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Thursday, May 25, 2017


MRFF's STRONG ACTION
AGAINST "STRONG BONDS"
LEADS TO EXPEDIENT
RESCIND AND REWRITE!

The swift and strong action from MRFF directly resulted in the Air National Guard officially rescinding their egregious and discriminatory "Strong Bonds" program guidance, in which a Memorandum Of Instruction essentially established
Protestant Christianity as the
official religion of the program

Original complaint letter to Mikey Weinstein from a USAF Chaplain outlining the heinous church-state violation relating to the "Strong Bonds" program guidance:

From: Chaplain, USAF (name, rank, location withheld)
Date: May 9, 2017 at 2:12:16 PM MDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: Request For MRFF Intercession

9 May 2017
 
Michael L. Weinstein, Esq.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
13170-B Central Avenue, SE
Suite 255
Albuquerque, NM 87123
 
Re: The Establishment of An Official Religion Within the Air National Guard “Strong Bonds” Program.
 
Dear Mr. Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,
 
1.              I serve as a chaplain in the United States Air Force. I am writing to you on behalf of myself as well, as many other military members and their families who practice a number of varied faiths and even no faith, upon the advice of a Judge Advocate (JAG) who recommended the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as the only organization of its kind that could effectively advocate for religious plurality without fear of repercussions or reprisal.
2.              The program at issue, “Strong Bonds,” is intended to be a pluralistic means of strengthening marriages among our religiously diverse military families. The program is facilitated by the Chaplain Corps through funds earmarked by Congress. Additional information about the Strong Bonds program can be found at a dedicated website: www.StrongBonds.org.
3.              Last week (on or about 4 May 2017) a Memorandum of Instruction (“MOI”) entitled “OPERATING GUIDANCE FOR THE ANG STRONG BONDS PROGRAM Fiscal Year 2017” was sent via email by the National Guard Bureau to all chaplains within the 94 wings of the Air National Guard. This MOI sets forth the guidance that must be implemented at all Strong Bonds events within the Air National Guard (“ANG”).
4.              The MOI provides that:
One voluntary worship service will be conducted at all overnight training sessions, serving to the extent possible, the largest religious demographic represented in accordance with the Constitutional mandate to provide for the "free exercise of religion". (See “DODI 1300.17”; “AFI 52-101”)” MOI, page 4, § 5.b.4 (emphasis added).
5.              In other words, the MOI establishes Protestant Christianity—the “largest religious demographic represented” within the Air Force—as the official religion of the Strong Bonds program in the ANG. This guidance is troubling for the following reasons.

I.  The Establishment of Religion
a)             At a minimum, the MOI establishes Strong Bonds—a Congressionally mandated program designed for servicemembers of ALL faiths—as a distinctly Protestant program. This casts a veneer of exclusionism over the entire Strong Bonds program that makes many servicemembers feel unwelcome.
b)            Furthermore, the guidance does not even provide for a means to request a religious accommodation for those attendees interested in a different worship service. Instead, the MOI simply establishes the “largest religious demographic represented” as the only demographic whose First Amendment rights matter.
c)             Ironically, the guidance fails to distinguish between “religious demographics” and “propensity to worship.” For example, while Catholic servicemembers make up only about a third of the general population on many Air Force bases, Catholic Mass is often the largest worship service at the chapel. The establishment of the “largest religious demographic” as the only group entitled to worship does not even factor in the likelihood that many of the troops within that demographic may not even be interested in attending a worship service. 

II.  The MOI Colors the Very Nature of the Strong Bonds Program
d)            The unconstitutional guidance set forth by the ANG goes further than the single allowable worship program itself; instead, the MOI colors the very nature of the entire Strong Bonds curriculum. Only one chaplain generally facilitates Strong Bonds weekend programs. Because the MOI requires that the Chaplain Crops provide a worship service for “largest religious demographic represented,” the chaplain selected to lead the program must invariably hail from that very same religious demographic, i.e. Protestant Christianity. Accordingly—as chaplains are free to infuse the program with their personal religious views (see attached MOI, page 9  § 7)—the guidance excludes the views of the many diverse chaplains within the Air Force, allowing instead for the sole views of those chaplains who adhere to the “largest religious demographic.” The MOI, in essence, transforms Strong Bonds from a pluralistic program for all into a religious program that only caters to the Established Religion.

