— Michael Leon
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and its allies waged a new line of attacks towards Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, the Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), demanding the self-proclaimed “Lord’s Army” soldier, Clebe McClary, not be allowed to proselytize Academy personnel at the USAFA prayer breakfast scheduled for February 10, 2011.
The demand comes as Marine Vietnam War veteran, writer and activist, Gordon Duff (Veterans Today Senior editor), derided the growing Christian dominionist movement in the U.S. military as an “extralegal chain of command” that is “sectarian and detrimental to good order and discipline.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s executive director, Mikey Weinstein, is widely known as the “constitutional conscience” of the U.S. military and has waged a years-long battle with the exclusionist religious right in the military and military academies. See Evangelicals Are a Growing Force in the Military Chaplain Corps by Goodstein in the New York Times.
After the jump, please read:
- the Academy’s Director of Communication David K. Cannon, , defending the Christian supremacist chain of command working within our military-extending to our military academies.
- the latest letter written by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, in response to Mr. Cannon’s letter, and
- a concluding letter by Chris Rodda, Senior Research Director at MRFF.
Letter from Rick Baker, Regional Coordinator of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:
Dear Mr. Cannon,
We have been forwarded a response from you IN RE: USAFA National Prayer Luncheon 10 Feb 11, which you sent to our colleagues who wrote letters in support of our demand – ACLU of Colorado, Veterans for Common Sense, Americans United, Veterans Today, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, California Council of Churches IMPACT, Colorado Coalition of Reason, United Atheist Front, and The American Muslim – but did not have the courtesy to send to us.
The communication to you concerning this luncheon by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the primary complainant in the long series of religious improprieties undertaken at the AFA, received no such response. Sadly, it would appear that you have no desire to keep our thousands of members, many of them former armed forces members and a number of highly decorated combat veterans, in the loop.
Your reticence to fully discuss this matter with us personally indicates that you have closed your minds to sensible discourse and information which might save you and our much loved AFA more controversy. In addition it seems an effort by you to sideline the one outfit that can do the most good for the AFA given the opportunity. Stone-walling never seems to work out.
Just a cursory examination of Lt. Clebe’s recent appearances will quickly dispose you of his military heroics and sacrifices and introduce you to an intense, unreasoned and psychotic demonstration of unilateral and distorted Christian doctrine that we have come to know as Christian Dominionism. In short this luncheon will not meet the drill established for its foundation. It can only be a revival meeting with the purpose of proselytizing and achieving Christian supremacy.
Frankly, we are astounded, as are our colleagues, that such an obviously religiously disturbed figure, such as Lt. Clebe McClary’s stringent and misguided beliefs can even be considered as non-sectarian is ludicrous.
Many of our clients at the Academy, whose names, ranks, positions, etc. cannot be disclosed pending further action, are frightened not to attend this luncheon for although it is stated that attendance is not mandatory, we have been told that many of our clients were informed: “better see you there if you want to be seen anywhere in this man’s Air Force.” You get the picture, I’m sure. No worse morale inhibitor could possibly be thought of nor any more Machiavellian coercive and command influenced religious impropriety exercised.
As defenders of religious freedom in the military it is our sworn duty to pursue any and all incidences and perpetrators of religious impropriety in all branches of the armed forces to the extent of our mission and powers. Every abrogation of the Constitutional Oath, every illegal order to participate in unwelcome religious activity, every denigration of minority religions, Atheists and Agnostics and every reduction in the efficiency and spirit of our armed forces members must and will be met with appropriate resolve.
We are currently investigating some 20,000 plus complaints of the sort we received from the AFA but service wide. The efforts of Evangelical Protestant organizations which have penetrated the military and disrupted good order and discipline is at its zenith. We fear, and rightly so, that there will soon be little recourse from local military commanders through the chain of command to the Pentagon and beyond to curb the current spate of aggressive and dogged disseminations of Dominionist policy. One has only to review the checkered career of a recent assistant secretary of Defense for intelligence, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, at a Congressional prayer breakfast in full uniform told the gathering that the Iraq War was a “clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan.” This was totally inane and he was soon marginalized. But this gives a chilling glimpse into how even the most carefully documented and presented material could be met with by higher military echelons.
We suggest that while our growing list of AFA clientele is readied for presentation to whatever legal agency is deemed the most appropriate may I suggest that you consider ameliorating these calls for help by communicating with us and considering another avenue to pursue to satisfy these bitter concerns and the foreseeable damage inherent in the Prayer Luncheon format?
May I also say that the appearances of Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and Christian “readers” is simply a minor diversion to the main proselytizing event.
There is a formidable strength in numbers, rank, position and power. But there is also strength in truth, honor and fairness. And that old saw that “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time” does have a ring to it.
