MSgt. Jeffery Thompson contacted me via email this past week and added a few details that were not mentioned in the Stars and Stripes article. He had contacted the Military Equal Opportunity office not once, but several times to file a complaint. He was ignored. The MEO staff seemed confused why a Christian would file a complaint about the matter. They seemed completely unable to understand that even if someone is not offended personally by the story in the email, they could understand why others might be. In addition to ignoring complaints, the MEO office leaked MSgt Thompson's complaint to the Col. Toney. This is a direct violation of AF regulations and a violation of the trust between the MEO office and the service member who comes to the MEO office with a complaint.
Here MSgt Thompson's original letter to Col.Toney in its entirety, posted here with MSgt Thompson's permission:
2 Feb 2009Thank you MSgt Thompson for speaking out. It looks like it is business as usual for the MEO, who have previously ignored cases of rape, sexual harassment, and the rising number of suicides. The latest stylish trend for the MEO is ignoring senior officers who abuse their position of authority by shoving their religion in everyone's faces.
MSgt Jeffrey L. Thompson
Colonel Kimberly K. Toney
APO AE 09470
Our MEO NCOIC, MSgt XXXXXX, suggested that I write you a letter regarding the inspirational email that you sent out to the wing. I initially approached MSgt XXXXXX to get his opinion on the email because I had a concern that your email about Mr. Vujicic seemed to be wing leadership promoting, advancing or endorsing Christian faith. MSgt XXXXXX invited me to his office to discuss the issue. I had expected anonymity IAW AFI 36-2706 (3.18.1 / 22.214.171.124 / 126.96.36.199) to protect my identity until I decided how to proceed, but MSgt XXXXXX informed me that that he has told you my identity regarding this issue. I appreciate that his intentions were good, but approaching the wing commander on what I perceived as a foul has made me very nervous. No one wants to be on the wrong side on their wing commander.
Here is why I perceived the email as proselytizing: Your email to the wing asked us to look to Mr. Vujicic as an opportunity to think about our lives and how we handle our personal and professional challenges. Mr. Vujicic, in the article written just above the video, is described as someone whom the Lord has given an unquenchable passion to share his testimony and hope in Jesus with the world as he introduces Jesus to others and tells of His great desire to know them personally by allowing Him to become their Lord and Savior. By this language, this was Mr. Vujicic's intent and basis of his inspirational message.
MSgt XXXXXX told me that any endorsement of faith by your email was unintentional. My own impression of your email was an organizational endorsement of Christian faith because the email, article and video compelled us to witness an exercise in religious-specific faith that I felt was in conflict with DoD neutrality on religion. Although I am of Roman Catholic faith, I have always felt passionately about keeping religious events out of our mandatory military functions because faith is such an intensely personal, private and emotive issue. A basic tenant of some fundamentalist Christian faiths is their mission to convert others to their faith. When practiced openly or aggressively, this creates an exclusionist atmosphere for those of other faiths and those who reject religion entirely. Perhaps I am especially sensitive to this issue because I have been persistently pursued by fundamentalist Christians throughout my 23-yr career to convert; from supervisors, to subordinates, to the once agenda-covert Military Marriage Seminar, and more recently strong anti-Muslim sentiment and characterization of our current operations in Southwest Asia as a mission from God by the then deputy undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Lt General Boykin. For me, some of the pieces of the puzzle fell into place when the Air Force academy scandal was uncovered in the media. Our top Air Force leaders were being "character-shaped" into a fundamentalist Christian mindset with the help of organizations the Campus Crusade for Christ and The Military Ministry who has run Military Marriage Seminars in order to proselytize.
MSgt XXXXXX disagrees with my perception that your email was proselytizing. He made the point, if I understood him correctly, that because the wing chaplain programs belong to you, that you are able to publicize religious programs. He made the point that the Air Force has legitimate concern in its members' spirituality (not necessarily in a religious sense, but which can include faith). He made the point that after his own thorough review of DoD guidance, AFIs, and chaplain program guidance, he cannot see a direct MEO violation by the email. He made the point that you were unaware that the video and website had a religious association; again if I understand him correctly it was a simple oversight. Despite those clarifications and the context put forth by MSgt XXXXXX, I still cannot set aside my own impression that, even if unintentional, the email promoted and endorsed Christian faith, which creates an environment of exclusion of others that do not share that faith.
