Well, it seems that when it comes to who will be awarded defense contracts, the Air Force has a message for potential bidders -- God has already decided who will "prosper" and be given "hope and a future."
Over the past few days, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been contacted by forty-three individuals complaining about an email sent out by an employee of the Small Business Procurement staff for the AFRL/RD-RV at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Six of the forty-three are business people whose companies are registered to receive notifications of government contracts available in their industry. The other thirty-seven include both Air Force personnel and civilian employees at the base. Thirty-seven of the forty-three identified themselves as either Protestant or Catholic. All are demanding at the very least an apology for this email, which was sent out on October 3 (emphasis added):
From: "(Name withheld) GS-12 USAF AFMC AFRL/RD"
Subject: SMART Pre-Solicitation Notice is Posted!
Date: October 3, 2014 at 3:15:09 PM MDT
A PRE-SOLICITATION NOTICE HAS BEEN POSTED IN YOUR NAICS CODE.
Your email address has been obtained from the SBA Dynamic Small Business Search website using the NAICS Code 541690.
Please do not respond to my email address.
Please read the notice on FEDBIZOPS and follow the directions. The POC for this requirement is posted on the announcement.
You may view this announcement using this link:
Also, a printout is attached.
Please do not respond to my email address.
(Name of USAF AFMC AFRL/RD employee withheld)
Small Business Specialist
3550 Aberdeen Ave SE
Kirtland AFB, NM 87117
Commercial: (505) XXX-XXXX
WARNING: This is an official Department of Defense communication. Some emails may be encrypted and require CAC certification to view. Emails, or their attachments, containing personally identifiable information are "For Official Use Only" (FOUO) - Privacy Sensitive - Any misuse or unauthorized disclosure can result in both civil and criminal penalties.
As you can see, sandwiched in between the helpful social media links and the official Department of Defense warning statement in this official USAF email is a Bible verse citation -- Jeremiah 29:11.
And what does Jeremiah 29:11 say?
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
As one of the stunned recipients of this email wrote to MRFF:
"I find it incredibly offensive to be on the receiving end of Christian Evangelism from my government. I hesitate to add that since this message was send to all federally-registered contractors using NAICS Code 541690, it potentially went to tens-of-thousands of contractors.
"The citation is by no means benign to a non-Christian. When I looked it up, I was appalled! The citation itself was obviously selected by the sender to suggest that Christian God has determined already if my proposals to the US Air Force will be accepted. 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' This non-Christian gets the message clearly, I have no future as a subcontractor to the Air Force."
This same recipient also contacted the Air Force entity that sent out the email, writing:
Please see the "Jeremiah 29:11" in the attached email. Right above the notice that this is official DoD communication. I thought the government wasn't supposed to do that.
(MRFF client's name withheld)
This astonishing response that he received (which MRFF was also copied on) was not exactly the "apology" he was expecting:
On Oct 6, 2014, at 5:04 AM, Air Force Small Biz
wrote (emphasis added):
Hi (MRFF client's name withheld),
The 'Evangelistic Material' you are referring to is simply the Small Business Specialist's email signature from her individual account, which is where the notification of the solicitation originated. The Air Force accommodates its members, to include military and government employees, the right to free exercise of religion and other personal beliefs as well as freedom of expression. We apologize if you found this to be offensive.
No, Air Force Small Biz "answer desk," Air Force employees do not have the right to express their personal religious beliefs in official Air Force emails. They do not have the right to add a Bible verse citation, or any other personal message or quote, to an official Air Force email. Doing so is a blatant violation of the mandatory regulation found in Air Force Manual 33-152, "User Responsibilities and Guidance for Information Systems," which clearly states:
220.127.116.11. Restrict the signature block to name, rank, service affiliation, duty title, organization name, phone numbers (DSN and/or commercial as appropriate), and social media contact information.
18.104.22.168. Do not add slogans, quotes, or other personalization to an official signature block.
What part of the above sections of this mandatory regulaton is unclear?
Upon seeing the Air Force's unbelievable response to the complaint, with its utter disregard of the mandatory regulations on official Air Force emails and defending of its employee's violation of these guidelines as their "right to free exercise of religion," MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein had a few words to say:
"Don't make the mistake of thinking that this is MERELY Air Force 'incompetence.' Quite on the contrary, the Air Force knows EXACTLY what it is doing here. Indeed, what we have today at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, New Mexico is but another horrific example, of among thousands, of a despicable and blatant display of fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism, defiance, supremacy, triumphalism, oppression and tyranny in the United States Air Force. The specific inclusion of that sectarian biblical passage in an official USAF/DoD pre-solicitation contracting communication is an irrefutably clear violation by the U.S. Air Force of the 'No Establishment Clause' of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as the 'No Religious Test' prohibition of Clause 3, Article VI of same. Further, this utterly unchecked breach of American law savages the Air Force's VERY OWN regulations; to wit, Air Force Instruction 1-1, and Air Force Manual 33-152, which totally and absolutely prohibit such pathetic and self-serving proselytizing in ANY official USAF e-mail communications. MRFF demands that the Air Force immediately sends an apology and correcting e-mail to all of those who received the proselytizing one last Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. MRFF further immediately demands that the USAF aggressively investigate and punish any and all USAF or DoD personnel who are either directly or indirectly responsible for this wretched display of fundamentalist Christian evangelizing."