US Air Force Updates Weinstein, Social Media Guidance

The office of the Air Force Judge Advocate General recently published its annual update to “The Military Commander and the Law,” (PDF) a 1,000-page desk book that isn’t authoritative but is intended to give commanders an overview of legal issues they may experience in their units.

The 2016 edition continues a tradition of including official JAG “Mikey Weinstein Guidance” originally inserted in 2010. Located specifically in the “religious issues” section, it says, in essence, that commanders should be very careful how they handle people and organizations who make complaints against their unit. It was clearly written for Mikey Weinstein, an activist and former JAG who makes threatening phone calls directly to military commanders telling them they’ll be sued or seen on CNN if they don’t comply [emphasis added]: 

Interest group advocates (including lawyers) seeking a particular resolution of a religious issue of which they have become aware might call you directly, advising you that the law “requires” you to adopt their position.

Threats of adverse publicity or litigation are to be expected; just tell the caller that you’ll let public affairs (PA) and/or your SJA know

The guidance is largely the same as it has been in previous years, though it has now moved to the end of the chapter.

Some notable additions and highlights include a more substantial section on “Religious Issues in the Air Force” which includes, for the first times, direct reference to AFI 1-1. The section even reflects the (updated) tone of AFI 1-1, which favors support for religious expression rather than restriction of religious exercise.

Some other notes, much of which was written to rebut Mikey Weinstein’s accusations against members of the Air Force — and many of which have been previously stated here:

Want to talk about your Christian faith at work?

Voluntary discussions of religion are permissible, even if conducted in uniform, to the same extent that they may engage in comparable private expression about subjects not related to religious issues…

Want to share your faith or invite your co-worker to church?

There is nothing wrong with an Airman sharing his/her faith or inviting another co-worker to attend his/her place of worship as long the Airman respects the views and requests of the co-worker.

Should the content of prayer be restricted or controlled?

As a general rule, prayer constitutes protected religious expression

If a chaplain is asked to pray at an official event, the choice of prayer is in the discretion of the chaplain as long as the prayer does not state or imply any Air Force endorsement of a specific religion…

Can the Air Force restrict the display of a Bible, poster, or calendar just because it has religious content?

Supervisors may restrict all posters regardless of content, or posters of a certain size, in private work areas, or require that such posters be displayed facing the employee, and not on common walls. However, a supervisor is not permitted to specifically single out religious posters (e.g., the Ten Commandments) for either negative or preferential treatment compared to other posters.

It would seem by this time the Air Force lawyers have clearly put some thought into military religious freedom, and with some accounting for nuance, the (non-authoritative) guidance generally makes sense.  In large part, the questions have already been answered.

Now commanders just need to make sure they know and understand the Air Force’s position on religious liberty, as, on occasion, a commander may still knee-jerk kowtow to Weinstein and generate the perception the Air Force is hostile to religion — contrary to the guidance already provided by the JAG.

Religious freedom — America’s “first freedom” — is a precious human liberty protected in the United States by the Constitution.

Mikey Weinstein clearly doesn’t agree, but his bigotry does not drive Air Force or military policy.

The next step is to have the US military proactively assert the rights of its troops in the face of attacks by those like Mikey Weinstein.

The time may be right.