Update: Air Force Backs Chaplain Hernandez on Religious Freedom

As reported at the Stars and Stripes, the Air Force has defended Chaplain (Capt) Sonny Hernandez’s recent publication of his views on Christianity and military religious freedom [emphasis added]:

Air Force Reserve spokesman Lt. Col. Chad Gibson said Hernandez is expressing his own views, not those of the Air Force, and his freedom to express his own faith is an essential protection in the military. The Air Force is not conducting an investigation, he said.

“I think we should reflect on why the Air Force is here,” Gibson said. “We are sworn to protect freedom of faith and religion unless it infringes on other people’s rights.”

That’s an admirably bold and direct statement from the Air Force that actually defends Hernandez’s right to express his views.

The note that the Air Force is “not conducting an investigation” contradicts the opposite assertion by Michael “Mikey” Weinstein who, without citing a source, claims he was assured an investigation was ongoing. [Update: Stars and Stripes has corrected their article to indicate Weinstein called on the DoD IG, not the Air Force, to conduct an investigation.]

Weinstein claimed Hernandez was “trying to establish a religious faith and…creat[e] a religious test” — though he provided no explanation to support his accusation.

For his part, Chaplain Hernandez seemed to admit he didn’t communicate well in his original article:

Hernandez acknowledged that his words could be misconstrued as advocating discrimination against people of other faiths or practices. He is not advocating that anyone should “be abandoned or ostracized.”

“If I had to rewrite it, I would say this is my position,” he said. “In no way would I try to tell anyone they are not equal or that someone deserves to be mistreated or is not worthy.”

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7 comments

  • An Air Force Reserve PAO might not know what the Chief of Chaplains Office is doing. Maybe they should have asked Chaplain Costin.

    Nice to see that Chaplain Hernandez is backing down. Maybe he realizes how serious the issue is. If he is going to be a chaplain, he has to be one for everyone, not just his Fundamentalists. He mentions his award, that specifies his good relations with other faiths. It would be nice for him to write a new article about the duties of a chaplain, and how he works with those of other faiths, and how he relates to airmen who disagree with him.

    • What do you mean “backing down?” As the AF recognizes, there is nothing from which CH Hernandez needs to back down.

      The “issue” is not so serious as you might think; it’s a non-issue, in fact.

      And finally, a chaplain does not have to be a chaplain for everyone. That is not why chaplains exist. Chaplains exist to provide for the free exercise of service members. If a service member is of a different faith/denomination/belief system than the chaplain, then the chaplain has a duty to facilitate, but not provide for that service member.

  • Precisely. But Sonny’s own words seemed to clearly say that to facilitate the religious needs of non-Sonny-kind-of-Christians is “serving Satan.”

    Presumably, Sonny would refuse to serve Satan by facilitating the religious needs of others. Unless he has chosen to hypocritically conduct himself contrary to this unambiguous theological position, it’s hard to see how he can possibly continue serving as a chaplain. But his most recent clarification is so opposed to his previous comments that it’s equally hard to know where he really stands.

    His article and its clarification appear to be mutually exclusive not merely misunderstood.

  • >>”What do you mean ‘backing down?’ As the AF recognizes, there is nothing from which CH Hernandez needs to back down.”

    One Reserve PAO is not “the AF,” and certainly doesn’t get chaplain issues. He needed to back down from his claim that facilitating the free exercise rights of others is “serving Satan.”

    >>”The ‘issue’ is not so serious as you might think; it’s a non-issue, in fact.”

    Wrong. He was saying “theologically” that a Christian dare not do what he as a chaplain is obligated to do by regulation.

    >>”And finally, a chaplain does not have to be a chaplain for everyone. That is not why chaplains exist. Chaplains exist to provide for the free exercise of service members. If a service member is of a different faith/denomination/belief system than the chaplain, then the chaplain has a duty to facilitate, but not provide for that service member.”

    Well, that may work for an IMA chaplain who serves two days a month in a nice air conditioned chapel with several other full-time chaplains of different faiths there, to whom he can refer. But you ignore the fact that just that facilitation is what he said a Christian must not do.

    And for other services, yes, the chaplain has to be everyone’s chaplain. Not for religious rituals, but there’s only one person who will be there at 0300 when there’s a car accident, or a suicide. A chaplain better be able to relate to everyone, better be able to counsel everyone, better be respected by all. Because that’s the real ministry, building relationships with 400 people of different faiths and becoming the chaplain they all love and respect. Service members who know you will treat them with dignity, you will help them worship as they wish. Again, this is what Sonny said he would not do. Now he’s humbled and backing down and saying, well, of course, yes, I will do that.

    Someone has talked to him. Probably his endorser. Probably his supervisory chaplains. Probably his commander. All probably had the same message: Chill. This isn’t about you. This is about the airmen who need a chaplain they can trust.

    • @Matthew Lee

      Actually, the PAO *IS* the AF. At least, the PAO publicly speaks on behalf of the AF, in an official capacity. But don’t take my word for it, pull the reg yourself.

      Why does he need to back down? Because of words? The CINC uses words, too. Does he need to back down?

      Nowhere did I read that CH Hernandez said he would not serve those who are not like him. Please show me where he said that. I will grant you that the word “support” was poorly chosen, because it has multiple connotations. I can “support” someone who believes differently than me by simply being decent and respectful towards them. Alternatively, I can “support” someone who believes differently than me by actively encouraging, financing, training, etc. the promotion of their beliefs. I hope and assume CH Hernandez was doing the former, not the latter.

  • Looks like that Air Force PAO didn’t know what he was talking about.

    Today: Air Force: Investigators reviewing statements by outspoken chaplain Hernandez

    https://www.stripes.com/air-force-investigators-reviewing-statements-by-outspoken-chaplain-hernandez-1.489056#.WcWFXcaZOT8

    • @Sam Johnson
      Mikey Weinstein: I’m complaining to DoD IG.
      Air Force: We’re not investigating.
      MW: There is too an investigation! We complained to DoD because we don’t trust the AF.
      AF: Oops, we are investigating someone’s complaints.
      MW: See! There is an investigation. Wait. What? The AF? But we called DoD!

      This is a comedy of errors.

      [Weinstein] said he was surprised that the complaints were being reviewed by the Air Force…

      Seriously? Weinstein complained to the DoD IG last year, and the AF investigated then, too. This isn’t new for him. This is how the IG works.

      There’s a pretty low bar for there to be an “IG investigation”. Anyone can file a complaint, and the IG “looks into” all of them, to varying degrees. Even Weinstein admits these complaints have been ongoing since April. Does anyone really believe it would take five months to answer this question if it was as simple as Weinstein claims?

      Weinstein just keeps making complaints. He keeps throwing mud against the wall in the hope that something sticks.

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