Monday, January 30, 2017

UPDATE: AFA agrees to pay $25,000 to settle FOIA lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 10:08 AM

We just received this statement from Lt. Col. Timothy Herritage at the academy:
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. 

——————ORIGINAL POST 10:08 A.M. MONDAY, JAN. 30, 2017———————-

In what might be a first, the Air Force Academy has settled a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and agreed to pay the plaintiff's lawyers $25,000 in legal fees.
Air Force Academy chapel - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Air Force Academy chapel

The plaintiff is the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, founded by academy grad Mikey Weinstein.

Weinstein says in a release the settlement is a "splendid MRFF legal victory" and "a landmark win."

The case dates to Weinstein's 2011 FOIA request for records pertaining to himself, MRFF and his family. After four years of "processing delays," MRFF says, it filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure.

Under the settlement, which is explained further below, the academy agreed to conduct new searches and broaden the time period for the searches.

It also will pay $25,000 for MRFF's attorney fees.

We've asked the academy for a comment and will update when we hear something.

Meantime, here's the news release from MRFF:
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.

Mikey Weinstein: Wins settlement in FOIA case. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mikey Weinstein: Wins settlement in FOIA case.
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. 

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Friday, December 9, 2016

AFA coaches must provide "appropriate disclaimer" on Twitter accounts

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 5:19 PM

  • From the AFA website

A week after we first asked the Air Force Academy about a football coach's proselytizing on his Twitter account, we finally got an answer.

Read the background on this issue here.

The Academy says via email:
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.

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. 
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.

It's worth noting that after we raised the question a week ago, triggered by a complaint to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Academy removed links to coaches' Twitter accounts from the AFA athletic division website. So if you see a Falcon coach tweeting with images from the Academy and Bible verses, know that it's not officially coming from the Academy.

We asked for clarification on this point — whether coaches can still use AFA images and represent themselves as with the Academy in evangelizing messages — but were told that everyone had gone home today and that a response will come on Monday.

We checked in with MRFF's founder and chief executive Mikey Weinstein, who said in an email, "My response is that this is complete and utter bullshit and there will be a lot more to come on this."

MRFF filed a complaint with the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office, which apparently has already opened an investigation. It's unclear whether the Academy's solution as stated above ends the investigation.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

UPDATE: AFA coach's tweets spur demand for investigation

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 1:48 PM

The academy's chapel and iconic symbol. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The academy's chapel and iconic symbol.
A New York lawfirm representing Military Religious Freedom Foundation says it's already been contacted by a Defense Department Inspector General's Office investigator. From an email to MRFF shared with the Independent:
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.

————————-ORIGINAL POST 1:48 P.M. THURS., DEC. 8, 2016—————-

Citing the an Air Force Academy's football coach's use of Twitter to evangelize, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation submitted a request for an investigation to the Inspector General's Office on Wednesday.

Read the request here:
The coach, Steed Lobotzke, the letter says, "is using his official status as a government employee of the AFA to publicly proselytize his particular brand of fundamental Christianity.... he engages in this misconduct via what to any reasonable observer is his official AFA Twitter account."

A couple of examples of Lobotzke's tweets:
The MRFF says it represents five members of the academy's athletic department and three members of the football team who object to the tweets.

Here's the evidence also sent to the IG's office:

The Independent reported on this last week.

Lobotzke has since added a line on his Twitter account saying, "Tweets are my own views."

"That may be," the MRFF letter says, "but he is still AFA football "CoachLobotzke," and posting on behalf of the AFA's football team using their Twitter account."

We asked the academy last week for a comment and haven't received one. We were told earlier this week the academy is still putting together a response. If and when we receive it, we'll update.

Meantime, MRFF reports its attorney has been contacted by a DODIG investigator, indicating the case is being fast-tracked.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

AFA football coach uses tweets to evangelize

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 11:18 AM


Back in 2004, then-Falcons coach Fisher DeBerry was officially reprimanded for hanging a banner in the football team's locker room that said, "I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

The action came amid allegations from Mikey Weinstein that the Air Force Academy favored Christianity and triggered the academy's vow to instruct cadets in religious sensitivity while balancing their right to freedom of expression with the prohibition of government establishment of religion contained in the U.S. Constitution.

Now, 12 years later, Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation is strenuously objecting to the Falcon's tight end coach Steed Lobotzke's tweets that involve promoting Christianity.

The tweets were sent on the Twitter account that identifies him as being with the academy's football program.

