Friendly Fire: When Christian General Prays, All Hell Breaks Loose

A two-star Air Force general drew heavy fire for mentioning Christ at a National Day of Prayer event on May 7, when the shrewdly named Military Religious Freedom Foundation called for “Major General Craig S. Olson [to] be immediately, aggressively and very visibly brought to justice for his unforgivable crimes and transgressions via trial by General Courts Martial.”

MRFF’s May 13 letter to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh (which copied the secretary of defense, secretary of the Air Force, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) also demanded that Olson and “all others who assisted him with his NDP [Task Force] speech of fundamentalist Christian supremacy be likewise investigated and punished to the full extent of military law.”

On May 21 an Air Force decision rebuffed MRFF’s specific allegations, but not the flawed logic of its ad hominem attack. Little wonder, then, that the group once again let slip the dogs of war, claiming that the Air Force’s separation of church and state is now “nothing more than smoke and debris,” and that “there are no boundaries. They’ve obliterated the boundaries. There’s nothing left of the regulation.”

Perhaps MRFF would feel differently if shown that subjecting its claims to the same level of scrutiny it applies to Olson’s remarks reveals the group to be shooting blanks.

Shooting Blanks

MRFF president Michael Weinstein called for Olson’s head on grounds that his speech (i) violated Air Force code concerning religious endorsement, thereby (ii) breaching the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, and (iii) provided the Islamic State with recruitment propaganda:

Oh, Mark, by the way, please take another good look at the controlling, new USAF regulation which is DIRECTLY on point here; Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12:

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. (emphasis added [by Weinstein])

Allegedly, Olson violated this AF Instruction by saying, “I’m thankful that I’m a redeemed believer in Christ,” and by stating his belief that God has many times enabled him to accomplish his specific missions and to execute the Air Force mission, despite having never received training for certain tasks and earning poor marks at the Air Force Academy. Olson revealed a copy of his AFA transcript to the audience, calling it “exhibit A” that his success has resulted not from his academic prowess, but from taking opportunities God has put in his path.

Yet while video posted by MRFF leaves no doubt that Olson is a Christian, it disproves assertions that General Olson proselytized converts or prospective converts. He was not “disapproving of … any faith, belief, or absence of belief.” He did not suggest that anyone in the audience should convert to his beliefs, or even that Christians should continue in their beliefs. While Olson personally endorses Christianity, at no point in the footage is he “officially endorsing” the religion ex cathedra on behalf of his organization (C3I and Networks), Hanscom AFB, or the Air Force itself. The distinction matters, as even Weinstein bolded for emphasis the word “officially” in his letter to Welsh.