The Air Force Academy recently entered into a settlement agreement with MRFF regarding FOIA and agreed to pay $25K in attorney's fees. Attorney's fees are not an uncommon expense for defendants in FOIA litigation, even when the parties settle without attributing fault or liability. This money is not paid directly by USAFA, but rather comes out of a general Air Force Litigation fund used in instances when the Air Force is sued.
The Academy respects the settlement agreement and intends to comply with it. We'd like to emphasize that each FOIA case is unique and USAFA makes every effort to process FOIA cases as promptly as possible.
FOIA requests are processed in the order that they are received. When MRFF made their request in 2011, USAFA was dealing with a large backlog of FOIA requests. USAFA was able to provide an initial response to MRFF in 2012, followed by a supplemental response in 2015 and another in 2016. The release to MRFF consisted of over 8,000 pages of documents, all of which had to be reviewed by numerous people page by page, making the review and production a time-consuming undertaking.
Late last week the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) reached an agreement to resolve a longstanding legal dispute over USAFA's handling of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted in 2011. The FOIA request sought records related to Mikey Weinstein, MRFF's Founder and President, the organization, and individual members of the Weinstein family. After four years of processing delays, MRFF filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Mexico to compel the Air Force Academy to finalize the FOIA response. The settlement calls for USAFA to conduct new searches for documents, broaden the time period of the searches, and pay MRFF's attorneys' fees.
Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, attorneys in Albuquerque, New Mexico, represented MRFF in the litigation. In a joint statement released by Mr. Ward and Ms. Fayerberg, they stated: "This is a big victory for MRFF, for active, veteran and retired military members and civilians who support MRFF's cause, and for everyone who believes in the importance of government transparency and accountability. The Academy gave MRFF the run around for over four years, probably hoping it would go away. Not MRFF. We couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of the case. It is a true testament to MRFF's will and of course the determination of its founder, Mikey Weinstein."
MRFF Founder and President, Mikey Weinstein praised the result stating,
"Today is a glorious day of victory for justice and liberty! MRFF effusively thanks its fantastic and tenacious litigators, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, for prevailing for MRFF in this long federal court legal battle against the Air Force Academy's intransigent and ignoble efforts to nefariously thwart public disclosure of thousands of pages of important internal documents. Tragically, the only thing that USAFA is even worse at than following federal disclosure requirements via FOIA is USAFA's universally deplorable record of miserably failing to adhere to the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Today's splendid MRFF legal victory is a landmark win in MRFF's continuing fight to rebuild and buttress the shattered church-state wall at USAFA, in the Air Force at large and throughout all of the Department of Defense."
The Weinsteins are a legacy family at USAFA, with six of the family members alumni of the Air Force Academy and one other a graduate of the Naval Academy. The Weinsteins are also, however, active supporters and participants of MRFF and regularly take the Academy to task over its espousal and promotion of fundamentalist Christian Evangelicalism. MRFF's history with the Academy has resulted in a vitriolic campaign against Mikey Weinstein, his family, and many MRFF supporters as well as the production of thousands of documents, found in the form of emails, memoranda, and directives. MRFF requested that USAFA provide those records as part of its continued effort to hold USAFA and other military agencies accountable for their practices.
However, when MRFF lawfully sought these records under the FOIA in 2011, USAFA ignored the request for nearly one year. After producing only a fraction of the documents generated by the request in 2012, the USAFA spent the next three years delaying and refusing to produce records in accordance with the federal transparency law. After four years of obfuscation, MRFF filed suit on November 5, 2015 to compel the agency to provide the responsive records. The suit alleged specific violations of the FOIA, which requires government entities to make most types of records available to the public upon request, as well as alleging that USAFA engaged in a pattern and practice of deliberately violating the law with regard to MRFF. After over one year of litigation, the USAFA has produced nearly 8,000 additional records to MRFF and has agreed to perform supplemental records searches for those years during which the USAFA unlawfully delayed in responding to MRFF's request. USAFA has also agreed to pay MRFF's lawyers, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, $25,000 in legal fees.
