Military Religious Freedom Foundation president Mikey Weinstein is demanding that the Air Force punish an overseas commander for telling an official interviewer last month that Christ “is my guide and affects all of my decisions.”
Lt. Colonel Michael Kersten, 39th Medical Support Squadron Commander of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, was responding to a question about his biggest inspiration for the “Meet your leadership” section on the installation’s website. Kersten explained that, in his estimation, Jesus “teaches to do all things as unto the Lord and I believe this is synonymous with integrity first and excellence in all we do.”
Now facing possible disciplinary action for officially endorsing religion, should Kersten have just lied instead and cited somebody secular for inclusivity sake? The truth doesn’t always set you free, it seems.
“Lt. Col. Kersten was making it clear, ‘I’m a Christian, and everything that I do is affected by my love of Jesus.’ We get all that, and we made it very clear in the letter that that’s great privately,” Weinstein told the Washington Times. “But this is an official Air Force website, on the internet, he’s being introduced to everyone who’s going to be working for him.”
Weinstein, a veteran of the Air Force and Reagan White House, speculated that “riots” would have ensued if Kersten had praised Allah instead of Jesus.
On behalf of more than 100 base personnel and Turkish soldiers Weinstein said in his Thursday letter to Col. John C. Walker, commander of the Adana, Turkey, base, that by “unequivocally stating to the world that ALL of his decisions are based upon his Christian faith, he has broadcast to his otherwise helpless subordinates, and the multitudes of other military and civilian members which the Air Force Squadron he now commands directly and indirectly serves, that he will, in a professional setting, place decision-making primacy on his personal version of his Christian religious faith over his official military duty.”
Weinstein contends that the statement violated the Air Force regulation that leaders “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.”
He said the regulation “was written precisely for situations like this—to preserve a command environment in which all airmen, regardless of their religious faith or lack thereof, are treated fairly and perceive that their leaders are judging them based upon mission accomplishment and not extraneous, private issues. Just as we have absolute restrictions on the political activity of active duty members—and I’m sure that you’d agree that a similar statement by Lt. Col. Kersten extolling the leadership characteristics of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and expressing support for ONLY one of the presidential candidates in this forum would be improper and illegal.”
Walker has not yet responded to the letter.