Guess what one of the questions covers? It explicitly talks about Bibles being permissible on desks.
If that’s the Air Force policy, why was the Bible preemptively pulled?
(The last alleged attempt to remove an Airman’s Bible resulted in the Airman refusing — and the Inspector apologizing.)
It seems the Air Force commanders in question, Col Damon Feltman of the 310th Space Wing and Col Lisa Johnson of the Reserve National Security Space Institute, implied they’re pretty much ready to send Weinstein packing again [emphasis added]:
[Col Feltman] stressed that Air Force personnel are free to exercise their constitutional rights to practice their own religion “as long as it is respectful of other individual’s rights to follow their own belief system in ways that support good order and discipline and don’t detract from (the) military mission.”
“As long as he’s not doing something excessive, the existence of a Bible or the Koran or the Torah or some other religious article is not prohibited,” Col. Feltman said. “It’s what you do with it when you have it.”
It appears at this point that the officer in question, a Major Steve Lewis, was doing nothing with it: Weinstein claims it was just sitting on his desk, open.
That’s why it seems the commander may not have made the best choice in pulling the Bible during his “review.” (The Colonel is quoted as saying Maj Lewis removed it voluntarily, yet simultaneously saying he’s not permitted to bring it back out.) Removing the Bible runs counter to the previous trend in Air Force policy which presupposed the virtue of religious freedom. In other words, an Airman is presumed to have the right to religious exercise, and it can be restricted only after a factual, direct, compelling government interest is determined.
Col Feltman appears to have taken action before anything was determined. Obviously, it created the appearance of legitimizing Weinstein’s complaint (thus, Weinstein’s boasting headlines). In the end, there was no pressing need to remove the Bible anyway: It’s not as if an open book can cause harm as it sits there for a few days — but what of the harm to the Air Force’s reputation if the commander was wrong?
Unfortunately, a significant amount of context is absent. For example, Weinstein’s acolytes apparently took a secret picture of the desk in question — which appears to have an office computer and the Bible, and essentially nothing else. Weinstein claims part of the problem is that the Bible hasn’t moved in years. But if it hasn’t moved, how is it being used for illicit purposes? And if it hasn’t moved, how has the desk its on even been used, since it blocks the keyboard? It almost seems like a setup. There’s probably more to the story than Weinstein is letting on.
At this point, though, the context appears to be largely irrelevant to those lodging the complaint. It’s the Bible itself that’s the issue — as well as the delicate flower disposition of an Airman who complained to Weinstein [emphasis added]:
I am…outrageously offended by the clear display of an open Bible on the duty desk of a field grade officer…
It is an egregious violation of Air Force Instruction (AFI) 1-1, Sections 2.11 and 2.12…
Personally, I am intimidated by the display, and I am a practicing Christian…
It seems evident Weinstein coached the email for publication, as his “clients” have previously admitted he does. (The “intimidated” line is straight from Weinstein’s talking points.) But it appears to have been for naught; the complaint really doesn’t say anything other than “I don’t like seeing a Bible.” And that’s not actionable; it’s pathetic.
More telling of Weinstein’s hatred of both the Bible and Christianity is his demand that Major Lewis and Colonel Johnson be “visibly and aggressively punished” for their crimes against humanity. Remember: There have been no complaints that either have done or said anything of any sort. No one has alleged discrimination. No one complained they were “proselytized.” The only complaint is the mere existence of the Bible.
Airmen are allowed to have Bibles on their desks, just as they are allowed to have Korans, Talmuds, and the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Air Force has said so repeatedly, and it has even seemingly scoffed the implication that Bibles would be banned as sensationalist newsmaking. This is true even if the Airmen are commanders (which, notably, Lewis apparently isn’t), despite Weinstein’s frequent claims and despite the “recommendations” of a few unprincipled senior officers.
There are very few scenarios that could unfold in which Major Lewis’ Bible could remain officially banned from his desk. (He could choose to do something else, of course, but that’s up to him.) That means the Air Force may soon have to backtrack from its initial decision to lend unwitting support to Weinstein’s long-running antipathy toward the Bible.
Unfortunately, to “recover” from this Weinstein demand, the Air Force may now to need to proactively reassert the right, as well as the Air Force’s intent to affirmatively protect the right, of Airmen to place religious texts on their desks, lest the perception of knee-jerk reactions to Weinstein’s demands potentially “chill” the religious exercise of its Airmen.
Somebody should send Mikey Weinstein a Bible. He seems to want everybody else’s.
First reported at the CSIndy, by none other than Weinstein’s BFF, Pam Zubeck.