I am a deeply reflective person and I thoroughly considered MSgt XXXXXX's reasoning against my own perception of this event. In an attempt to grasp some additional perspective on this issue, I reviewed the MEO AFI and researched other resources such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation website [www.militaryreligiousfreedom.
org] and contacted Mr. Mikey Weintstein, the foundation's president and founder. He is an AF Academy Honor Graduate, served as Judge Advocate General for 10 years, served as the Whitehouse legal counsel to President Reagan for 3 years, and was General Counsel to Mr. H. Ross Perot. He is an attorney and has extensive expertise in MEO religious issues. I requested his perspective and discussed the issue in depth. The act of sending out an email with religious affiliation may not necessarily constitute an MEO institutional barrier. But there are indeed AFI's other DoD regulations that control such distribution, especially from chaplains. In contrast, such messages coming from the commander, as in this situation, almost certainly raises serious issues of Constitutionality. In any event, important legal issue aside, it certainly creates the likely potential to negatively impact the human relations climate of the wing by sending a message of exclusion to those who do not share that faith. Also, by AFI, commanders' support of religious beliefs and practices must be in a manner that is consistent and fair to all. The Official Air Force Core Values Handbook (The Little Blue Book) specifically addresses Religious Toleration under part 2, Service Before Self: "Religious toleration. Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates."
There is an additional issue. The 4Marks.com website that you linked to in your email explicitly promotes an atmosphere that is hostile to our commander-in-chief, which is potentially detrimental to the good order and discipline of our unit. This website prominently host political extremist media directly linking religion to citizen's voting obligations for and against specific political candidates, such as arguing on religious grounds that "voting for Obama would be wrong," that Catholics were "morally obligated" to vote for McCain-Palin, and that Catholics could not have voted for Obama "without endangering their immortal soul." That Obama "is not fit to our commander-in-chief." That our former President Clinton and our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are "career criminals." That one of the videos pushes that to vote for Obama "would be to assist in his evil," and, "cooperating with evil," and that President Obama is "soft on terrorist." [http://www.4marks.com/videos/
Especially offensive content include: That President Obama is "a veritable forerunner of the Antichrist." That suicide-cult leader Jim Jones "would be proud of these Democrat pied pipers leading their sheep to slaughter." That Obama wants to "kill babies." That our commander-in-chief is "anti-American," influenced by Satanism and inspired by domestic terrorists. That "a good Christian in his right state of mind could [not] vote for such a monster like Obama." That President Obama's mind is "twisted," that his voting record is "sick" and that Vice President Biden is an "American Judas." That in an article titled "America's Dead," President Obama's "election to the presidency, free speech and freedom to practice and freely worship our God may be denied." That, "Given the election of Obama, I fear that the days of the Third Reich are being revisited." That one article is preceded with a photo of President Obama depicted as Hitler, wearing a Nazi uniform and holding a Nazi flag [http://www.4marks.com/
articles/details.html?article_]. These are not forum discussions, but are posted articles and videos that make up the message of the 4Marks.com website, just as the video and article of Mr. Vujicic do. One video I saw on the 4Marks website was sponsored by "www.NoHussein.org " who sell anti-Obama merchandise such as a bumper sticker that reads "Obama=666." The 4Marks.com website that your email linked to, seems to part of a network that is contemptuous and disparaging toward our president. These issues are perhaps more relevant to Dissident and Protest Activities, but the organization actively uses religion to discriminate between candidates aggressively uses religion to persuade those who view the website to vote for or against a specific candidate or political party. I believe that MSgt XXXXXX has referred the organization's website to AFOSI to determine if it falls under Dissident and Protest Activity. Additionally, because of 4Marks.com's open and extreme contempt toward President Obama and our other elected officials, and with all respect to you, I am especially troubled that wing leadership linking to, or promoting, the website may violate UCMJ article 88-Contempt Toward Officials. id=2451
I do not know what resolution is needed to put right this situation. As a commander you wield a tremendous amount of power over the four Air Base Groups and the 8 installations in the U.K. and Norway that make up our wing. What you say, write, or send out sets our direction and instructs us how to get there. I feel passionately that our job as military members is to defend, among other Constitutional concepts and rights, religious freedom which is understood and consistently defined by our courts as the secularity of government balanced by each individual's freedom of religious faith. We also defend the very core of democracy; individuals voting their conscience, free from coercion and well-informed by our Constitutionally protected press. With all of this said, I will respectfully meet with at your convenience to discuss this issue if you desire for me to so. However, because of my very strong feelings on this subject and the seriousness by which I believe this issue needs to be addressed, I am proceeding with a formal complaint.
JEFFREY L. THOMPSON, MSgt, USAF