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An Open Letter from
MRFF Founder and President Mikey Weinstein to
Colonel Craig R. Baker, Commander 180th Fighter Wing
Ohio Air National Guard

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Click here to view PDF on MRFF letterhead

Colonel Craig R. Baker
Commander, 180th Fighter Wing (OHANG)
2660 South Eber Road
Swanton, OH 43558-9645

Dear Colonel Baker,

I have carefully read Ron Crews' letter to you.  Believe it or not, despite the fact that he and I agree on very little regarding Constitutional, political and religious matters, Ron has become a recent friend of mine for whom I have respect and affection on a personal level. Notwithstanding that rather unusual fact, and on a strictly professional level, let me assure you that I am of the opinion that he, himself, probably did not write that letter or at least did not write most of it. His organization, and other like-minded fundamentalist Christian organizations have attorneys, such as those at the Liberty Institute et al, who often ghostwrite letters such as these.  These attorneys advocate that United States military commanders and supervisors have the alleged freedom to proselytize, without virtually ANY restriction of time, place or manner, their personal version of the Christian faith to their otherwise defenseless military subordinates regardless of the predictable and all too real adverse effect on these subordinates who do not share their same particular version of the Christian faith.  Despite the fact that these hired attorneys are well aware of the long-established law in this area, they never mention in their letters the CONTROLLING law (which I will address below), because they have absolutely NO response to the "inconvenient" judicial holdings in this area.  In essence, they disagree with the United States Supreme Court's indisputable ruling in this area, and choose to not permit the rule of law to interfere with their unbridled religious zeal to encourage armed forces commanders to mercilessly proselytize their non-fundamentalist Christian subordinates by any and every means available to them.  They will not allow truthful renditions of the supreme law of the land to get in the way of their larger objective of religious dominance for their parochial flavor of Christianity and, as a consequence, have disgracefully sacrificed their integrity for what they view as an overriding goal of fundamentalist Christian supremacy and exceptionalism.  In short, they believe the ends justify the means.  Please view their twisted views and ignoble intent in this light. 

Here’s the GREAT news, Colonel Baker, which they don’t want you to know: the United States Supreme Court has provided definitive guidance for over 40 years now to commanders such as the 180th Fighter Wing’s Medical Group Commander, Colonel Florencio Marquinez who reports to you, sir. This specific guidance is, as I said, deliberately ignored in Ron Crews' letter to you.  Ron Crews did not want to mention this guidance to you, because it is THE controlling law of America directly on this very matter at issue and literally impossible to refute. Notwithstanding my friend Ron’s failure to do so, I will provide it to you.   Regardless of whether you believe a citizen supervisor in a private business has a First Amendment right of religious free expression to proselytize or witness to their employees, the Supreme Court has correctly held that First Amendment freedoms are SIGNIFICANTLY restricted in military and armed forces units.  Writing for an overwhelming majority, in a 6-2 decision, an extremely conservative Justice, Mr. Chief Justice Rehnquist, in 1974, in the Court's opinion in Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, said,   

"This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society... While the members of the military are not excluded from the protection granted by the First Amendment, the different character of the military community and of the military mission requires a different application of those protections. ... The fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for imposition of discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it... Speech [to include religious speech] that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command.  If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected." (Emphasis added)

Today, Parker v. Levy remains the absolute and unchallenged law of the land.
In Ron Crews' letter, the probable attorney authors cite a Supreme Court case, Employment Division v. Smith, to you, suggesting that it somehow protects a commanders' alleged unfettered right to proselytize or witness to their subordinates.  However, the Smith case is absolutely irrelevant to whether Colonel Marquinez, as an Air Force commander, can share his religious beliefs without solicitation to his Air Force subordinates.  In Employment Division v. Smith, the Court held that the Free Exercise Clause permits a State to prohibit sacramental peyote use, and thus to deny unemployment benefits to civilian employees of a non-military state agency, who were fired for such use.  In mere dicta, the Court discussed the fact that the State may not unnecessarily burden an employee's exercise of religion, which is the key part of the decision that Ron Crews cited to you.  Employment Division v. Smith did not in ANY cognizable manner address similar restrictions on military commanders; instead, the Court addressed military members' Constitutional right of expression in Parker v. Levy, which remains the ONLY relevant and dispositive law of the land. 
Funny that my friend Ron’s letter doesn't even get CLOSE to mentioning the Parker v. Levy case, eh?         
The Air Force correctly captured the Supreme Court's guidance in Parker v. Levy in Air Force Instruction 1-1 (effective August 7, 2012), when it forbade commanders and supervisors from proselytizing and witnessing to subordinates under circumstances that degrade morale, good order and discipline.  That mandatory Instruction points out the probable, foreseeable negative consequences that unsolicited proselytizing and witnessing by superiors would have on subordinates' morale, good order and discipline ... consequences that Colonel Marquinez and Ron Crews (and his probable attorney ghost writers) unfortunately and quite deliberately failed to consider.  The AFI states:
"[Leaders] must avoid the ... use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.  Commanders or supervisors, who engage in such behavior, may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline.  Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that ... they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force...."

