Air Force Academy prayer luncheon goes on, but advocate who sued to stop it declares victory
Yesterday, a judge rejected arguments made in a lawsuit opposing an Air Force Academy prayer luncheon. The 11:30 a.m. event is underway at this writing. But while Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a plaintiff in the suit, is disappointed by the ruling, he feels that simply having the matter heard was a win of sorts. In his words, "every time we can drag their sorry asses before a federal judge is a victory."
Weinstein makes no secret of his antipathy for the main speaker at the event, retired Marine Lieutenant Clebe McClary, who he describes as a "fundamental Christian religious predator" who "spews the weaponized gospel of Jesus Christ." But the suit's main objections were related to the event's apparent sponsorship by the command structure of the Academy itself. In essence, the complaint maintains that the anyone who chose not to attend the luncheon, which was allegedly voluntary, ran the risk of censure from the higher-ups backing the get-together.
However, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello didn't buy these assertions, in part because she accepted the Academy's explanation that the function had been put forward by the AFA chaplaincy, not the institution as a whole.
That's nonsense, Weinstein believes, pointing to the event invitation, which makes no mention of the chaplaincy. "They're lying through their teeth about that," he maintains, adding, "We believe the judge misapplied the law -- and we feel we would have had the ruling overturned as a reversible error at the 10th Circuit Court if we'd had time."
Nonetheless, Weinstein is pleased the judge put the Academy through its paces prior to issuing her ruling. "I'm sure the Academy thought it would be over in ten minutes, not two days," he says. And he's effusive in his praise for Air Force Academy professor David Mullin, a plaintiff who came forward publicly to support the suit. He likens Mullin, who happens to be an evangelical Christian, to Jackie Robinson for his willingness to take a stand against discrimination.
Moreover, Weinstein goes on, "the judge made it clear that the Academy has to clean up its act" when it comes to maintaining the separation between church and state. In that sense, he believes the Academy's win in court will ultimately be seen as a "Pyrrhic victory."
To illustrate his point, and to demonstrate that the lawsuit had a positive effect, Weinstein shares an e-mail he received after the verdict from an Air Force member who claims to have been told by his immediate superior to attend the luncheon, only to have him back off on the demand. Read it below:
To: Mikey and the MRFF and MRFF lawyers for Denver Federal lawsuit:
I am one of the over 200 MRFF clients in the USAF Academy National Prayer Luncheon/Clebe McClary lawsuit. I am a practicing Roman Catholic. I am a (rank withheld) in the USAF and a (USAF graduating class year withheld) graduate of the Academy. I am assigned to (USAF Academy unit withheld) in the capacity of (USAF Academy position title withheld). I was one of the many MRFF clients who was just too frightened to be even one of the so-called "John Doe" litigants with MRFF. I'm very very sorry I could not come forward but doing so would have permanently destroyed my USAF career and I have a family. I know that this is not a valid excuse but it is what it is. I have never before written to MRFF as all prior contact has been via private telephone calls. I was a MRFF client in this USAFA Prayer Luncheon event because my immediate USAF supervisor, (name and rank withheld) told me over 3 weeks ago that I and my colleagues in his (USAFA unit designation withheld) were "expected" to attend this National Prayer Luncheon. Tonight something happened that I never thought I would live to see. My immediate USAFA supervisor called me at home to tell me that he wanted to make sure that I had not felt "forced" to go to the National Prayer Luncheon tomorrow because he had "suggested" that I should go. I quickly reminded him that he had not used the term "suggested" but rather the word "expected". He said "whatever". He said that his own boss had just called to say that MRFF had not been able to get the Judge in the Denver Court to stop the USAFA Prayer Luncheon because the Judge had said that USAFA had assured her that this event was not an "official" USAFA event but rather a "chaplains event". He went on to say that his own supervisor had called him to tell him this and that both he and his supervisor had thought that the Prayer Luncheon had been a USAFA-sanctioned event which is why they had wanted me and my USAFA colleagues to support it in the first place. But now that it has been portrayed as a "chaplains event" it was to be viewed more as kind of (his words now), "an indoor chaplains picnic" and it wasn't as important for us to go and he wanted me and all of us to know that and not feel as though we needed to go. I WAS STUNNED! But not as stunned as when he next asked me if I was one of the unnamed plaintiffs in the Denver lawsuit and did I think I knew of anyone who was? I told him that I was not and did not know of anyone who was but I truly felt that those were completely improper questions. I should have told him that but, again, I was afraid. But I was not the only one afraid anymore. My USAFA supervisor seemed really scared that he might get in trouble (his own boss too) and was clearly trying to "make nice" with me about all of this. It felt GOOD to have him be so worried and concerned about how I felt, for once. My spouse told me that I had not smiled like that in a long time. And believe me when I say that I owe MRFF for this moment of pleasure. All of us whom you represent do.
Mikey, I KNOW that this would have been impossible without MRFF, its lawsuit and its lawyers. It would never have happened without MRFF standing up for all of us here at USAFA. From the first moment I called for MRFF's help with my friends several weeks ago, MRFF has totally been there for me and those fellow USAFA friends who, just like me, have felt compelled by their military superiors to attend this "USAFA National Prayer Luncheon". I have told you many times about how Lt. Gen. Gould constantly tells all of us that he wants us to show "fanatical institutional pride" in USAFA. I was one of the MRFF clients that asked you to tell that to the Judge in Denver. Not going to the luncheon was billed to us by our commanders as violating Lt. Gen. Gould's decree. Noone I know of here ever had even the slightest inkling that this was only a "chaplains event" (indoor chaplains picnic?) and not a USAFA-sponsored event, especially my boss and his own boss as well. Where in hell did that come from? I don't know what went on in Court in Denver but there must have been some real whoppers trotted out by our USAFA lawyers and witnesses? But to have my proselytizing Christian boss try to kiss my own sweet ass means MRFF and the MRFF attorneys must have whipped some ass in this court proceeding. Please thank the MRFF lawyers for me and my friends (Lane and Killmer are the only names I saw but I assume there may have been more?) for all they have done with you and MRFF to fight and protect our basic Constitutional rights. And especially please also thank Dr. David Mullin for coming forward and doing what none of the rest of us had the guts to do. When you described him as "Jackie Robinson" to me and my friends you were right. One day I would like to be able to tell him face-to-face how much his "coming out" meant to all the rest of us who cower in the USAFA shadows because of the Christian proselytizers everywhere. Oh, I am not going to the Prayer Luncheon now that (name and rank of USAFA supervisor withheld) told me tonight that I don't really have to now. . I've heard McClary speak several times before and as a Catholic I'm offended to the bone. It's always the same thing; buy into HIS Jesus rap or plan on getting flushed into hell for all time. Thank you USAFA for having this "motivational speaker" make that very clear to us. We all wonder whether he'll try to do that again at this "chaplains USAFA National prayer luncheon" (still very confusing to us all?) after what happened with the Denver lawsuit? Some of the other MRFF clients are going and are going to report back as to what takes place. I will let you know. Thank all of you at MRFF and the lawyers and Dr. Mullin again, Mikey.
(name, rank, USAFA staff position withheld)
More from our News archive: "Pagans, Wiccans and Druids: The Air Force Academy wants you -- to check out its new worship space."