Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Hon. Ruth S. Vetter, Esq.
Director, Standards of Conduct Office
Department of Defense General Counsel
1600 Defense Pentagon, Suite 3E783
Washington, D.C. 20301-1600
Via Email and UPS
RE: Standards of Conduct Complaint
Dear Ms. Vetter:
I am the Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation [MRFF]. We are an IRS 501(c)(3), not-for-profit, national civil rights advocacy charitable organization, headquartered in Albuquerque, NM, but with foundation staff and resources located all over the country as well as overseas. MRFF is dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces receive the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the First Amendment. As such, we seek to educate the components of the Department of Defense [DoD] and its respective leaders and commanders regarding the Constitutional parameters pertaining to its restrictions on religious involvement by the military hierarchy.
Conversely, we advocate on behalf of our clients – almost 44,000 active duty U.S. Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, Cadets, Midshipmen, National Guard and Reserve personnel, Coast Guard men and women, Veterans, and civilian and contractor DoD employees – when official religious sectarian practices interfere with or constrain their precious Constitutional rights. MRFF believes that no religion nor religious philosophy may be advanced by the United States Armed Forces over any other religion, religious philosophy, or non-religion. It is in that regard that MRFF wishes to lodge an official formal complaint.
There is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces [CAAF], the case of a Marine who was court-martialed for, inter alia, violating direct orders of her supervisor, United States v. Sterling, (CAAF Dkt # 15-0510/MC). Lance Corporal (LCpl, E-3) Sterling is appealing her conviction and sentence (which included a Bad Conduct Discharge) for which CAAF has granted review. MRFF submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of neither party while CAAF was considering whether or not to grant review, which it subsequently has done, to ascertain if the decision by the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals [NM CCA] was correctly decided.
Of significant concern to MRFF and the basis of our complaint herein, is an amicus curiae brief filed in support of Sterling by "Nine Retired General Officers" of the U.S. military. They are:
• General (Ret.) Victor E. Renuart, USAF;
• Lieutenant General (Ret.) Michael Gould, USAF;
• Lieutenant General (Ret.) William G. Boykin, USA;
• Major General (Ret.) Cecil Richardson, USAF;
• Major General (Ret.) Gary L. Harrell, USA;
• Major General (Ret.) Jack Catton, Jr., USAF;
• Brigadier General (Ret.) Orwyn Sampson, USAF;
• Brigadier General (Ret.) Richard Abel, USAF;
• Brigadier General (Ret.) Gary M. Jones, USA.
A copy of their Brief is attached herein for your review.
Our official, formal complaint, after reviewing the applicable statutes, regulations and guidance concerning the mandated Standards of Conduct, focuses on the following:
1. As you will see, nowhere in the Generals’ Brief is there any type of "disclaimer" that they are participating as a "friend of the court" in their personal capacities even though the CAAF is a designated part of the judiciary per 18 U.S.C. § 202(e)(2). Here, as you know, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued Legal Advisory 14-08, dated November 19, 2014, which opined in relevant part:
[A] clear and conspicuous disclaimer explaining that the employee’s service is done in his or her personal capacity would be sufficient to eliminate any potential appearance that the employee’s agency or the government sanctioned or endorsed the employee’s service with the outside organization or the activities . . . .1
2. Retired General Officers, drawing retired pay, remain subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice [UCMJ], per 10 U.S.C. § 802(a)(4);
3. Their overt support of LCpl Sterling via their Brief absolutely does not pass "the smell test" under 18 U.S.C. § 205(a)(2), "Activities of Officers and Employees in Claims Against and Other Matters Affecting the Government", as they are clearly acting as an "agent" before a "court" "in which the United States is a party or has a direct and substantial interest," which here is a direct adverse interest to the United States;
4. As a plain reading of their Brief amply demonstrates, the Generals are highly critical of the decision by the NM CCA in the Sterling case, now before the CAAF. DoD’s Joint Ethics Regulation, DoD 5500.07-R (as amended), expressly forbids such criticism of the NM CCA’s decision at issue herein, as paragraph 2-304, states: "any use of military titles is prohibited if it in any way casts discredit on DoD . . . ." by retired military members. Such conduct is, in MRFF’s opinion, illegal as violating Article 133, of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, [10 U.S.C. § 933], as "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer" – certainly something that anyone graduating from one of the Nation’s Military Service Academies or who is a General Officer should be cognizant of.
These are not de minimis concerns as a number of these General Officers have run afoul of the DoD’s Standards of Conduct in the past and thus are charged with actual knowledge of these prohibitions, as if their respective "retirement" briefings were not enough. A prime example is Major General (Ret.) Jack Catton, Jr., USAF, who in 2007 was found by the DoD Inspector General to be in violation of the DoD Joint Ethics regulations regarding endorsement of non-federal entities by his participation in uniform at the Pentagon in a 2004 promotional fundraising video for the fundamentalist Christian organization "Christian Embassy." And even before that investigation had gotten underway, General Catton was the subject of another inquiry for having used his official U.S. Air Force email account to send out fundraising emails for Bentley Rayburn, another retired General Officer and a then political candidate running for Congress in 2006. Further, General Catton not only blatantly disregarded DoD regulations on endorsing political candidates in this matter, but further explicitly stated in his emails that "we are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress." Another classic and tragic example is Lieutenant General (Ret.) William G. Boykin, USA, who was singled out for admonishment by the Bush administration in 2003 for his Christian supremacist speeches, delivered in civilian churches, while wearing his official U.S. Army uniform, in which he made virulently anti-Muslim remarks and painted the War on Terror as a holy war.
On behalf of the MRFF, and our tens of thousands of armed forces clients et al, we officially ask that an aggressive formal investigation be commenced immediately herein. A General Officer should know better than to openly criticize a decision of a United States Court while openly advocating against the U.S. Government’s interests in a case pending in the Nation’s highest military court. While, as individuals, they do not forfeit their First Amendment right to freedom of speech, as commissioned officers holding General Officer rank, they of ALL people should know that using their military rank as they have done so here is shamefully illegal and intolerable.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq.
Founder and President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
DONALD G. REHKOPF, JR., Esq.
MRFF Counsel of Record
1 Available at: