MRFF Focuses Bible Attack on Display, Accommodation

Former Assembly of God pastor Joan Slish, an advisory board member of Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s MRFF, is a constant source of delightful insight into the MRFF’s sometimes opaque logic. Most recently, she responded to an MRFF detractor, as she often does, with a 1,000-word post that was nearly identical to every other post she makes. There were a couple of notable deviations, however.

Referencing the recent accusation by Mikey Weinstein that USAF Major Steve Lewis should be punished for having a Bible on his desk, Slish said [emphasis added]

To place the opened, highlighted, underlined Christian Bible on a military desk 24/7 for other service members to see elevates the Christian God above all others and is in violation of the Constitution, Separation of Church and State under the Establishment Clause, Reynolds v. U.S., Lemon v. Kurtzman, the Lemon Test, Parker v. Levy and AFI 1-1, Section 2.12.

Yes, the MRFF appears to believe that a Bible on a military member’s desk is the state establishing religion. Apparently ISIS is doing it wrong. Put a Koran on a desk and the caliphate is won, according to Mikey Weinstein.

We’ll ignore Slish’s ignorance regarding a citizen being in “violation” of court cases. (That’s not the branch of government that makes or enforces laws, Joan.)

The relevant issue is her contention that the Bible was, in essence, a “display” — an apparent attempt to negate a religious exercise defense on the part of the Air Force officer.

This field has been plowed before, Mikey.

A US military service or even a commander can absolutely provide guidance or restrictions on what may or may not be displayed in a military member’s office. With limited exceptions, however, that guidance has to be both content neutral and uniformly applied. That is, Lewis’ commander couldn’t restrict him from displaying a Bible simply because it is religious. That would constitute discrimination on the basis of religion. For the same reason, the commander couldn’t create a uniform policy banning all religious items — simply because they were religious.

Further, Lewis couldn’t be restricted from displaying a Bible while another member of the unit displayed a different book. He can’t be restricted from displaying personal items while a peer was allowed to display personal items. Just about the only way a commander could eliminate the Bible, if that was their intent, would be to ban all personal items from offices. That’s ridiculous and unnecessary.

These examples aren’t hypothetical, either. Military officers around the globe are reading this in their office and looking past their screens to pictures of their family, going-away plaques, sports memorabilia, and other items that reflect their personality, command style, interests, and priorities. Many of those items are either religious or reflect some reference to religion, whether the innocuous cross in their wedding picture or a Bible verse in a frame or signed squadron matte. Do all their displays have to come down, too?

It is ludicrous to assert that Major Lewis intended the Bible to be a “display” only, and that status warrants disparate treatment than any other object or religious text. What’s next? Is Mikey Weinstein suggesting the Air Force create a rule on how often he has to read the Bible to make it worthy of equal protection under the law?

Slish goes further, though, comparing Lewis to the court-martialed Monifa Sterling:

There are means within the military to ask for religious exemptions. Maj. Lewis never asked for one like Monifa Sterling who was court-martialed for having Bible verses at her desk and refusing to take them down.

That’s great. It’s also completely irrelevant. If Major Lewis had wanted to grow a beard for religious reasons, he’d have to request an accommodation to be granted an exception to the military policy banning beards.

If Major Lewis wanted to have a Bible on his desk, he should request an accommodation to be granted an exception to the military policy banning Bibles, right?

You can’t be granted an accommodation for a policy that doesn’t exist, Joan.  (By the way, how would she even know if such a request had been made…?)

Neither the US Air Force nor the US military ban Bibles from troops’ desks. In fact, the Air Force has affirmatively said military members can have Bibles on their desks. That’s ultimately the end of the conversation — no matter how much Mikey Weinstein wants the rules to be different.

The US military needs to resolve this first by proactively defending Major Lewis’ liberties, which it can do by noting the military’s interest in an environment of religious freedom.  That prevents Weinstein from using the Air Force to “chill” the Air Force culture of religious exercise — which the Air Force explicitly encourages its Airmen to do.

The Air Force then needs to put an end to Mikey Weinstein’s ignoramus’ veto. At this point, there’s no reason for his anonymous complaints to warrant anything other than the round file. Yes, random citizens around the country can contact the military and file any number of complaints — and Mikey Weinstein should be treated just like the thousands of others that make complaints you never hear about. Take away his platform, and he’ll sulk away — because the platform is what he seeks.

If a complaint comes from a military member through military grievance channels, by all means, address the grievance. (This includes counseling for the aggrieved, when required.)  But if an external activist with an axe to grind spams your email with threatening messages, first take the Air Force’s official advice (which has been around for years), and then follow the Chief of Staff’s example: Block Mikey Weinstein from your inbox. Problem solved.