The Air Force Academy ruled that Bible verses shared on a football assistant coach’s Twitter account did not violate policy or law because they were private statements on a social media profile with the proper disclaimer. The Academy was responding to a request from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to investigate “Christian evangelizing via Twitter, blatantly violating Air Force regulations.”
Tight ends Coach Steve Lobotzke has shared multiple Bible verses on his Twitter account, many of which proclaim the gospel.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3 ESV)
— Steed Lobotzke (@CoachLobotzke) December 9, 2016
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
— Steed Lobotzke (@CoachLobotzke) November 28, 2016
He saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 ESV)
— Steed Lobotzke (@CoachLobotzke) December 7, 2016
MRFF attacked these tweets as evidence of “unchecked Christian extremism” at the Air Force Academy. “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,” the group alleged in a statement to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The Academy dismissed these charges, however. “Upon looking into this matter, we learned that all athletic coaches’ social media accounts are personal and not maintained by the Air Force Academy,” the academy responded in a statement.
“The views and comments within these accounts are personal and not the views of the Air Force Academy or Air Force,” the statement reiterated. “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 description of Lobotzke’s Twitter account leaves little room for confusion. “Follower of Christ, family man, and football coach. Tweets are my own views,” it reads. Anyone mistaking his tweets for official Air Force Academy pronouncements should reconsider his or her position.
“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,” the Academy’s statement concluded.
MRFF responded less than cordially to this news. “This is complete and utter (expletive), there will be a lot more to come on this,” the organization told the Gazette.
Next Page: How this attack on Lobotzke’s freedom of speech violates MRFF’s own mission statement.
Perhaps ironically, MRFF’s own complaints might be in violation of the organization’s mission statement. According to MRFF’s website:
No member of the military may be compelled to curtail — except in the most limited of military circumstances and when it directly impacts military discipline, morale and the successful completion of a specific military goal — the free exercise of their religious practices or beliefs.
By censoring Coach Lobotzke’s Twitter account, the Academy would arguably deny him “the free exercise” of his “religious practices or beliefs,” in a situation that does not “directly impact military discipline, morale and the successful completion of a military goal.”
In standing up for Lobotzke’s freedom to share whatever he pleases on social media, the Academy actually supported MRFF’s mission statement — or at least, this part of it.
The statement also insists that “no member of the military may be compelled to endure unwanted religious proselytization, evangelization or persuasion of any sort in a military setting and/or by a military superior or civilian employee of the military.” The organization would likely point to this clause as the reason to oppose Lobotzke’s freedom of speech on Twitter.
But this attack would run into a different problem. Under what circumstances could sharing a Bible verse on social media constitute compelling anyone to “endure unwanted religious proselytization”? Only those who freely decide to follow Coach Lobotzke — and who happen to be looking at Twitter when he posts a Bible verse — would see his tweets, controversial or not.
Is Twitter to be considered “a military setting”? Please.
Most Americans would likely agree with MRFF when its mission statement declares, “It is the responsibility of the military hierarchy to ensure that the free exercise of religious freedoms of all enlisted personnel are respected and served.” Perhaps MRFF should read its own statement — that might bring this angry organization some measure of peace in the Academy’s support for Lobotzke’s freedom of speech on social media.