III.  The Guidance Punishes Minority Chaplains
e)             The Air Force Chaplain Corps embodies ministers of various faiths. Because the chaplain who facilitates a Strong Bonds program must also facilitate the worship service for the “largest religious demographic,” the guidance effectively bars chaplains of all minority faith groups from facilitating a Strong Bonds program. Buddhist chaplains, Catholic chaplains, Jewish chaplains, Latter Day Saints chaplains, and Muslim chaplains are effectively barred from facilitating a high visibility, command-sponsored program. This has longstanding negative implications on the promotional opportunities, recognition, and career progression of chaplains who belong to minority faiths.
6.              Please accept my sincere thanks to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation for addressing this matter. I speak on behalf of multiple military families who have expressed grave concern over the exclusionary nature of this Strong Bonds Program.
7.              Frankly, none of us have anyone or any place else to turn to for help without facing certain and unyielding retribution.
 
Sincerely,

(USAF Chaplain’s name, rank, and assigned military installation all withheld)

--

Demand letter from Mikey Weinstein to General Joseph Lengyel, 4-star General and Chief of the National Guard Bureau, calling for the immediate investigation into the published "Strong Bonds" program guidance:

From: Mikey Weinstein
Date: May 9, 2017 at 6:57:07 PM MDT
To: General Joseph Lengyel
Subject: MRFF Demand Letter to General Lengyel

General Joseph Lengyel, 

Sir, as a 4-Star General and Chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and a member of the Pentagon’s elite Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) officially and respectfully brings the following egregious church-state separation violation to your immediate attention for demanded expeditious review, remediation and relief.

The shocking letter below which follows this one, from a USAF Chaplain, related to your “Strong Bonds” marriage strengthening program is quite self-explanatory and lays out the gravamen of MRFF’s complaint on behalf of this courageous USAF Chaplain and related furious military members equally appalled who are under your direct command, sir.

The fact that these MRFF clients under your command fear hurtful reprisal and retribution if they tried to file either an EEO or IG Complaint, or even tried to go up their respective chains of command to protest this pernicious religious discrimination does not speak well for the "command climate” they are all trying to serve under, General Lengyel.

Let me start with this bedrock premise, sir: Protestant Christianity is NOT the “official religious faith” of your NGB, General Lengyel. Just because that particular faith may have more raw numbers of practitioners under your command does NOT permit them to receive a favored or default status of elevated domination and supremacy over other military members from smaller faith traditions, or no faith traditions at all. 

Providing Protestant Christianity a clear and unadulterated position of exceptionalism and primacy in the "Strong Bonds" program dangerously denigrates and negatively impacts the good order, morale, discipline, unit cohesion, military readiness and health and safety of those under your command, sir. 

Surely you can understand this obvious fact. The Bill of Rights, sir, was NOT created for the convenience of the majority. Quite on the contrary, sir, it was created to protect the minority from the expected tyranny of the majority. Such tyranny is occurring as per the letter from the USAF chaplain referenced below.

As Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once opined, “In America, we don’t count heads before enforcing the First Amendment."

There is simply NO Constitutional basis or cognizable justification for the May 4, 2017 “Memorandum of Instruction" (MOI) letter, referenced below, which went out to ALL of the 94 Air Wings of the Air National Guard from your NGB. That MOI is a scandalous, outrageous and craven attempt by those under your command, General, to violate, inter alia, the No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, the No Religious Test mandate of Clause 3, Article VI of same, a plethora of additional Federal laws and statutes, Federal caselaw construing same as well other DoD and USAF directives, instructions and regulations. In this regard, sir, please see specifically Air Force Instruction 1-1, Sections 2.11 and 2.12 below:

2.11. Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation. Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own. Every Airman also has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment.

