Church/state violation alleged at Wright-Patt

Col. Sean P. Larkin, NASIC commander. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

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Col. Sean P. Larkin, NASIC commander. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Complaint says religious messages used on glove collection boxes at NASIC.

A National Air and Space Intelligence Center employee has filed a complaint alleging a violation of Air Force rules on the separation of church and state because of “evangelical” religious references on charity collection boxes for gloves that were inside two NASIC buildings, a copy of the document shows.

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A civilian employee filed the complaint Tuesday with the NASIC Inspector General’s office, according to Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which said it is representing 27 Wright-Patterson employees on this issue. According to MRFF, the boxes quoted the New Testament book of Luke verses 24:13-35, and made written references to Jesus Christ.

“If this does not bring about the desired result, this will now open the door to federal court action,” Weinstein said in an interview.

Weinstein said most of the Wright-Patterson employees who support the complaint were of minority or no religious faith, but included Protestants and Catholics.

Marie Vanover, a Wright-Patterson spokeswoman, released a statement that said NASIC allowed “a limited collection of donated gloves for needy persons in the community,” as it has in the past, but was unaware at the time of any religious references on the boxes.

Wright-Patterson did not release the name of the faith-based organization collecting the gloves, nor did the complaint filed with NASIC indicate which organization distributed the boxes.

NASIC, the statement said, “treats all requests for collecting donations for the community fairly, equally, and in accordance with relevant laws, regulations and policies. NASIC does not discriminate on any collection request based on the requester’s religious, spiritual, or secular beliefs.”

In a letter addressed to both Col. Bradley W. McDonald, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing; and Col. Sean P. Larkin, NASIC commander, Weinstein objected to “the allowance of Christian proselytizing, supremacy and dominance.”

The MRFF demanded “that all of those individuals who may have been either directly or indirectly responsible for this stinking travesty be thoroughly investigated and identified and appropriately punished for their flagrant violations of Constitutional law as well as (Department of Defense) and (Air Force) directive, instructions and regulations,” Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer and Air Force Academy graduate, wrote in the letter.

NASIC spokeswoman Michelle Martz said Tuesday the agency has put in place a “clarified process” with standard signage on any box. The signage will be limited to the organization collecting donations and the donations requested and their purpose. It will also state where and when the donations will be collected, the type of container used and offer a point of contact. It will include a disclaimer that NASIC, the Air Force, the Department of Defense and the United States do not endorse the organization or the collection activities, she said in an email.

Weinstein said the disclaimer was “grossly unsatisfactory.”

“Leadership is not supposed to be proselytizing the book of Luke, the Koran, the Torah or anything else,” he said. “That is something that is not allowed in this country because of our separation of church and state” and Supreme Court rulings.

Mat Staver, an attorney and founder of the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, disagreed that the boxes represent a violation of church and state.

“I don’t think it violates any military law or certainly no constitutional provision because this is a private, non-profit organization that is unrelated to the Air Force base and private entities have the right to free expression, including religious expression,” he said.

Organizations have a right to their own insignia, logo and inscriptions on their material and “it’s not establishing a religion,” he said, adding that Weinstein’s feelings about the display are not legally relevant.

“He might be offended by this, but the measure of a constitutional violation is not whether someone is offended, it’s whether or not there’s an establishment of religion and especially when it’s done by a private, outside entity there’s a lot more freedom to be able to express religious messages,” he said.

Liberty Counsel is part of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition.

The collection boxes, first noticed Jan. 12, were at the main entrances to two NASIC buildings and remained in place through at least Jan. 13, according to the complaint.

Top NASIC leaders and a Wright-Patterson chaplain were notified of the objections, the complaint said.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation tangled with Wright-Patterson in April 2016, objecting to a Bible on a table that was part of a Prisoner of War memorial display at Wright-Patterson Medical Center. The Bible was removed after the complaint was filed.


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