Over the past several years, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has received a steady stream of complaints about two related issues: 1.) religious "infomercials" on the American Forces Network (AFN), the television and radio service provided by the military to service members stationed overseas and on naval vessels; and 2.) televisions located in various facilities on military installations, such as PXs and gyms, being tuned to religious programming, subjecting service members using these non-religious facilities to unwanted evangelizing and/or proselytizing.
Recently, these complaints have taken on some new twists. The complaints about religious "infomercials" on the AFN now not only include evangelizing by chaplains and other unacceptable promotions of religion during non-religious programming, but are promoting religion as a substitute for professional mental health care for service members suffering from PTSD, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health problems. (Read more about this military-wide problem here.) And, complaints about the programs on the televisions in PXs, gyms, and other facilities now include complaints about these televisions being tuned to Fox News's own evangelist, Glenn Beck. And then there are the unusual complaints -- like one about a senior NCO beginning each day by quoting a bit of Glenn Beck's "wisdom" to his subordinates, and telling them they should continue their education by attending Beck's online university, making their base a satellite Beck University campus.
While the incessant pushing of religion on Beck's show is certainly enough to put this "news" program in the same category as any other religious programs when it comes to what's not appropriate for a military facility to be foisting upon service members trying to work out or shop, this isn't the only issue that needs to be raised about the military's endorsement of Beck. There's actually an even bigger issue -- Beck's continual contemptuous statements against the President of the United States -- something that makes Beck's show inappropriate as a programming choice for both facilities on military bases and airing on the American Forces Network.
AFN's television service consists of eight channels -- the military's Pentagon Channel, plus seven channels carrying a variety of American programming, one of which is a news channel. Like all AFN channels, the news channel airs a mix of programs from a variety of networks. And nobody would argue that the AFN shouldn't provide its politically diverse military audience with the same kind of something-for-everyone variety in its news channel programming that it tries to provide on its entertainment channels -- some Fox News shows for the conservatives, some MSNBC shows for the liberals, and shows from other networks that fall somewhere in between. But, this should be equally balanced, and it isn't. AFN's news channel is clearly dominated by Fox News, with the daily schedule containing eight hours of Fox programming -- twice as much time as MSNBC (four hours), twice as much as all three networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS combined (four hours), and nearly twice as much as CNN (five hours).
Obviously, while the military cannot promote or endorse political opinions, it would be impossible for the AFN to provide any kind of variety in its news programming without airing some shows that espouse a particular political viewpoint. And that's fine. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are in the current AFN news line-up, as are Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. But, while shows like these are clearly either liberal or conservative, and regularly contain strong opinions and commentary about politics and politicians, none of them cross the line into contempt crossed by Glenn Beck.
Mr. Beck is, of course, free to be as contemptuous towards the president as he wants to be, but officers in the United States military are not. As Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) -- "Contempt toward officials" -- states: "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
Obviously, the intent of this UCMJ article is to prevent any undermining of the authority of the Commander in Chief of the armed forces, as well as other civilian officials, as this could adversely affect good order and discipline among the troops. And, although the UCMJ is specific to statements made by military officers, whose words come from a position of authority to their subordinates, the promotion or endorsement of contempt towards the president and civilian officials can have the same effect the article is intended to prevent. So, are the military officers in the AFN chain of command -- the officers who choose the programming aired on the AFN -- acting appropriately when they sanction a program that clearly and constantly espouses blatant contempt for the president? If contemptuous words from an officer that might be heard on the relatively small scale of that officer's subordinates or unit are considered a serious enough issue to make such statements a court-martial offense, isn't broadcasting these statements on a regular basis to hundreds of thousands of service members at a time infinitely more serious?
Figuring out where to draw the line between political opinion and contempt is, no doubt, somewhat subjective, but I think that any reasonable person would agree that criticism of policies, some degree of sarcasm, and even sporadic negative remarks about our political leaders, would all fall into the category of expressing a political opinion. In this respect, the other news programs aired by the AFN, whether liberal or conservative, don't generally cross the line into what could be considered contempt.
But then there's Glenn Beck, who devotes entire shows to convincing his audience that the president is a Marxist, a socialist, and/or a communist who is working hand in hand with subversive and even criminal elements to destroy America -- programs with titles like the "Roots of Obama's Rage." There is nobody on television today who shows more contempt for the president than Glenn Beck, and his show should have no place in the military.
For those of you who don't watch Beck's show, here are the links to a few recent "contemptuous" episodes. If you don't want to watch the episodes (and I don't blame you a bit if you don't), reading the show descriptions from Beck's website should be enough to get a good idea of the level of contempt that was spewed during them.
September 28, 2010: "Show Me Your Friends"
"Mr. Obama, show me your friends..and I'll show you who's headed to the mall in Washington. Progressives are attempting a counter-response to Glenn's Restoring Honor Rally. It will be held this Saturday, October 2nd on the national mall. It's really quite amazing to see just who is behind and endorsing this event. Glenn took a lot of heat from last night after telling people that the Young Communist League was just one of those groups- but that's only the beginning. Tonight, you will see them all. And Obama wonders why people think he's a socialist."
September 29, 2010: "Roots of Obama's Rage"
"Tonight: The book that Barack Obama and The White House do not want you to read- "The Roots Of Obama's Rage' author Dinesh D'Souza joins Glenn tonight to talk about the 'real' Barack Obama. Tonight's show is all about fact vs. opinion. As long as a book is based in facts, then we can look at the theories surrounding them and agree or disagree. When someone says not to read a certain book, you know something must be up. The White House has come out swinging hard..the media has smeared Dinesh D'Souza. Find out why tonight."
September 30, 2010: "Understanding Obama's World View"
"Tonight: 'The Roots of Obama's Rage' author Dinesh D'Souza joins Glenn for the first segment to finish up where they left off yesterday. Plus, only two days until the 10/2 'One Nation' rally in D.C. They are more than determined to one up Glenn and areastroturfing people in by the bus loads. Tonight, a closer look at just who is behind and funding this rally..and you're not going to believe it. Do NOT miss tomorrows show- a look at just how America would look in the year 2025 if President Obama has anything to say about it- and it ain't pretty."