Air Force won't punish general for speech about God
By Jeff Schogol, Staff writer 5:45 p.m. EDT May 21, 2015
The Air Force has determined that Maj. Gen. Craig Olson did not violate an Air Force instruction preventing leaders from endorsing religion. (Photo: Screenshot.)
The Air Force has rebuffed a civil liberties group that demanded a two-star general be court-martialed for making a speech
in uniform crediting God for his career successes.
Maj. Gen. Craig Olson gave a 23-minute speech at a May 7 National Day of Prayer Task Force event in which he said God enabled him to fly aircraft, manage programs worth billions of dollars and sell weapons systems to the Iraqis.
He also asked the audience to pray for Defense Department leaders, who "need to humbly depend on Christ," and to pray for troops preparing to deploy again so they can "bear through that by depending on Christ."
Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote a May 13 letter to Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh demanding that Olson be court-martialed for violating an Air Force instruction prohibiting Air Force leaders from endorsing a particular belief. The letter included a link to Olson's speech, which was live-streamed by GOD TV.
"General Welsh, as the old saying goes, 'a picture is worth a thousand words," Weinstein wrote in the letter. "Thus, please take a good, hard look at this link below and tell me that you're just not sick to damn death seeing an active duty Air Force General Officer boastfully proselytizing and freely witnessing his personal brand of his own fundamentalist flavor of his evangelical Christian faith to literally a worldwide television audience and, concomitantly, streaming over the World Wide Web on "GOD TV."
Weinstein cited Air Force Instruction 1-1
, which covers Air Force Standards.
"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," the instruction says. "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."
But the Air Force has decided that Olson did not break Air Force Instruction 1-1 by speaking at the "congressionally-supported event," said service spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Hughes.
"His remarks were his own personal opinions and do not represent the views of the United States Air Force," Hughes said in an email Thursday to Air Force Times.
A spokesman for the National Day of Prayer Task Force told Air Force Times on May 15 that Olson spoke at an event hosted by U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.
That doesn't matter, said Chris Rodda, senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Olson's remarks still violate Air Force Instruction 1-1.
"Olson was very clearly endorsing – in uniform – and extending preferential treatment to Christianity and the specific brand of Christianity promoted by the event," Rodda told Air Force Times on Thursday. "It makes no difference who it was sponsored by. Either way, that Air Force Instruction 1-1 applies."
Weinstein said the Air Force's decision that Olson was expressing his personal views at the event shows that the separation of church and state in the Air Force is now "nothing but smoke and debris," especially considering that Olson spoke on international television.