MRFF anticipates that USAFA's supplemental records searches will turn up thousands of additional and important documents. This result is a victory for MRFF, a victory for the Constitution and a victory for government transparency. MRFF will continue to insist that military agencies open their files to the public and will continue to shed light on USAFA's violations of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom from the establishment of a government religion.
We appreciate you bringing this to our attention. Upon looking into this matter, we learned that all athletic coaches' social media accounts are personal and not maintained by the Air Force Academy Athletic Department. The views and comments within these accounts are personal and not the views of the Air Force Academy or Air Force. However, we appreciate that the accounts could appear official and have advised that an appropriate disclaimer be included to avoid confusion in this regard.As we understand it, this means the coaches are free to use Academy images on their "personal" Twitter accounts that they use to proselytize, but they have to insert a disclaimer that it's not an official Academy account.
The Academy remains committed to protecting individuals' right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law, or impede mission accomplishment, military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline.
Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with the DoD/IG Investigator assigned to MRFF’s IG Complaint about a AFA football coach’s use of a Twitter account linked to the AFA’s Athletic Department for proselytizing his religion. I confirmed that I was their counsel on this matter and that MRFF did not desire that this be handled anonymously, as it is a matter of public interest especially since it is and has been an on-going issue at the AFA.Moreover, it appears the academy has removed all twitter accounts of coaches from its athletics website.
Twelve-plus years ago, Air Force Academy Head Football Coach Fischer DeBerry proudly and boldly displayed a large banner across the main locker room of the football team which stated 'We Are All Members of Team Jesus Christ. We Are First and Last Christians.’ At least THAT unconstitutional horror of fundamentalist Christian tyranny occurred before the advent of social media. He intentionally and unlawfully marked that place for Jesus, just as a dog marks a tree, despoiling with reckless abandon the Constitution along the way.We've asked the academy to comment on the coach's tweets and will circle back when we hear from the school.
Today, the Air Force Academy senior leadership clearly shows that unchecked Christian extremism is worse than ever at the Academy, especially on its football team, with the shocking discovery of what the football team's Tight Ends Coach, Steed Lobotzke, a 1992 USAFA grad, has been doing with his official USAFA football twitter account. Lobotzke’s official twitter feed is filled with illicit proselytizing in the name of Jesus Christ and even includes such biblical citations juxtaposed with pictures of official football team meetings. Unconstitutional filth, thy name be Steed Lobotzke.
MRFF is representing 5 members of the Academy’s Athletic Department and 3 members of its 'Fighting Falcon' football team as complainants who have come forward on this latest disgrace to the Constitution of unlawful, fundamentalist Christian supremacy. MRFF legal counsel plan to file an official Inspector General Complaint with the DoD/IG on Monday as MRFF’s experience with the Academy’s own IG and the Air Force IG at the Pentagon on the Air Staff has proved both organizations to be less than worthless in protecting the precious freedoms guaranteed by the separation of Church and State in our nation's Constitution.
We have not received any complaints regarding the publication you reference. The clinic staff did not place the publication in the waiting area nor are they aware of how it may have been placed there. Often, patients will leave magazines in waiting areas after they have finished reading them. Additionally, the publication you sent us is not a USAFA publication.
Most distressing about this situation is that previously on two appointments I had ignored Christian proselytizing materials found there leaving them in situ, but this was just too much.Of course, MRFF's founder and chief executive Mikey Weinstein wasted no time in putting the word out.
Here we have the “Discovery News”, that someone has placed in the waiting area, on top of the other magazines, with the obvious intent
that someone could be attracted to its colorful front page and then see a creationist set of ridiculous myths that through a series of contortionist pseudo-science set of disproven facts proves the bible is to be believed verbatim, that is through a series of cartoon panels that Jesus died for your sins.
I have never been so offended in my life and decided at that moment to pick this piece of silliness up and throw it away with the same fervor that it had been placed there. Who did put it there? Was it a member of the staff? Do the doctors of the 10th Medical Group all believe Earth is clearly less than 100,000 years old? I wanted to take this cartoonish piece of propaganda into the Doctors’ office where my wife was being treated and ask the Doctor, “DO YOUR REALLY BELIEVE THIS?” And
then follow up with, “OK, then why do you allow it to be in your waiting room?”