Most tweets are academy football related and include team and academy photos. But he also uses the account to evangelize, citing Bible verses.
As an official with MRFF notes in an email to the Independent, "There is no disclaimer on his Twitter page saying that these are his own views and not the views of the Air Force Academy. In checking most of the other USAFA Football coaches twitter accounts, we did not find any evidence of them using their official accounts to promote their personal religion."

Find some examples here, here, here and here.

Weinstein says via email:
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.

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've asked the academy to comment on the coach's tweets and will circle back when we hear from the school.

The issue arises in the wake of two other issues at the academy involving Christianity. We wrote about these here and here.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

UPATE: Did dinosaurs and humans co-exist? Flier at USAFA says yes.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 12:19 PM


UPDATE: This just in from the Air Force Academy:
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.

———————-ORIGINAL POST 12:19 P.M., THURS., DEC. 1, 2016———————-

When did Dinosaurs roam the planet?

According to Discovery News, which is described by the newspaper itself as "A publication of Significant Archeological Discoveries and Biblical Truths," dinosaurs and humans co-mingled on planet Earth.

This defies all scientific research, which has long concluded that dinosaurs went extinct some 65 millions year ago and that homo sapiens didn't emerge until about 200,000 years ago.

But Discovery News champions the co-existent theory to under cut evolution, citing on its website that a revelation that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time would support the claim "that all species, including man, were created at one time."

What you read in your living room is your business, but when this kind of drivel is distributed at the Air Force Academy, it gets people's attention.

One retired Air Force officer encountered the publication during a visit to the academy's ophthalmology clinic and reported it to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, saying:
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.

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.
Of course, MRFF's founder and chief executive Mikey Weinstein wasted no time in putting the word out.

We've asked the academy to address allowing this type of literature on its campus and will circle back when we hear something.

Weinstein's take, via email:
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.

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.
It's worth noting that MRFF recently persuaded an Army hospital in the Washington, D.C., area to remove proselytizing materials from waiting rooms.

The flier at the academy clinic said that Discovery Ministries International is located in Divide and is looking for help distributing its news to hospital waiting rooms, doctors' offices, VA clinics, nursing homes, restaurants, motels, truck stops, schools, etc.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UPDATE: AFA cadet wears uniform for Christian testimonial

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 5:17 PM

Cadet Watkins: Called by God.
  • Cadet Watkins: Called by God.
The YouTube recording was taken down sometime after 9:45 a.m. today.

But it wasn't because the academy demanded that. Rather, the academy ruled the video allowed under the service's rule which permits free exercise of religion. From the academy:
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.

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.
—————ORIGINAL POST 5:17 P.M. WED., NOV. 30, 2016———————————-

Whatever kind of religious sensitivity training is going on at the Air Force Academy, it's not having the desired effect, says Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

He offers as the latest evidence a YouTube video of a third-class cadet, a sophomore, giving a testimonial for the Western Christian Schools of Upland, Calif., where he graduated a couple years ago.

The cadet, Jake Watkins, appears in academy uniform saying, "I believe that God has called me to be a leader ... and to work for the Lord and not for men."

Says Weinstein via email:
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.

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’.
Air Force instruction states, in part:
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:

Weinstein says he's spoken with a person at the academy who has vowed to "get this going in the proper channels."

We've also reached out to the academy for a comment on Watkins' testimonial and will update when we hear back.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The latest on Peterson AFB's Bible dilemma

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 1:59 PM

The Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base some weeks ago. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base some weeks ago.
Remember the brouhaha over the open Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base?

Well, here's an update.

After command decided that Major Steve Lewis could rightfully display his Bible for other service members to see in the work place, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The FOIA was aimed at records of the investigation conducted into whether the open Bible violated or complied with an Air Force instruction that prohibits proselytizing but allows expressions of faith.

MRFF's founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein reports today that the Air Force responded to the FOIA by saying no records exist.

Now, this is rather perplexing. While it's possible the request went to the wrong unit, because there's no option in the Air Force's FOIA process to select for the unit in which the Bible episode took place, seems pretty far fetched for the service to fall back on such a weak argument.

In any event, Weinstein is furious.

"There is simply NO excuse for the USAF to say that there are 'no records' or that they have no idea of any other agencies where the records might be," he tells the Indy via email. "We also asked for records on the 'climate survey' done earlier this year where the open Bible was specifically brought up and nothing was done."

The result was the same: The Air Force says there aren't any records of that.

Meantime, MRFF reports that as of late this morning, Maj. Lewis has not restored his Bible to the place at his work station that caused the investigation in the first place, even though, as Weinstein notes, "the Air Force says it is 'well within standards' for the Bible to be there."