We are not only concerned but greatly alarmed at the resistance to constructive criticism concerning the Prayer Luncheon and the force majeure behind it. You have a fiduciary responsibility to the tax payer to answer the questions that were posed to you. We intend to see that they get an answer.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Email from David Cannon, Director of Communication at the United States Air Force Academy:
From: [email protected]
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your concerns regarding the 10th Air Base Wing’s invite to retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Clebe McClary to be the guest speaker for the 2011 National Prayer Luncheon on Feb. 10. I’d like to take a moment to give you the ‘ground truth’ on some of the issues surrounding this event to ensure you have the entire picture.
Each February, the President, Members of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other invited guests, customarily attend the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. This gathering is a national tradition that dates back to the Eisenhower Administration. Its observance on military installations and in communities across the nation is an extension of this event. The event’s purpose has consistently been: “to bring together the leadership of the United States in recognition of the spiritual values upon which our Nation is founded.”
USAFA’s Prayer Luncheon is a completely voluntary event; invites were only sent to permanent party members and staff (not cadets). There is absolutely no pressure for anyone to attend.
This year’s program is very inclusive of many different beliefs. There will be readings by an Islamic Airman, a Jewish Airman, an African-American Christian Airman, a Jewish chaplain (rabbi), a Buddhist sensei and a Catholic chaplain (priest). By design, this expresses some of the rich religious diversity that makes up America’s Air Force and your United States Air Force Academy.
We asked Lt McClary to speak because he is a highly-decorated Vietnam combat veteran (Silver Star and Bronze Star) and nationally recognized motivational speaker. He presents a tremendously inspirational message as he describes the loss of an eye and arm in combat, and how he overcame tough odds to succeed in his endeavors. His message is one of facing challenges and overcoming adversity and he has the credibility to support that message.
USAFA’s luncheon is not funded by taxpayer dollars. Expenses are covered , in part, by the Chapel Tithes and Offerings Fund (to include Lt McClary’s lodging, travel expenses, or honorarium). Those wishing to attend pay $7 for their meals.
And again, I appreciate your concerns and thoughts. I hope this helps you better understand the history of the National Prayer Luncheon and its importance to your US Air Force Academy, dozens of other military installations, and countless citizens across our nation.
David K. Cannon
Director of Communication
U. S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado
Response by Military Religious Freedom Foundation Senior Research Director Chris Rodda:
I’d like to take a moment to give you the “ground truth” on the issues surrounding this event to ensure that you have the entire picture. Our “ground truth” comes from service members who have actually heard Lt. McClary speak at previous events, both at USAFA and at other military installations.
But first, Mr. Cannon, I’d like to address the distractions and straw men in your email.
You really need not explain the history of the National Prayer Breakfast to a group of religious freedom advocates. You see, Mr. Cannon, we are all quite familiar with the history of this “tradition,” as the Prayer Breakfast movement was started by “The Family,” the secretive Christian organization exposed by New York Times bestselling author Jeff Sharlet in his book The Family. In fact, over the past few years, I have frequently assisted Mr. Sharlet with research on this group, both during its slew of scandals and for his new book C Street, which has a fascinating section on the military that I think you might find quite enlightening.
Given The Family’s connection to the Prayer Breakfast movement, I found it extremely ironic that you actually quote a Family website in your altogether unnecessary and irrelevant history of Prayer Breakfasts. You were probably not even aware that this is what you were quoting, so allow me to fill you in. The head of Leadership Development Seminars, the organization whose website you quote, is Doug Burleigh, a key member of the Family and the brother-in-law of Family leader Doug Coe. Does this make the history on this website wrong? No. On the contrary, the history from Leadership Development Seminars is absolutely correct. It is you, Mr. Cannon, who cherry-picked a quote from this website to suit your purposes.
You quote the Prayer Breakfast movement’s purpose “to bring together the leadership of the United States in recognition of the spiritual values upon which our Nation is founded,” but conveniently ignore all the other quotes on the same page that make it clear that this is a Christian movement, such as: “The idea of these prayer breakfast groups, which were non-denominational, was to bring together civic and business leaders informally to share a meal, study the Bible, develop relationships of trust & support, and to promote the principles of Jesus.” And, what does it say right at the top of this webpage that you quoted from? “A place where state and community leaders can come together with emerging leaders around the person of Jesus.” Did you miss this clearly stated mission, Mr. Cannon? Or did you just think that no one who received your email would check to see what you were quoting?
Then there’s your straw man that the Academy’s Prayer Luncheon is for permanent party and staff members, and not for cadets. We know this, Mr. Cannon. The complaints received by MRFF over your selection of Lt. McClary to speak at this event have been from permanent party and staff members. Nowhere have we claimed otherwise. But, let me ask you a question here. Do you think this makes a difference? Do permanent party and staff members at the Academy have any less rights regarding religious coercion than cadets?