Does Gen [Michelle] Johnson [academy superintendent] refute 100s of years of careful science and contort herself into allow the teaching of creationism in the USAF clinic because of fundamentalist evangelical Christian beliefs?
The purpose of the visit was medical care, not a defense of the theory of evolution against creationism. I also worry we’d get treated differently if they knew we didn’t share their same beliefs about the
world being created in six days and people and dinosaurs walked around together and (fill in the blank). That's why I'm coming to the MRFF.
The putridly anti-science, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing material which continually adorns the patient waiting areas of USAF Academy’s Medical Clinic only further establishes how breathtakingly far the Academy has intentionally deviated from generations of Constituionally-mandated church/state separation mandates.It's worth noting that MRFF recently persuaded an Army hospital in the Washington, D.C., area to remove proselytizing materials from waiting rooms.
Let’s just be very clear here. Allowing this Christo-centric religious supremacy to fester and bloom, indeed encouraging and nourishing such sectarian evil, is a felony violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice....
MRFF has had a stern, clarion call “Parental Advisory” out for a number of years about the Air Force Academy warning all concerned of this perpetual, unconstitutional, Christian triumphalism disgrace. These latest two outrageous instances of the proselytizing — an Air Force Academy cadet in his uniform on You Tube and now the USAF Academy Medical Clinic permitting the very visible and public distribution of anti-evolution, anti-Big bang, “Young Earth”, fundamentalist Christian mythology — only serve to boundlessly buttress MRFF’s warnings to every caring and thinking person to carefully avoid this place of bitter religious oppression.
The Air Force Academy's goal is to foster a climate of respect. The Air Force has policies in place concerning what is and is not appropriate in regards to religious expression. These policies aim to balance the individual's right of religious expression with avoiding the appearance of inappropriate endorsement.—————ORIGINAL POST 5:17 P.M. WED., NOV. 30, 2016———————————-
When allegations are made about potential violations of these policies, they are thoroughly reviewed.
Regarding the complaint concerning a cadet making an on-line video statement about his High School experience, his personal faith, and preparation for college; we have determined that the cadet's behavior is consistent with AFI 1-1, paragraph 2.11 and 2.12, Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation.
Here we go again, U.S. Air Force Academy. 46 USAF Academy cadets, staff and faculty join MRFF as its clients in being outraged at this cadet’s blatant sectarian Christian proselytizing video which directly violates Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12, the No Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, bedrock U.S. Supreme Court caselaw as well as additional DoD and USAF regulations, directives and instructions.Air Force instruction states, in part:
I spoke for over 7 minutes to Major Jamie Johnson, the Air Officer Commanding of this cadet, in Cadet Squadron 29 and registered MRFF’s and its 46 USAFA clients’ collective and unbridled disappointment and shame at seeing this illicit, unconstitutional and unauthorized Christian proselytizing/"testimony" video which was recorded in the offending cadet’s official Academy uniform.
MRFF demands that this cadet and his responsible chain of command be appropriately and swiftly disciplined pursuant to the cited Air Force Instruction and other applicable military regulations to ensure that no other similar breaches of Constitutional law ever occur again at the USAF Academy.
The Air Force Academy continues to earnestly search for what it’s institutional “brand” should be. Based on the nearly 13 years that I and MRFF have been battling unlawful, fundamentalist Christian supremacy and oppression at USAFA, it would seem, most tragically, that The Cross is USAFA's most deserved “brand’.
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.Read the full instruction here:
As pledged, we have reviewed the situation there. We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred, and Maj Lewis's behavior and the workplace environment at the RNSSI are well within the provisions of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12, "Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation" and "Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause."Fruck, when asked, says he doesn't know if the Bible has been placed at the work station again, but "the review allows him to have a Bible on his desk."