We've reached out to the public information officer for Air Force Reserve Command, the unit to which the FOIA was submitted, but haven't heard back. We'll update if and when we hear something.

Weinstein says MRFF is considering a federal lawsuit over the matter.
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pentagon IG's Office takes up Bible complaint

Posted By on Sun, Aug 28, 2016 at 3:33 PM

  • Courtesy MRFF
The Department of Defense Inspector General's Office apparently will investigate how Peterson Air Force Base handled a complaint about an open Bible on a major's desk in a common area, which we reported about here and here.

After Col. Damon Feltman ruled it was OK to display the Bible as Major Steve Lewis had done, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation sent a letter to the IG's Office seeking further investigation. Mikey Weinstein alleges it's improper for the commander who allowed the Bible to be placed on the major's desk, Col. Lisa Johnson, be the one to further examine the issue in response to a complaint.

Here's the letter Weinstein wrote to the IG:

Weinstein says the IG's Office has requested additional materials be supplied by MRFF to aid in the investigation.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bible approved for AFB desk

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 2:24 PM

The Bible as it appeared on Maj. Lewis's desk. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Bible as it appeared on Maj. Lewis's desk.
The investigation of a Bible placed at a work station of Air Force Maj. Steve Lewis at Peterson Air Force Base has concluded that the "good book" can stay just where he had it.

The Bible had been removed during the investigation, started on Aug. 15, and it's not known at this time if it's been returned.

At issue are complaints from service members received by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about the location of the Bible, which sits on a desk in an area where many people work in the Reserve National Security Space Institute.

You can read our coverage of the issue here.

Today, we heard from Lt. Col. David Fruck, chief of public affairs for the 310th Space Wing, who wrote in an email:
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."

MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein called the investigation "a sham and a travesty," because Col. Lisa Johnson, the commander who approved the Bible's placement in the first place, apparently was the one in charge of the investigation. That hasn't been confirmed by the Air Force, however.
"This is a quintessential example of a disgusting conflict of interest," Weinstein says. He adds he plans to demand the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office conduct a separate investigation. "We can't find a single instance where the Air Force enforces Air Force Instruction 1-1."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bible removed from desk at Peterson AFB

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 10:14 AM

This open Bible at a Peterson Air Force Base work station has been removed pending an investigation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • This open Bible at a Peterson Air Force Base work station has been removed pending an investigation.
In the latest issue of the Independent, we report that a controversy over religion in the military has surfaced at Peterson Air Force Base where a major has displayed an open Bible at his work station. His desk is located in an an open office environment where four desks are located and where dozens of members congregate during unit training assemblies.

We received a statement from Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that ran too long to include in our print newspaper, so we're sharing it here.

Col. Damon Feltman has authorized an investigation of the issue.

Weinstein's comment:
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:

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

6 bonus quotes from Mormon punk band Tartar Control

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 1:20 PM


The two human members of hardcore Mormon band Tartar Control have a lot to say.

So much so, in fact, that there wasn’t room for all of our favorite quotes in this week’s Tartar Control interview.

You can go there to find the group's lead singer Robert Selander and guitarist-vocalist Sean Hart holding forth on everything from the missionary potential of Pokemon: Go to the construction of their own robotic bandmate.

Meanwhile, as a bonus for hardcore music fans and Mormon iconoclasts, here are six additional quotes that didn’t quite make the cut:

Sean on Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat: “We were devastated. I thought for sure that he was a shoe-in. And honestly, this election season, I will be writing him in for president. And Robert will be doing the same.”

Robert on his and Sean’s high school band The Smiths: “We didn’t know that was already taken.”

Robert on Sean’s description of Tartar Control's debut CD cover: “What Sean said about Robot coming with us to Heaven, that’s not true. He can’t come.”

Robert on Leftover Crack: “For the first two years of listening to Leftover Crack, we couldn’t decipher what they said. And that’s really the fun of listening to punk rock, is decoding it.”

Sean on the vulgar elements in Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon: “They’ve done so much to bring popular attention to the church, but it’s a double-edged sword, I know. And we hope to be on the other edge of that sword, and hope to be equally as sharp.”

Robert on the importance of skepticism: “You can’t take everything we do literally. That’s silly. Who would do that?”

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Friday, June 24, 2016

UPDATE; City threatened with free speech lawsuit for Jesus ban

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 1:47 PM

UPDATE: Mountain Metro Transit just issued this statement on the advertising matter:
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—————————

A local pastor says his church's advertisements on transit benches using the word Jesus won't be allowed anymore, because by allowing the reference to Jesus, the city would also have to allow hate messages, he's been told.

