Ho hum, just another fundamentalist "Jesus Freak" day of joy in the U.S. Air Force, spewing out another major illicit act of despicable denigration towards the Constitution of the United States. This latest anti-Constitutional outrage comes to us from Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), host to the USAF's 27th Special Operations Wing (SOW), which lies on the outskirts of Clovis in my home state of New Mexico near the border with west Texas. Hold on to your seats, folks, because this situation is "explosive" in the figurative sense of cluster bombs peppering the landscape - where you discover one, you can be sure that dozens (possibly hundreds) of others lie in close range. As far as the combustible mix of unlawful fundamentalist Christian proselytizing and secular military duty is concerned, the USAF is an absolute and abominable minefield - and this latest so-called "Gospel Explosion" at Cannon AFB is a putrid, and sadly typical, example of command leadership streaking haphazardly right through that minefield.
Please permit me to explain. It won't take long.
At the beginning of this month, the 1st of July, 2015, USAF Master Sergeant Keith L. Lucas e-mailed a flyer to his subordinates promoting an on-base, sectarian religious proselytizing event called "Gospel Explosion" and explicitly "requested" (in other words, ORDERED in military chain-of command parlance) that they "please post everywhere and spread the word... thanks!!"In the email thread forwarded to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (the sole civil rights organization devoted to fighting violations of the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state in the U.S. military), various additional senior USAF leaders at Cannon AFB effusively affirm MSgt. Lucas's original "Gospel Explosion spread the word" directive, with Master Sergeant Marvin Jimerson Jr. even instructing all 27th SOW First Sergeants on base to "Please disseminate within your units."
Now, taken on its own, we have absolutely NO problem with "Gospel Explosion"(s), implosions, propulsions, or eruptions. "Gospel Explosion" is clearly an Evangelical Christian proselytizing event, and that's perfectly fine and dandy. Thankfully, this country was founded on the freedom to worship whatever faith (or no faith) we choose, provided, however, that we do so ONLY in the proper time, place, and manner - and this specific stricture especially holds true for the brave men and women serving in the United States Air Force and throughout all of the armed forces and DoD. (Fun Fact: MRFF has had very senior DoD installation commanders directly reach out for our advice and counsel about how to manage such sectarian religious proselytizing events on military bases, well before they even occur, without running afoul of the Constitution and/or the full spectrum of DoD regulations. Whenever we have been asked to provide counsel in managing events just like "Gospel Explosion", there have NEVER been any issues of unconstitutional breaches at all, and all of these Christian proselytizing events have transpired completely devoid of any MRFF client complaints or incidents.)
However, what we DO have a MAJOR problem with is the fact that the Air Force command leadership has grown accustomed to brazenly violating numerous Department of Defense and Air Force directives, regulations, and instructions in an airy, willy-nilly fashion. If the Master Sergeants at Cannon AFB want to promote participation in decidedly Christian gospel events, they need to leave this task to the USAF chaplaincy rather than unconstitutionally misappropriating that role for themselves. Not only is command staff usurping a position meant for the chaplaincy, but they are also trampling on the vital religious rights of helplessly subordinate Air Force personnel by blanketing them in "invitations" to attend events that are exclusively oriented towards people of the evangelical version of the Christian faith. Indeed, it's a cluster bomb of illegality.
Our civil rights foundation has already been contacted by 7 Air Force NCO/Officer clients at Cannon AFB - 6 of whom are of the Christian faith, the seventh of whom was raised in Christian faith traditions - regarding this outrageous travesty. The fact that they reached out to MRFF, rather than to their own USAF chain of command, indicates the pathetically sorry state of the command climate on base.
(Hey, 27th SOW Commander Colonel Benjamin R. Maitre, are you listening there, brother? You're the most senior Air Force Commander at Cannon AFB. This shameful disaster is on YOU, sport!)
Simply put, our MRFF clients justly fear reprisal and retribution for protesting their military superiors' illegal, unconstitutional activities. That's why they come to us for help. As I stated recently in another article written about a similar Constitutional outrage, "To the USAF, regulations and Constitutional provisions appear to mean as much as would a few flies buzzing around at a family picnic; to wit, a mere trifle easily disregarded and ignored with impunity."
The ignored USAF rules of official engagement here are as clear as the blue skies around Clovis, New Mexico. These official USAF mandates were authoritatively and initially issued years ago by no less than the Office of the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. On September 1, 2011, then-Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, never one to willingly court even an iota of "religious" controversy, nevertheless issued a truly watershed memorandum for all USAF commanders that stated plainly:
"Although commanders are responsible for these programs, they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion. Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs."
Do you see how it was NOT the Chaplains, but the Cannon AFB official Command Chain that conducted the unlawful "notifying" here, my friends?
The essence of this aforementioned 2011 memo from General Schwartz was essentially codified into official Air Force orders when it was followed in August 2012 by a similarly crystal-clear set of regulatory standards expected of all Air Force personnel worldwide. In Air Force Instruction 1-1, USAF top brass laid down the letter of the law in regards to religious proselytizing:
"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."(emphasis added)
I ask you all, is it even reMOTELY possible to reasonably and rationally view the Cannon AFB senior leadership's collective clarion calls to "please post everywhere and spread the word" (as well as "please disseminate within your units") regarding their evangelical Christian "Gospel Explosion" event as anything OTHER than a direct breach of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12? No. It is not. In point of fact, if this particular disgusting display of unbridled Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism by Cannon AFB's chain of command does NOT violate this bedrock Air Force regulation then NOTHING ever will.
Look, our fight isn't to remove all vestiges of religious faith from the ranks of the United States Armed Forces, as our deliberately lying, fundamentalist Christian foes claim. No, our fight remains one for democracy, fairness, equal protection and justice in the face of those who viciously abuse our servicemembers and the sanctity of the oaths taken by those sworn to protect and defend our Constitution. Had USAF airmen asked for MRFF's help in order to ensure that "Gospel Explosion" was advertised and occurred in a lawful time, place, and manner, MRFF would have utilized all of its efforts to so ensure that result. But that did not happen this time.
Of course MRFF's aggressive civil rights activism infuriates those hordes in the Christian Taliban. Lest we forget, these religious fanatics are wholly (and "Holy") devoted towards the furtherance of their seditious agenda of maintaining, at all costs, the unmitigated supremacy of unlawful, theocratic, Christian fundamentalist arrogance, primacy, and oppression. Behold the egregiously unconstitutional time, place, and manner breaches by the Cannon AFB command leadership in promoting "Gospel Explosion"!
This "Gospel Explosion" imbroglio horrendously highlights, yet again, for the entire world to see, a desperately dire crisis of out-of-control, fundamentalist Christian/command climate saturation in the U.S. military in general and the USAF in particular.
Religious extremism, thy name be Cannon AFB and the 27th SOW.
When will Americans FINALLY demand that their armed forces respect the Constitutional religious rights of ALL of its war fighters and not ONLY those who embrace "the right kind of Christianity"?
Perhaps even more importantly, when will Americans FINALLY demand visible and meaningful punishment for those military leaders who willfully savage the religious rights of their otherwise defenseless subordinates with total impunity?