Yet, sadly, there are some who profess, (1) in spite of the Supreme Court's absolutely clear decision and, (2) the Air Force's equally clear regulatory guidance, and (3) in spite of the predictable negative impact to morale, good order and discipline, that the military commander’s/supervisor's freedom of religious expression includes the freedom to proselytize or religiously witness their personal religious beliefs (i.e. Fundamentalist Christianity) to their helpless military subordinates, even when their subordinates do NOT ask to hear those beliefs. 

Some of these proponents propose that, while military commanders and supervisors should avoid "proselytizing" their military subordinates, the Constitution protects their right to speak about, or "witness" their religious beliefs to their subordinates, even if the subordinates did not ask to hear about their superior's beliefs. How ridiculous! To attempt to draw a difference between proselytizing and witnessing is a futile attempt to find a difference without a real or genuine distinction.  In the view of these creative thinkers, "proselytizing" involves actually asking the subordinate to attend the superior's church or accept the superior's religious philosophy, while "witnessing" is simply pointing out, in an unsolicited fashion, the truth of the superior's religious philosophy without really asking the subordinate to do anything.   These hypocrites will tell you they are opposed to superior's proselytizing, but they are in favor of superiors witnessing, because merely witnessing is somehow protected under their view of the First Amendment. Drawing such distinctions is utter rubbish and they damn well KNOW it!
Of course, the purpose of proselytizing and witnessing is exactly the same; namely, to convert the listener to the speaker's beliefs, a point which is NEVER lost on military subordinates.  Both unsolicited proselytizing and witnessing to subordinates, who have not previously adopted their superior's religious beliefs, cause subordinates to lose confidence that their superiors will fairly evaluate their value to the unit and their potential for career advancement if they fail to adopt their superiors' religious beliefs.  Thus, both unsolicited proselytizing and witnessing degrade morale, good order and discipline and are COMPLETELY unprotected by the Supreme Court's seminal decision in Parker v. Levy, and, likewise, rightfully forbidden by AFI 1-1.

Let me be clear, Colonel Baker, MRFF is unquestionably pro-Christian, pro-Jewish, pro-Muslim, pro-Buddhist, pro-Hindu, pro-Wiccan, pro-atheist.  In essence, we are pro-choice when it comes to matters of thought, particularly religious thought. In point of fact, MRFF currently represents over 39,000 armed forces active duty members and veterans, 96% of whom are actually practicing Christians who are suffering at the hands of their chains of command for "not being Christian enough".

The freedom to choose what one believes can never be sacrificed for some other goal, no matter how lofty or popular it might appear.  We believe every military member  has a right to be free to make his or her own choices on religious matters, free from the interference of military supervisors and commanders, and free from worrying about whether their religious choices will cause their supervisor or commander to fail to impartially assess their comprehensive value to the unit.

Colonel Marquinez's online letter is a crystal clear example of prohibited and pernicious religious witnessing, a form of proselytizing.  For example, his online letter states, "I would not be the man I am today if it wasn't for my mother leading our family to Jesus Christ. ... With God, all things are possible.... So, no matter how stressful your life can be juggling family issues, relationships, career advancement, work, school, or any burden that life throws your way, cast it upon the Lord and He will sustain you."  He then cites from the Bible: Psalm 118:3, 40:3, 73:23 and Proverbs 29:25.  It is a fair question to ask what Ron Crews and his attorney advocates would say if Colonel Marquinez's online letter had professed a belief in Allah, the Prophet Mohammad, and the Holy Koran, or from any other non-Christian text and/or belief system.  Beyond any doubt, if that had occurred, I’m betting that then, and ONLY then, would they have told you about Parker v. Levy and advocated strict adherence to the non-proselytizing standards in AFI 1-1, quoted above.    

I will end my letter with an appeal to your belief in integrity as a commander.  Forgive me, Colonel Baker, because I suspect that I am telling you something that you already know and believe in.  Integrity requires we stand by the rule of law.  Integrity requires we protect our military subordinates' trust and confidence in our impartiality and, in so doing, defend the good order, morale, cohesion and discipline of our armed forces unit.  Integrity requires we do this even when our stand might be unpopular or criticized in the popular media as "un-Christian" or "un-American."  Integrity requires that we lean into the wind at times such as these and stand up for the larger truth and for what is right and for those who cannot fight back against religious oppression from their commanders be it overt or covert.

Our greatest American leaders have always done just that.  Please stand with them. 

As Albert Einstein said, Colonel Baker, "not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." The members of the 180th Fighter Wing under your command are counting on you, sir. As are the rest of your fellow American brothers and sisters who respect the Constitution of the United States and the United States Supreme Court.

Description: mikey_signature
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq.
Founder and President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Deborah Lee James – Secretary of the Air Force
General Mark Welsh III – Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force

Click here to view letter from Ron Crews

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