The 310th “Space" Wing is NOT called the 310th “Space For My Personal Proselytizing Christian Bible Shrine” Wing for a damn good reason. Major Steve Lewis has created an around-the-clock Christian Bible Shrine on his official USAF workstation desk that has been in prominent static display for YEARS. The pages in his open bible on his USAF desk never change, ever. Thus, it is obviously there as a religious display to promote to others his Christian faith. This sectarian display is a disastrous travesty which completely serves all too well as an absolute textbook violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 as well as the No Establishment Clause and No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution. MRFF is very pleased that, pursuant to MRFF’s specific demand, this bible has expeditiously been removed from Major Lewis’ desk pending the the ongoing Commander Directed Investigation which MRFF also demanded. In my nearly 12 minute call with the 310th Wing Commander, Colonel Feltman, yesterday, he promised me that he would be open and fair in all of his dealings on this matter with MRFF and its 33 clients at Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB. We will hold him to his word. So far, MRFF has been impressed with his honesty and responsiveness.If you want to read his letter to Col. Feltman, here ya go:
A recent citizen complaint about certain advertising on bus benches has caused City Transit staff to undertake careful review of both the advertising and Transit’s current advertising policy in relation to the requirements of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Establishment Clause prohibits the endorsement of a specific religion or its tenets. Transit is working with the Office of the City Attorney concerning the matter and Transit’s advertising policy going forward.————————ORIGINAL POST 1:47 P.M. FRIDAY, JUNE 24, 2016—————————
Dobson goes on to say that Obama and feminists are trying to uproot God's plan, saying the Bible, "leaves no doubt that the Creator made not one sex but two, each beautifully crafted to 'fit with' and meet the needs of the other." Ahem.
If you are a married man with any gumption, surely you will defend your wife’s privacy and security in restroom facilities. Would you remain passive after knowing that a strange-looking man, dressed like a woman, has been peering over toilet cubicles to watch your wife in a private moment? What should be done to the pervert who was using mirrors to watch women and girls in their stalls? If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!
The United States Air Force Academy places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion or to observe no religion at all. Recently the United States Air Force Academy received a complaint about its football players kneeling in prayer. An inquiry was initiated, which found the football player's actions to be consistent with Air Force Instruction 1-1 and its guidance on the free exercise of religion and religious accommodation. The United States Air Force Academy will continue to reaffirm to cadets that all Airmen are free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. The players may confidently practice their own beliefs without pressure to participate in the practices of others.So that means Falcon football players most likely will kneel in the end zone tomorrow when Air Force plays University of California Berkeley in Fort Worth in the Armed Forces Bowl, starting at noon mountain time on ESPN.
Let us not forget that it was hardly a respected, deconflicted and disinterested third party entity or outside agency that inquired into MRFF’s charges against the Academy of unlawful, orchestrated, Christian-sectarian team praying by its football players. Indeed, having the Air Force Academy's very own Athletic Dept. essentially “investigate itself” in this sordid unconstitutional matter of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism and supremacy is about as "impartial and effective" as having Pol Pot “investigate" himself for his killing field crimes against humanity or having Bernie Madoff direct the “investigation” of his investment business for allegations of pyramid or Ponzi scheme illegalities.
I think it is helpful to see USAFA end zone praying as yet another "territorial conquest" of the Christian Right. This stands in a long line of conservative Christian usurpation of government space via supposed voluntary demonstrations of Christian piety. See praying "at the flagpole" in public schools, student prayers at graduations, public address prayers prior to high school sporting events. All of these demonstrations have in common the use of students or other non- government, and non-official individuals which engage in supposed voluntary and/or spontaneous religious piety at government sponsored events or in government regulated space. These demonstrations assert the cultural appropriateness of attaching a Christian power discourse to governmental action. They promote, by repetitive association within official government settings, the idea that culturally the United States is a Christian Nation and that the power of the US government ought be (and is) deployed in support of Christian perspectives.
Of course, in the case of the USAFA football players, conservative Christians have moved on from using unofficial actors and instead have embraced the use of official government actors (cadet football players). In this way the former locker room banner assertion that "We are team Jesus..." is now paraded onto the field, performed before the pluralistic crowd and displayed on television.