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Group Seeks Removal of Religious Posters at Air Force Base

(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation)
(Photo Credit: Courtesy of Military Religious Freedom Foundation)

An advocacy group has filed a complaint with the Air Force Inspector General's Office seeking the removal of religious-themed posters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said his organization opposes displaying the posters at Air Combat Command facilities on the installation because they're "sexist, offensive" and use male-dominated and faith-based speech.

The foundation represents 16 officers, non-commissioned officers and civilian clients -- including nine women -- in its effort to remove the posters, he said.

One poster, located in Building 602, depicts lights beaming upward where the Twin Towers once stood before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and reads: "Men cannot live without faith except for brief moments of anarchy or despair. Faith leads to convictions -- and convictions lead to action. It is only a man of deep convictions, a man of deep faith, who will make the sacrifices needed to save his manhood." The line is quoted from AF Manual 50-21, dated August 1955.

The command, after reviewing one complaint over the posters, said officials have "decided to leave the display unaltered," spokesman Maj. AJ Schrag said in a statement to Military.com.

"The posters do not officially endorse, disapprove of, or extend preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief, which is the standard established by regulation that would warrant action," Schrag said in an email Tuesday.

"The posters are historical, two in a series of seven quoting various sections of a 1955 Air Force Manual. Although we do not have a record of when the posters were first displayed, they have been there at least six years," he said.

"The literal meaning of the two quotes identified in the complaint -- the importance of personal faith in a broad sense and the importance of an individual's rights and freedoms -- are appropriate and consistent with established traditions of using historical documents to promote reflection and inspiration," Schrag said.

The incident snowballed last week after a female airman -- not identified by MRFF for fear of reprisal -- responded to an Air Force Times' article spotlighting the issue over two posters.

"As a proud American woman and equally proud officer in the USAF, those posters from an AF Manual from the mid-1950s serve only as a hurtful reminder of the second class citizenship women had to suffer for generations prior to eventually being guaranteed equal status under the Constitution we all swear our oaths to support and defend," the female airman wrote Feb. 8.

"It took decades of sacrifice and advocacy by strong women (and men who cared) to provide us a level playing field today. But not at ACC, it seems," she wrote.

The command is headed by Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle.

Weinstein cited Air Force Instruction 1-1, section 2.11 in "Air Force Culture," which states that airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, "must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force."

"Clearly, this is … having an adverse impact on unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline," he said, noting that more questionable posters have been identified. "It is wrong in every possible way."

Weinstein, who on Tuesday filed a third-party complaint with Brig. Gen Richard Coe, the inspector general of Air Combat Command, is demanding the complaint be turned over to the Air Force's IG office, headed by Lt. Gen. Anthony J. Rock, to avoid any conflict of interest of Coe's office investigating its own command.

Weinstein said Carlisle "cannot have his own inspector general people look into this, because they report to him."

In a letter last week to Carlisle, Weinstein said, "The message of male superiority is not only offensive, but violates Air Force Regulation 1-1, Sections 1.7.4.4-1.8," which outlines the Air Force zero-tolerance policy toward unlawful discrimination of any kind and the push for equal opportunity for all genders.

Should the Air Force IG not act accordingly, Weinstein said he and his clients are considering taking the matter to federal district court in Virginia.

This "is clearly despicable and dishonest," Weinstein said. "Why they've chosen to go back over 60 years, and celebrate something [from during] the Red Scare" is preposterous, he said. "And to try to argue that they meet the standard … it's what we would call an ACC 'alternative fact,' " he said. "It's a lie."

The National Organization for Women has joined the MRFF in its mission to have the posters removed.

NOW President Terry O'Neill petitioned Carlisle with her own letter, stating, "What message does that send to young women who currently serve, or want to serve, in the military? What do you say to the women in your command who make the same sacrifices to protect their country as do men? Is the purpose of the U.S. armed forces really to assist 'only' men to make sacrifices necessary to save their 'manhood?'"

O'Neill added, "This offensive propaganda must NOT be allowed to continue on display at ACC Headquarters."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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