"They had one complaint," says Lawson Perdue with Charis Christian Center, "and because of one complaint, they said they're not going to allow me to use the name of Jesus in my advertising any more. If they allow me to do that, they said, they would have to allow hate messaging. They told me I could advertise my church but not the name of Jesus."

Perdue says he's spoken with someone at the mayor's office who stood firm behind the decision by Metropolitan Mountain Transit in banning the Jesus signs. He's also talked with four City Council members, he says, all of whom were "horrified" by the exclusion.

Mayor John Suthers' spokesperson Jamie Fabos says the mayor's office referred Perdue to the transit office and never passed judgment on the question. Perdue didn't say he spoke with the mayor himself.

The bench messages have said "Celebrate JESUS," "Experience JESUS," and "JESUS is Lord."
  • Courtesy Charis Christian Center
  • Barbara and Lawson Perdue.
The messages appear on 30 benches around the city, Perdue says. His advertising contract expires at the end of June, and he learned of the city's decision to bar the word Jesus when he contacted the city to renew the contract.
Perdue has contacted a "national" lawfirm with a 90-percent win record at the Supreme Court, and the firm has agreed to take his case.

He'll probably win, says Mikey Weinstein, who leads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which works toward removing the influence of religion in the military ranks. While Weinstein often finds himself fighting against fundamentalist Christians who he says want to impose their religion through the military chain of command, in this case, he stands with the Charis group.

An attorney himself, Weinstein says the Jesus messages are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

"I don't like that at all," Weinstein said when told of the city's ban against the name Jesus. "I think that's wrong. To me, this is a violation of their First Amendment rights. We would caution the city of Colorado Springs to prepare for a lawsuit. I don't think this is one they're going to win."

The danger, he says, is if you silence one faction of public expression, "where do you draw the line?"

Perdue says he doesn't agree with some messages he sees on signs, "but I'm not complaining."

"It's just crazy," he adds about the city's decision. "That's why our nation was founded."

The Indy contacted the city and Mountain Metro Transit requesting comments, we will update this posting if and when we hear back.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dobson calls for 'manhood' to deal with transgender bathroom users

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 3:43 PM

James Dobson - FILE
  • FILE
  • James Dobson
 James Dobson, the evangelical former leader of Focus on the Family, has drawn the attention of Right Wing Watch, after calling for men to defend their wives and children against transgender people using the restroom, in a piece for WND titled "Protect Your Kids From Tyrant Obama."

Dobson was, of course, angry that President Barack Obama's administration instructed public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choosing.

"Did it upset you when the president of the United States ordered every public school in America to open all its bathroom facilities including those that are in use by a member of the opposite sex?" Dobson questioned. "The president’s order made me furious, and then sick to my stomach."

He goes on to issue a call to action to husbands and fathers, which sounds a lot like a call to arms:

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!
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.

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Prayer allowed at USAFA games

Posted By on Mon, Dec 28, 2015 at 12:20 PM

The image of Falcon football players kneeling in prayer is apparently here to stay. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The image of Falcon football players kneeling in prayer is apparently here to stay.
The U.S. Air Force Academy has ruled football players' prayers in the end zone at games is allowed under its rule dictating religious practice and observance.

Much to the chagrin of Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who protested what he called the Tebow kneel, named for Tim Tebow, a former Denver Broncos player.

Here's the academy's ruling:
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.

Weinstein called the academy's review of the issue "a pathetic sham and transparent farce of the highest order."

He continues via email:
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.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Weinstein explains why he defends Muslims

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 at 4:57 PM

Falcon football players pray before games. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Falcon football players pray before games.
Mikey Weinstein is a very unpopular person, especially among the hard-core fundamentalist Christians who believe in their heart of hearts that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

The Air Force Academy alum who started the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about a decade ago takes abuse on a regular basis via email, phone calls, swastikas painted on his house and so on.

For a better understanding of his mission, take a moment to read this piece that appeared on this link with the headline, "This Republican Jew is fighting to defend American Muslims — here’s why."

We recently broke the story about the Air Force Academy football team kneeling in the end zone prior to games, praying even as they wore uniforms emblazoned with "Air Force." See our blog here. 

A spoof created by MRFF to drive home the point of whether it's appropriate to pray in public while representing the armed forces. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • A spoof created by MRFF to drive home the point of whether it's appropriate to pray in public while representing the armed forces.
Here's a message sent to Weinstein recently by former Academy chaplain Melinda Morton:
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.

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