The highest echelons of the U.S. military need to learn a valuable lesson, literally, from a guy in charge of a game.
Last month’s swift and decisive suspensions of the New Orleans Saints’ head coach, general manager and defensive coordinator were the clearest statement NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could make that intentionally injuring others would absolutely not be tolerated by the league.
This is how effective leadership can -- and should -- respond when it becomes apparent that those in charge are allowing others to run amok.
When a military officer allows those in his or her charge to proselytize, ostracize, and abuse fellow service members because of their chosen faith (or lack thereof), they are permitting the commission of potentially irreparable harm.
We continually learn of allegations of military command influence being used as a coercive tool upon anyone who is not the "right kind of Christian,” these "players" are injuring each other because they believe that they'll receive the "bounty" of eternal salvation.
For example, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, for more than two decades nuclear missile launch officers were exposed to training material including a presentation which included New Testament "end times" citations and quotations from St. Augustine. As CNN reported, images of mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were disgustingly juxtaposed alongside biblical citations such as “Revelation 19:11, Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior.”
Christian officers joined with others who were outraged that some would propagate the offensive notion that Christ adores weapons of mass destruction. Sixty-eight officers, 62 of them Christians, stepped forward to report this travesty to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the civil rights organization which I head. When MRFF’s primal scream regarding this situation reached the press, the presentation was yanked almost instantly from the curriculum and a review of all training materials was immediately ordered. Was anyone at all punished as a result of this violation of the separation of church and state? Were the results of the review published?
Only the lonesome sound of chirping crickets could be heard.
Soon after the Vandenberg incident, 21 Air Force instructors and 42 ROTC cadets at multiple colleges and universities notified MRFF of another Christian-themed indoctrination program veiled as “ethical value training.” The material, titled Core Values and the Air Force Member, included generous references to the Sermon on the Mount and gave pride of placement to seven of the Ten Commandments, including, “Have No Other Gods Than Me.” When MRFF shed light on this egregious case of Christian fundamentalist proselytizing, more empty promises of a review were issued. We have yet to see any form of justice from this constitutional violation.
Chirp you crickets, chirp.
In their campaign to save souls regardless of the collateral damage, the forces of fundamentalism sometimes resort to appeals for repression. This was the case at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., my alma mater. Our foundation has seized every opportunity to confront the academy's cavalier, dismissive and imperious attitude towards the guaranteed of separation of church and state within the U.S. military.
Perhaps for this reason, the dean of faculty, Brigadier General Dana H. Born, has been accused of attacking our foundation, our clients, and our supporters in a written directive to a subordinate. Our calls for a deep investigation have elicited a tepid response, with the Pentagon merely promising “appropriate consideration.”
More chirping crickets.
Through it’s unwillingness to take these religious freedom issues seriously, the military has suggested that it doesn’t really care to uphold the First Amendment of the very Constitution its members are sworn to “support and defend.”
All that can be heard is the telling and ubiquitous sound of crickets.
We've seen what the NFL is willing to do to set a vitally important enforcement precedent. My foundation and those who we support won't rest until the Pentagon sets a far more significant precedent by handing out similarly forceful punishments. The next time a superior forces his or her religious dictates on subordinates, or attempts to integrate sectarian religious contraband into the culture of the armed forces, the result must be significant enough that it will never happen again.
Do I think that will happen? Cue the crickets.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein is president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy. He served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corp. He is author of "No Snowflake in an Avalanche" (2012, Vireo) about religious extremism in America's military.