Lt. Col. Kenneth Reyes’ essay entitled, “No Atheists in Foxholes: Chaplains Gave All in World War II,” sparked controversy last month, so it was quickly removed from the website of the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. But after initially being taken down for allegedly offending atheists and non-believers, the chaplain’s essay has been republished on the base’s site.
The short opinion piece was originally taken down after complaints were waged by non-believers and church-state separatists, alike, accusing Reyes of publishing an “anti-secular diatribe,” TheBlaze’s Dave Urbanski reported. The issue was officially voiced by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a church-state separatist group, with the organization claiming that 42 anonymous airmen were discontented with the article’s contents.
As Urbanski notes, Reyes’ essay discussed the origins of the “no atheists in foxholes” maxim and ended with a reflection on why human beings exercise faith on a daily basis. At the center of the contention was the notion that the article was “anti-secular” in nature and that. The MRFF’s Blake Page wrote in a letter sent to base commissioner Col. Brian Duffy, that the article’s “no atheists in foxholes” phrase is a “bigoted, religious supremacist” line that is overtly offensive.
Here’s a portion of Page’s letter:
It has recently been brought to the attention of MRFF that the installation Chaplain of JBER, Lt. Col. Kenneth Reyes, has chosen to publicly denigrate those without religion in an article titled, Chaplain’s Corner: ‘No atheists in foxholes’: Chaplains gave all in World War II. This article was published on JBER’s official website, giving a clear indication of endorsement of his message by the chain of command at your installation. If you have not yet read the article, please do so before continuing.
In the civilian world, such anti-secular diatribe is protected free speech. In the military it is not. In his article, Lt. Col. Reyes violates AFI 1-1, section 2.11 which requires that “Leaders at all levels must…avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates…” Beyond his most obvious failure in upholding regulations through redundant use of the bigoted, religious supremacist phrase, “no atheists in foxholes,” he defiles the dignity of service members by telling them that regardless of their personally held philosophical beliefs they must have faith. In his words, “Everyone expresses some form of faith every day, whether it is religious or secular….The real question is, ‘Is it important to have faith in ‘faith’ itself or is it more important to ask, ‘What is the object of my faith?’”
Initially, the op-ed, published under a section of the website called “Chaplain’s Corner,” was removed just five hours after receiving the complaint. Duffy then e-mailed the organization in an effort to calm the situation.
“While certainly not intended to offend, the article has been removed from our website,” Duffy wrote in an email to MRFF leaders, Fox News reported last month. “We remain mindful of the governing instructions on this matter and will work to avoid recurrence.”
But since the furor over its contents went viral, the opinion piece has now been put back online. According to the Christian Fighter Pilot blog, Duffy and the military had a change of heart and have found a way, in their view, to allow for free religious speech in the public sphere.
“Arctic Warriors, our ‘Chaplain’s Corner’ will return and be accessible from our JBER Official Web Page…. Commentaries presented are designed to enhance the spiritual resilience and wellness of our community of Active Duty, DoD civilians, family members and retirees as part of the Air Force and Army Comprehensive Fitness programs,” the commander wrote.
“We believe this new approach, taken in consultation with our higher headquarters, appropriately balances constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs with the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion,” he added.
There is now a disclaimer that is also published before faith-themed articles, noting that opinions expressed are not endorsed by the federal government. Here’s a screen shot:
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) issued an alert yesterday about the essay’s return to the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s website. In it, Kellie Fiedorek, a lawyer for the conservative group, defended Reyes’ article and the decision to publish it again.
“Chaplains have the freedom and obligation to speak about faith and religious values, and this freedom should not be censored or prohibited,” she said. “The Air Force should be commended for recognizing this and returning Chaplain Reyes’s essay to the ‘Chaplains Corner’ portion of his base’s website.”
On Thursday, TheBlaze spoke with Mikey Weinstein, head of the MRFF, to inquire about how his organization will handle the return of the article.
“This ain’t over. This is just the beginning,” he said, pledging to continue railing against its publication on the base’s website.
Of the “atheists in foxholes” line, he added, “It cuts to the core of a group of people who are being, at present, marginalized and oppressed because they don’t have a belief in a supreme being.”
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This story has been updated.
(H/T: Christian Post)