2.11.1. Your right to practice your religious beliefs does not excuse you from complying with directives, instructions and lawful orders; however, you may request religious accommodation. Commanders and supervisors at all levels must fairly consider requests for religious accommodation. Airmen requesting accommodation will continue to comply with directives, instructions and lawful orders from which they are requesting accommodation unless and until the request is approved.

2.11.2. If it is necessary to deny free exercise of religion or an accommodation request, the decision must be based on the facts presented, must directly relate to the compelling government interest of military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment, and must be by the least restrictive means necessary to avoid the cited adverse impact.

2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief. 

General, need we really say any more?

MRFF hereby demands that the subject MOI of May 4, 2017, which was released under YOUR clear color of authority, sir, be immediately rescinded and replaced with an inclusive, vice deleteriously divisive, policy for “voluntary Strong Bonds worship service(s)" which is fully compliant with all of the aforementioned Constitutional provisions, Federal laws/statues, Federal caselaw and DoD and USAF regulatory provisions which your subordinate NGB and Air National Guard (ANG) personnel are currently viciously violating.

 Further, MRFF demands that any and all NGB/ANG personnel who were either directly or indirectly involved in the promulgation and release of that Constitutionally noxious May 4, 2017 MOI regarding the "Strong Bonds” program be aggressively investigated and visibly punished for these clear violations of both bedrock civil rights law and regulation.

 Please keep me fully apprised of all actions you are timely taking to comply with MRFF’s demands on behalf of our clients, sir.

 Thank you.  

 Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq., Founder and President, MRFF

--

Response from Brigadier General Christian Rofrano of the National Guard Bureau informing Mikey Weinstein of the rescinding of the "Strong Bonds" program guidance:

From: Rofrano, Christian A BG USARMY NG NGB (US) 
Date: May 19, 2017 at 4:56:49 PM EDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: Strong Bonds

Mr Weinstein, thank you for the e-mail you sent to Gen Lengyel on 9 May 2017, which raised concerns about the ANG Strong Bonds Program.  As was communicated to you in prior emails, the CNGB and his staff take these matters seriously.  Presently, the Air National Guard leadership is in the process of rescinding and re-issuing its program guidance. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention and best regards,
Chris

BG Christian Rofrano

--

Letter from USAF Chaplain profusely thanking Mikey Weinstien and MRFF for the strong action against "Strong Bonds":

From: Chaplain, USAF (name, rank, location withheld)
Date: May 19, 2017 at 5:55:14 PM EDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: Thank You for Enabling Religious Freedom!

Dear Mr. Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

– Spock, Star Trek, The Wrath of Kahn (1982).

"We do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment."

– Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, McCreary Co. v. ACLU, 545 U.S. 844 (2005).

1. I cannot thank the Military Religious Freedom Foundation ('MRFF") enough for the expedient, professional, and confidential manner in which you recently advocated on behalf of myself on other military families who were denied the right to practice our religious beliefs.

2. As an Air Force chaplain, I was disturbed when guidance from higher headquarters set forth standards that established a Protestant worship service as the only permissible service at a certain official military family event. The regulation upset many military families—primarily Catholic families—who felt excluded from the event. Unfortunately, all were fearful of utilizing the chain of command; no doubt due to prior negative experience. I contacted the only people whom I was certain could help. I called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

3. Years ago, I voiced a concern to a senior chaplain about a regulation that placed an unnecessary burden on Catholic couples who wanted to marry at the base chapel. The senior chaplain, a colonel, told me that "the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few," a line from the movie Star Trek. When I voiced my concerns about the most recent discriminatory provision at the military family program to Mr. Weinstein, he quoted a Supreme Court Justice who stated "we don't count heads before enforcing the First Amendment."