And, that brings me to my next point. Coersion. You claim in your email that “There is absolutely no pressure for anyone to attend.” Really? I urge you to take a few minutes to read what one of the permanent party officers who was “invited” to this event wrote on behalf of himself and about a dozen of his fellow officers.
“I saw in the news that the Academy is trying to downplay this whole mess which the MRFF brought to the public by saying that it’s ‘voluntary’ to go to it and that this USMC Lt. is a just ‘motivational speaker’ and that ‘nobody will be taking names.’ LIES! My USAFA boss and even his boss left it very clear that if we didn’t go to this ‘patriotic Christian’ event we’d be ‘letting him down.’ Seriously, ‘patriotic Christian’ event? That says it all. Believe me please MRFF when I say that the names of the absent will very certainly be remembered. Am I going? In a word, hell yes. I have kids and need my job. I have been afraid to say anything to them for a very long time now. I’ve gotten good at hiding my hatred of it all. I’m used to it now. The feeling I have of being down for not standing up to the ‘energetic Christians’ here is not as bad now as the feeling I would have of having my Air Force career derailed by a bad performance eval. You do not need to tell me what that makes me. I know what that makes me and I’m not proud of it. Thank you MRFF for fighting for those of us who have lost the will to fight. And in doing so lost a lot of our own dignity.”
Yes, Mr. Cannon, officers like the one who wrote the above will “voluntarily” attend the Prayer Luncheon, and will feel sick about doing so. Quite a morale booster, huh?
Moving on to your next straw man, that this luncheon is not funded by taxpayer dollars, nobody has even raised this issue, and, frankly, it makes no difference who’s paying for this event. This is about the impropriety of bringing a speaker to the Academy who likes to think that a “complete” Marine is one who thinks that U.S.M.C stands for “U.S. Marine for Christ,” and is well known to make statements at military events telling his audience that to be a “real” Christian, one must be a “born again” Christian. Lt. McClary’s views exclude not only members of non-Christian religions, but also the many Christians who do not subscribe to this fundamentalist and highly sectarian view of Christianity. While Lt. McClary’s “inspirational” message might inspire those of his own religious ilk, it is a slap in the face to all members of the military who see their mission as defending our country and the Constitution, and not as being part of “the Lord’s Army,” as Lt. McClary says he is. No amount of lip service to other religions by so graciously allowing them a few minutes at the beginning of the event to read prayers from their religious traditions can counter the clear message of fundamentalist Christian supremacy imparted by the Academy in making Lt. McClary the keynote speaker.
Sure, you can say that the event is inclusive because you’ve got your token Muslim, Jew, and Buddhist to read a few words, but do you really think that anyone sees this as equal recognition of all religions when these non-Christian readings are followed by a speaker whose military prayer breakfast and luncheon speeches include statements like: “There are two kinds of fools in this world. A fool for Christ and a fool for others. What kind of fool are you?” Do you not think that McClary’s message will be taken by your Muslim, Jew, and Buddhist readers as being called “fools.”
Now, back to that “ground truth.” Many of the service members who have contacted MRFF in opposition to allowing Lt. McClary to speak at the Academy’s Prayer Luncheon, and others who have written comments on articles about the issue, are current and former service members who have previously heard this man speak at other military events, and know from first hand experience what his message is. It is a message of fundamentalist Christian supremacy. Mr. Cannon, no matter how many times you or anyone else at the Academy attempt to convince people that Lt. McClary is simply a “motivational” or “inspirational” speaker, it will not equal the number of first-hand accounts to the contrary, such as these:
“When I saw him speak, it was to a group of young officers (fresh 2Lt’s), and he was billed as a ‘motivational speaker.’ It soon became very clear that he was high on the Jesus juice.” (comment from an Air Force Academy graduate)
“I’ve heard him speak before and I know what he says and what he does to his audience. It made me sick then and will again when he speaks on Feb. 10 at the Falcon Club here at USAFA.” (email from current officer at USAFA who identifies himself as a Protestant)
In closing, I’d just like to add that your attempt to dissuade MRFF’s allies by sending your email to all of the organizations that wrote letters in support of MRFF’s demand to rescind McClary’s invitation and choose a more inclusive speaker, but neglecting to copy MRFF on that email, has been duly noted. As you can see by the cc’s on this email, my response has been sent to all of these same organizations. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from them soon.
Senior Research Director
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, The Advocate, In These Times and CounterPunch, and locally in Madison in the Isthmus, the Capital Times and Corporate Report Wisconsin. Leon works as a staff writer, editor and veterans’ advocate at Veterans Today, and as a writer/editor and PR consultant based out of Madison.
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