The past year has seen massive backwards steps across the nation, as Washington fills up with those who would see the United States become more divided than ever into “us” and “them”.
With the election and installment of Donald Trump as a blight on our country’s honor, fundamentalist, evangelical Christians are more emboldened than ever. They gleefully implement the groundswell of Dominionist fundamentalism to spread their message of separation– not of church and state, as our Founding Fathers intended, but of white and non-white; straight and non-straight; “Christian” and “non-Christian.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, of which I am Founder and President) has faced dozens of challenges in an increasingly hostile environment over the course of the past year. The violent and divisive Crusader mentality of those in power finds our country’s armed forces servicemembers a convenient auxiliary for the dissemination of hatred and the vile practice of “othering”. Those who do not bend the knee to their twisted version of “faith” are singled out, harassed and harried, and browbeaten into submission.
Nonetheless, we persist.
In January, after four years of deliberate obfuscation and over another year of litigation, MRFF successfully compelled the U.S Air Force Academy (USAFA) to turn over records pertaining to MRFF under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). MRFF’s victory forced USAFA to pay $25,000 in legal fees and ensures USAFA will be more transparent in the future.
In February, MRFF received the full support of the National Organization for Women (NOW), and successfully engineered the removal of religiously based posters by Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley/Eustis.
In March, MRFF celebrated with thousands of LGBT servicemembers over the groundbreaking nomination of Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin as the next USAFA Commandant. MRFF also laughed together at the satirical inclusion of my name and an indirect reference to MRFF’s mission in a comic strip published in the Air Force Times (once you’ve made it to the comics section, you know you’re being heard!)
In May, MRFF closed ranks with other civil rights organizations demanding the review of an anti-Muslim instructor at a U.S. military special operations school, and fought the unconstitutional practice of giving religious preference to the “religious majority” in reference to the Air National Guard’s “Strong Bonds” marriage and family program.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review LCpl Monica Sterling’s case over prominent Fundamentalists’ specious claims of “religious freedom” used as a cloak for Christian proselytizing. This decision was an immense victory for MRFF, since it upheld the same principles outlined in the amicus curiae brief MRFF filed in relation with the case.
In July, an abusive unit commander was forced to cancel his “Christmas in July” event after he tried to force a Jewish subordinate to organize the event, “assigned” an out atheist to perform as Santa, and “highly advised” those serving under him to attend, thanks to intervention by MRFF.
In September, MRFF intervened after a “Bible study” was held in a public area of the Pentagon, forcing other inhabitants of the space to endure unwanted proselytizing. The Pentagon placed firm restrictions on any further attempts at blatant evangelizing. MRFF followed up by bringing a spotlight to bear on the Air Force’s support and tolerance of a certain Chaplain Hernandez, whose religious bigotry, intolerance, and unethical behavior is an utter disgrace to our Armed Forces. Due to MRFF efforts, Hernandez is under official investigation by the DoD/USAF Inspectors General Offices.
In October, MRFF investigated reports of mandatory attendance being demanded at a “Spiritual Bar B Que” held at Ft. Gordon and forced an investigation into the fact that servicemembers were required to attend the sectarian event and sit through a religious music event followed by prayer and proselytizing.
In November, MRFF continued the ongoing battle against sectarian Christian symbolism prominent both in religious scenes on display at recruiting depots and the overt religious branding of “Missing Man” tables with Christian Bibles at the Denver VA.
In December, MRFF revisits a previous victory subject to renewed attacks; in October, a blatantly and falsely “Christianized” display at AFEHRI’s Enlisted Heritage Museum in the Gunter Annex at Maxwell-Gunter AFB near Montgomery, AL was removed after MRFF’s intervention. Emboldened, perhaps, by the repulsion of the current administration to the Constitution, the exhibit has been reopened - but we are committed to continuing this fight.
Every victory this year is thanks to and in honor of the over 53,100 brave, MRFF client servicemembers – so very many Christians themselves! – who come forward to our foundation and shine light on the despicable acts of fundamentalist Christian supremacy and dominance so tragically embraced by this Trump administration. Together we stand against those who use “Christianity” and “religious freedom” as an excuse for horrendous abuses and an impenetrable shield for promoting their own seething, sinister, sectarian agenda.