4. When faced with a Constitutional issue, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation quoted the United States Supreme Court; the colonel quoted Star Trek. When faced with a First Amendment issue, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation cited seminal jurisprudence; the colonel cited a movie.

5. I cannot adequately express the speed, confidentiality, and efficacy of the MRFF's work. Within hours after notifying Mr. Weinstein of the discriminatory regulation, MRFF sprung into action.  That very same day, a four-star general initiated an investigation into the offending guideline, which ultimately rescinded the instruction and resolved the issue in an amicable, favorable, and confidential manner.

6. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation certainly promotes the constitutional right to be free from religion. But what many do not realize is that the MRFF equally promotes the right to practice religion. The regulation at issue predominantly affected Christian families who did not belong to the majority Protestant denomination. The Military Religious Freedom defends the worship rights of those without a voice. Thank you for reminding me that "we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment!"

Sincerely,

Chaplain, USAF (name, rank, location withheld)

--

Letter from USAF Chaplain informing Mikey Weinstein that the Air National Guard "Strong Bonds" memorandum of instruction has been officially rescinded just ten days after MRFF intervention:

From: USAF Chaplain/MRFF Client's E-Mail Address Withheld
Date: May 24, 2017 at 6:45:30 PM MDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: Thank You!

May 24, 2017
 
Dear Mr. Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,
 
It worked! I can’t believe how quickly it worked!
 
Just ten days after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation first advocated for removal of a discriminatory memorandum of instruction (MOI), the Air National Guard officially rescinded the MOI and replaced it with instructions enabling the religious worship of all faiths.
 
Senior chaplains at the Air National Guard had crafted an MOI for a “Strong Bonds” relationship-enhancement program that mandated for, and only allowed, a worship service for “the largest religious demographic,” i.e. Protestant Christianity. This memorandum was adopted as the official policy of the Air National Guard, despite the fact that it discriminated against the religious needs of numerous military families; primarily Catholic families, the second largest denomination in the military.
 
The discriminatory (now rescinded!) MOI represents a common mindset among the all-Protestant leadership of the Air National Guard chaplaincy, which continues to limit certain missions and special duties to Protestant chaplains only. Thanks to the MRFF, the playing field is one step closer to being level and equal for all military members regardless of faith.
 
The expedient and anonymous advocacy on part of the MRFF enabled me to address a serious injustice without fear of reprisal. Today, for the first time in years, troops may once again request religious accommodations at “Strong Bonds” events in accordance with their faith.
 
Thank you again for advocating and obtaining such fast results. It is so hopeful to know that MRFF is out there giving a voice to those who need it most. I look forward to similar advocacy in the near future.
 
Best,

Chaplain USAF (Name, rank, location, withheld)


BILL MOYERS ADDS
NEWSWEEK PIECE FEATURING MRFF TO "DAILY READS"

A roundup of stories we're
reading at BillMoyers.com HQ

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"They feared retaliation if they went through their chain of command" – Nina Burleigh reports for Newsweek that "Donald Trump's election has led to such a steep rise in fundamentalist Christian evangelizing and religious bigotry in the US armed forces that the matter is reaching the level of a "national security threat,'" according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. [...]

Click to read on BillMoyers.com


NEWSWEEK HOMEPAGE STORY LEADS TO CONTINUED
MRFF PRESS COVERAGE

Click to read on CS Indy

Click to read on Raw Story

Click to read on The Freethinker

Click to read on Patheos


Inbox logo

We receive an enormous amount of emails at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, both from our supporters and detractors.
Through "MRFF's Inbox", we share some of these emails with you.

Click to view MRFF's Inbox

"Mikeys mommy"

From: (name withheld)
Date: May 25, 2017 at 6:55:47 AM MDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: Mikeys mommy

Mikeys mommy sucks donkey dicks in Hell!!! haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa faaaaaaaaaaa lalala

WE ARE MANY, WE ARE LEGION, WE ARE ANONYMOUS.


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