Established in 2006, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) describes itself as “a watchdog group” that is “dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled …” The organization’s primary objective is to eradicate the religious bias and “coercion” that it deems prevalent among high-ranking Christian members of the U.S. military. Toward that end, MRFF functions as “a clearinghouse for violations reported by military and civilian personnel,” offering “complete anonymity” to all complainants.
Headed by retired Air Force lawyer Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, MRFF declares: “At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, it is imperative [sic] upon America to show by example that religious pluralism is a viable and preferred option. Any sign of hypocrisy in United States policy … toward the free exercise of religion within the military makes it more difficult to convince others to follow our nation’s chosen path.”
In December 2006, MRFF issued a “Compliance Report on the Pervasive Violations of the United States Constitutional Religious Freedoms of Military Personnel.” “Military and civilian personnel,” says this document, “are subjected to blatant and unlawful displays of religiosity at mandatory formations, religious bias, and illegal proselytizing by their peers and superiors alike.” The report identifies “pervasive violations of United States Constitutional religious freedoms of military personnel” in five major areas:
(a) Blatant displays of religious symbolism on military garb: “The 523rd Fighter Squadron [in the Air Force] is known as the ‘Crusaders.’ … Members of the Squadron wear patches which prominently feature a large cross — an unmistakable emblem of the Christian faith — as well as other accoutrements of the historically dressed crusaders: broadsword and armored helmet. This unabashed display of religiosity creates a divisive atmosphere among Air Force personnel. … The Squadron’s patch and promulgation of the idea that the United States military is fighting a religious war, jeopardizes the safety and success of the men and women battling religious fundamentalism overseas.”
(b) Placement of a biblical quotation above the door of the Air and Space Basic Course classroom: “Air and Space Basic Course (ASBC) is a mandatory six-week training course for all Air Force officers … at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. … Prominently displayed over the doorway [of the classroom] is a quote from the Old Testament. … [I]t comes from a passage, Isaiah 40:31, that promises restored vigor to those who worship — ‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.’ This quote … has caused numerous officers to complain of feeling both uncomfortable and isolated. … Only those Christian officers who ‘wait upon the Lord,’ apparently, will ‘mount up with wings as Eagles.’”
(c) Illegal use of official military e-mail accounts to send e-mails containing religious rhetoric: “The e-mail below,” says MRFF, “was widely distributed on November 22, 2006 [by Staff Sergeant Jessica M. Wilson], through an official Air Force e-mail account … This e-mail clearly violates the separation of church and state and also violates military regulations”:
“Here’s wishing you all a safe, wonderful, Happy Thanksgiving!!! May it be filled with love, family, and lots of good food!! I love you all! Be well!! Remember that it is not about celebrating the Pilgrims, or the football game, and all that but more about being a day to thank the Lord our God for all we have. All that is good comes from God and we need to worship, honor, and praise Him for all we have now and all He has saved us from and for all that is to come. All Glory Be To God!!”
The email also contained eight Old Testament quotes on the subject of gratitude to God.
(d) Attempts by missionary organizations to train active-duty military personnel to evangelize their subordinates and peers: “It is … the duty of military leadership to provide an egalitarian environment for all who choose to serve. Organizations such as the Force Ministries and the Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OFC) make this nearly impossible to accomplish. Force Ministries … places their [sic] staff — retired and currently enlisted military personnel — on and near military bases and campuses throughout the world. At these ‘strategic locations’ Force Ministries’ missionaries work actively to train the men and women of our nation’s armed forces to evangelize their military peers and subordinates. … The OFC has a similar mission …”
(e) Military leadership openly discussing their commitment to bring religion into the military: At issue was a video produced by Christian Embassy, an organization whose mission is “to help diplomats, government leaders and military officers find real and lasting purpose through faith and encouragement.” The video, which appeared on Christian Embassy’s website, carries a disclaimer that says “the views expressed by any government officials in this video are their personal views and are not intended to represent the U.S. government nor any department in which they serve.”
Notwithstanding the disclaimer, MRFF states: “[S]erious violations were committed by prominent figures featured on the organization’s ten-minute promotional video. … [S]everal members of military leadership appear in the video, dressed in full uniform openly discussing their personal connection to Jesus and how they make this connection part of the work they do in their professional capacity each day. [They] state that, among other things, with the help of Christian Embassy, they hold bible studies while on duty in the workplace, many times in their offices.”
Characterizing such public displays of faith by high-ranking military personnel as examples of “fanatical unconstitutional religious persecution,” Mikey Weinstein says these incidents create an “internal national security issue every bit as great as the one we’re fighting outwardly. The jihadists, the insurrectionists, everybody from the head of Hamas, Hizbollah, the Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade[s], they see us as invading American imperialists and crusaders.” “It’s egregious beyond the pale,” adds Weinstein. “We apparently have a radicalized, evangelical Christian Pentagon within the rest of the Pentagon. … When we’re facing a global war on terror against what we call Islamic extremists, it certainly doesn’t help when we have apparently a viewpoint from the cognoscenti and glitterati, the leadership of the Pentagon, pushing a particular virulent worldview down the throats of people who are helpless to argue against it.”
The MRFF Board of Directors is headed by Kristen Leslie (an assistant professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Yale Divinity School), and David Antoon (a former U.S. Air Force commander) who vocally opposes the “extreme Evangelical coercive overtones influencing the Academy.”
Some notable members of the MRFF Advisory Board are Richard T. Schlosberg III, the immediate past President and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; Smita Singh, Director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Global Development Program; and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson.