21 May 2012
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK
Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley spoke with Airmen today at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK. During the question and answer period, an Airman asked a question to the Secretary regarding rights for Airmen who are atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinking.
Here is the question that was asked:
I support & follow ALL Air Force regulations protecting an Airman’s religious freedom. However, I believe our Air Force does an inadequate job of protecting Airmen who are NOT religious.
For example, Airmen are routinely required to attend various military functions where public non-sectarian prayer is part of the program.
What will you do to ensure our Air Force respects Airmen like me who are atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinkers and don’t want to hear, or participate in public prayer? Current rules seem to imply, if I don’t like it, then don’t listen, and I find that offensive.
The Secretary provided his response and instead of pledging support for atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethinking Airmen, he referenced the U.S. Constitution and freedom of religion; then proceeded to pledge his support of chaplains and their role in supporting Airmen of faith.
In his response, he did not acknowledge the rights of atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinkers to not have religion forced upon them at official Air Force functions. In fact, he never uttered the words atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinking.
The long standing problem has been, as outlined in the Airman’s question, that Airmen are often required to attend various military functions and prayer is often a part of the event. For example, change of command, award and graduation ceremonies are often mandatory attendance for Airmen. At these events, there is often a non-sectarian public prayer, which ignores the beliefs of the atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethinkers in the audience. It is not uncommon; especially at a change of command ceremony, to have Airmen standing at attention or parade rest as a chaplain asks the audience, “Let us pray” and proceeds to speak, assumingly, for all those in the audience who ARE religious. Can you imagine having to listen to this when it goes against the very core of your personal beliefs? This is exactly the point this Airman was making.
Why are our U.S. Airmen being forced to attend mandatory Air Force functions where public prayer is a part of the event? Airmen are not required to attend church. So why are Airmen required to attend military functions where they are forced to listen to public prayer? To please the Airmen who believe in gods while disregarding those Airmen who don’t? Apparently that is exactly the current policy in the U.S. Air Force. At least that is the only conclusion one can make based on no regulations specifically protecting the atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker Airmen minority. Is there respect for Airmen who are not religious? That’s for you to decide. If you want to make the Air Force a more friendly and respectful place for America’s atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethinking Airmen. See below for ways to help.
So, you may be asking yourself, why did this Airman bother to ask such a question. I asked it because I believe in my Air Force and all that it stands for. Secretary Donley is in a position to speak for all Airmen. I wanted to know what his (and the Air Force) position was on protecting atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinking Airmen. I believe in freedom of religion and all the Air Force regulations that support those who choose to believe in gods. I also support and defend the U.S. Constitution, which allows me to choose to believe or not believe in just about anything I want. When people, governments, or corporations respect the beliefs of some, but not all, something must be done to change that. The apparent Air Force indifference and disrespect for Airmen who are not religious, and full support for those who are, makes me wonder what “I will never leave an Airman behind” really means.
What can you do to support civil rights and the separation of church and state for America’s atheist, agnostic, humanist, and freethinking Airmen? Here is a list of some, but certainly not all, of the organizations that can help.
Join and support Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers
Join and support Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Join and support Freedom from Religion Foundation
Join and support American Atheists
Join and support Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Get involved with your local atheist, agnostic, humanist, or freethinking group.
Michael B. Donley
Secretary of the Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670
Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Disclaimer: This article in no way represents the official position of the U.S. Air Force or the Department of Defense.
Is the US Air Force too cozy with religion? Has enough been done to keep religion out of non religious events? Is there an assumption that all Air Force personnel are religious?
Yes, the USAF is too cozy with religion. Not enough (or anything) has been done to keep religion out of non religious military events. There is not an expectation from the USAF that I believe in God but there certainly is the assumption that everyone DOES believe in God.
As a career Airman and atheist, the constant forcing of religion on me by the USAF has been disheartening. The AF says we can believe in whatever God we want (or not at all), then proceeds to force prayer on atheists/freethinkers/agnostics at every opportunity. The AF wouldn’t dream of forcing me to go to church but proceeds to force me to listen to prayer outside of church. From commander’s calls, change of commands, awards functions, graduation dinners, promotion and retirement ceremonies and everything in between, there is always a point where I have to sit/stand there and listen while prayer is integrated into the event. In most instances, attendance at these functions is NOT optional. How is that any different than forcing me to attend church and listen to prayer there? If people want to pray, I say go ahead and pray. Why must it be formally integrated into the official function and in such a way so that everyone does it at the same time in unison, while blatantly disrespecting the nonbelievers around them? People can pray on their own if they want to do so without it being organized into the event. I should not be forced to sit/stand there and listen to it. It’s not as though I can turn off my hearing.
By constantly allowing, encouraging, and expecting formal public prayer at official USAF functions, the military (government) is essentially endorsing religion and is in-turn disrespecting those Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who choose not to believe in God.
This story John Travolta Flies Rations, Scientology Ministers Into Haiti, got me thinking.
Do these religious groups care about helping the people of Haiti or “saving” the people of Haiti? It’s one thing to donate food and $$, it’s another to try and convert them when you get there. Where were these religious groups BEFORE the earthquake struck? Most were not there, why, because they didn’t care. Since most all of the religious groups who are helping now, were doing absolutely nothing to help the people of Haiti BEFORE the earthquake struck, I can’t help but believe their true purpose now is to spread the word of their religion.
Travolta’s cult of Scientology is not the only one doing it, but for example, is there really a need to send “Scientology Ministers” to Haiti now? Food, clothing, shelter, and infrastructure repair are what’s needed, not religion. Why is religion not needed? When the people of Haiti needed a God the most, about 30 seconds before the earth shook, no God was there to prevent this disaster. However, now the religious groups are saying, God is here to help. Really? Even though he/she didn’t help me then, if I pray according to your religion now, I will helped. Reminds me of the phrase “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Or as George Bush would say “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.” Unfortunately for the Haitians, there’s a lot of foolery going around.
This post was not meant to offend you, or anyone else, you can believe whatever you want and are entitled to your opinion. It’s just things like this make religion seem foolish to me. We pray now in the hope our prayer will be answered, even though, it clearly didn’t prevent the disaster in the first place. Yes, I know, it’s called faith. I think a better word for it is credulity.
Today Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was blabbing on about how bad the health care bill was and how nobody wants health care reform. Specifically he said
“The notion that we would even consider spending trillions of dollars we don’t have in a way that a majority of Americans don’t even want, is proof that this health care bill is completely and totally out of touch with the American people.”
Source NPR News (All Things Considered) 11/30/09: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120963372
What came to mind when I heard that was:
- A majority of Americans DO want health care reform, look at all the polls (with the exception of anything coming from Fox News).
- Where was Senator McConnell in 2003 when the White House and Congress spent trillions of dollars we didn’t have to start an unnecessary war with Iraq?
- Where was Senator McConnell in 2003 when the White House started a war with Iraq even though a majority of Americans (and a majority of people around the world) didn’t even want it?
- Where was Senator McConnell in 2003 when the Iraq war started and the White House and Congress was completely and totally out of touch with the American people?
I read two articles in the last couple of days that contrast what value two entities place on a human life. The first is the $5,000 each passenger of the US Airways flight that flew into the Hudson River will receive for the incident. As of now each will receive reimbursement of the ticket and $5K for “immediate needs”. That is not to say the passengers won’t get more but that’s all that’s been discussed publicly so far. http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2009-01-26-us-airways-river-crash_N.htm
Next is the amount relatives in Afghanistan will receive after U.S. forces were responsible for “accidentally killing” civilians during an operation. There were 15 people killed in the raid and the U.S. is paying a total of $40K. This amounts to $2,666 for each person killed. Granted this is a war zone, and sometimes collateral damage or death is a necessary evil during wartime. It’s also important to consider that the Afghani people are accustomed to a very small or non-existent income so $2.6K is a probably more that they will make in several lifetimes. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28878989/
Despite these differences, the fact remains that U.S. Airways is willing to pay more to a living passenger for their Hudson River ordeal than the U.S. govt. is willing to pay for killing the wrong Afghani people in a raid. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but it certainly shows what value we have for human life. Not much.
Please post your comments.
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Christopher Hitchens, writing for Slate.com, endorsed Obama-Biden today and called Senator McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin a sick joke and a disgrace. Below is the article.
Vote for Obama
McCain lacks the character and temperament to be president. And Palin is simply a disgrace.
By Christopher Hitchens
I used to nod wisely when people said: “Let’s discuss issues rather than personalities.” It seemed so obvious that in politics an issue was an issue and a personality was a personality, and that the more one could separate the two, the more serious one was. After all, in a debate on serious issues, any mention of the opponent’s personality would be ad hominem at best and at worst would stoop as low as ad feminam.
At my old English boarding school, we had a sporting saying that one should “tackle the ball and not the man.” I carried on echoing this sort of unexamined nonsense for quite some time—in fact, until the New Hampshire primary of 1992, when it hit me very forcibly that the “personality” of one of the candidates was itself an “issue.” In later years, I had little cause to revise my view that Bill Clinton’s abysmal character was such as to be a “game changer” in itself, at least as important as his claim to be a “new Democrat.” To summarize what little I learned from all this: A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact—if it happens to be a fact—that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.
On “the issues” in these closing weeks, there really isn’t a very sharp or highly noticeable distinction to be made between the two nominees, and their “debates” have been cramped and boring affairs as a result. But the difference in character and temperament has become plainer by the day, and there is no decent way of avoiding the fact. Last week’s so-called town-hall event showed Sen. John McCain to be someone suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical. And the only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience. McCain occasionally remembers to stress matters like honor and to disown innuendoes and slanders, but this only makes him look both more senile and more cynical, since it cannot (can it?) be other than his wish and design that he has engaged a deputy who does the innuendoes and slanders for him.
I suppose it could be said, as Michael Gerson has alleged, that the Obama campaign’s choice of the word erratic to describe McCain is also an insinuation. But really, it’s only a euphemism. Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear had to feel sorry for the old lion on his last outing and wish that he could be taken somewhere soothing and restful before the night was out. The train-wreck sentences, the whistlings in the pipes, the alarming and bewildered handhold phrases—”My friends”—to get him through the next 10 seconds. I haven’t felt such pity for anyone since the late Adm. James Stockdale humiliated himself as Ross Perot’s running mate. And I am sorry to have to say it, but Stockdale had also distinguished himself in America’s most disastrous and shameful war, and it didn’t qualify him then and it doesn’t qualify McCain now.
The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: “What does he take me for?” Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin. I wrote not long ago that it was not right to condescend to her just because of her provincial roots or her piety, let alone her slight flirtatiousness, but really her conduct since then has been a national disgrace. It turns out that none of her early claims to political courage was founded in fact, and it further turns out that some of the untested rumors about her—her vindictiveness in local quarrels, her bizarre religious and political affiliations—were very well-founded, indeed. Moreover, given the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party’s right wing and of recycling patent falsehoods about Obama’s position on Afghanistan, she has drawn upon the only talent that she apparently possesses.
It therefore seems to me that the Republican Party has invited not just defeat but discredit this year, and that both its nominees for the highest offices in the land should be decisively repudiated, along with any senators, congressmen, and governors who endorse them.
I used to call myself a single-issue voter on the essential question of defending civilization against its terrorist enemies and their totalitarian protectors, and on that “issue” I hope I can continue to expose and oppose any ambiguity. Obama is greatly overrated in my opinion, but the Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience. With McCain, the “experience” is subject to sharply diminishing returns, as is the rest of him, and with Palin the very word itself is a sick joke. One only wishes that the election could be over now and a proper and dignified verdict rendered, so as to spare democracy and civility the degradation to which they look like being subjected in the remaining days of a low, dishonest campaign.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.
Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2202163/
Facts can be funny things.
Over the past several weeks, Sen. John McCain has been occasionally tripping over them in his advocacy for continuing America’s presence in Iraq. Most memorably, he repeated – three times – the assertion that Iran was arming al-Qaeda despite the fact that there is no known connection between country and the group, and that the two are clearly of different religions.
On Sunday, McCain made another Iraq-based claim that is highly debatable if not simply false.
As Think Progress was first to point out, appearing on Fox News Sunday, the Arizona Republican stated that the recent flair up of violence in Basra was ended after Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr declared a ceasefire. This, he said, was proof that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government was gaining the upper hand, both militarily and politically.
“It was al-Sadr that declared the ceasefire, not Maliki,” said McCain. “With respect, I don’t think Sadr would have declared the ceasefire if he thought he was winning. Most times in history, military engagements, the winning side doesn’t declare the ceasefire. The second point is, overall, the Iraqi military performed pretty well. … The military is functioning very effectively.”
It is a convenient interpretation for a candidate who later went on to tout the political successes of the American troop surge. But it seems to contradict almost all news accounts from last week. Indeed, it was the Iranian government and members of Maliki’s government who brokered the ceasefire, not Sadr. McClatchy newspapers wrote in its lead paragraph:
“Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran’s Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations.
“Moreover, in the process of fighting Sadr, at least 1,000 of Maliki’s troops deserted the battle. McCain tried to put a good face on this too, by reminding viewers that, slightly more than a year ago that number would have been much higher. But that too ignores the testimony of many Iraq experts who suggest that far from showing the strength of Maliki’s forces, the recent battle in Basra did little but make Sadr stronger. As Jonathan Steele wrote in The Guardian:
“Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki…has emerged with his authority severely weakened. … Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr, the target of the assault, comes out of the crisis strengthened. His militiamen gave no ground and, by declaring a ceasefire that has successfully held since Sunday, Sadr has demonstrated his authority and the discipline of his men.”
By MATTHEW LEE and LARA JAKES JORDAN, Associated Press Writers
The Bush administration paid a $5 million reward to a former Minnesota flight instructor who provided authorities with information that led to the arrest and conviction of 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Two colleagues questioned why he got the money.
The recipient, Clarence Prevost, was honored Thursday at a closed-door ceremony at the State Department, although the payout was secretly authorized last fall by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Justice Department, U.S. officials told The Associated Press.
The reward from the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program is the first and only one to date to a U.S. citizen related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the officials said.
It is also unusual because Moussaoui, who was imprisoned at the time of the attacks, was never named as a wanted suspect by the program. The program mainly seeks information about perpetrators or planners of terrorist acts against U.S. interests and citizens abroad.
The State Department would not identify the recipient, citing privacy and security concerns.
Two administration officials, however, said the reward went to Prevost, a key witness at Moussaoui’s trial who has previously spoken out about his involvement in the case. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Prevost, 69, is a former Navy pilot who later flew for Northwest Airlines and goes by his nickname “Clancy.” He was Moussaoui’s flight instructor at the Pan Am International Flight Academy outside Minneapolis.
No one answered at an apartment listed for Clarence Prevost in a residential hotel in Coral Gables, Fla., an upscale Miami suburb. Calls to a number listed to Prevost were not answered.
None of the immediate neighbors who were home Thursday evening recognized his name, but a hotel concierge who declined to give his name said he sometimes chatted with the Minnesota flight instructor. The concierge described him as tall, thin, and unassuming and said he never had mentioned any involvement with the Moussaoui case.
He was one of several people who worked at the flight school that Moussaoui attended in August 2001 and who alerted the FBI to his suspicious desire to pilot jumbo jets.
News of the reward came as a surprise to two other Pan Am flight instructors, Tim Nelson and Hugh Sims, who also have been credited with tipping the FBI to Moussaoui and were honored by the Senate in 2005 with a resolution that commended their “bravery” and “heroism.”
Sims, in a phone interview from Fort Myers, Fla., said he didn’t want to comment “till we get a few things straightened out.”
“He was certainly there but he didn’t call the FBI. I have no idea why he received the reward,” Sims said.
Prevost said during the trial that he urged flight school officials to call the FBI and one day an agent showed up to ask him questions about Moussaoui.
Sims recounted meeting Moussaoui at Pan Am on a Monday, and said that two days later he and Nelson each called the FBI separately.
“Clancy had a part of it. Whether he continued to expand on his portion of this, that’s fine,” Sims said. “Today has been a very large surprise for me.”
Nelson was talking with family members Thursday evening and was not immediately available, his wife, Jodie Quinn-Nelson said. She said the reward “was given out to the wrong person” and said her husband was upset.
“We’re just kind of dumbfounded with what happened here,” she said.
Prevost and the others said they thought it was strange Moussaoui wanted to learn to fly a Boeing 747 despite the fact that he had little flying background.
After his arrest, Moussaoui sat in jail for 3 1/2 weeks on an immigration violation, saying little to investigators before hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11.
The Minneapolis FBI agents who responded to the tips were unable to persuade their superiors in Washington to seek a national security warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings and laptop computer.
Moussaoui later confessed to being the “20th hijacker” and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2006 after a trial marked by numerous outbursts, conflicts with his lawyers and questions about his status, if any, within Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
He told jurors he was to have piloted a fifth plane on Sept. 11 and fly it into the White House.
But after the jury decided against sentencing him to death, Moussaoui recanted his testimony and denied any role in 9/11, saying he lied on the stand because he assumed he had no chance of getting a fair trial.
Rewards for Justice, which was created in 1984, has paid about $77 million in rewards to more than 50 people.
Associated Press writers Doug Glass in Minneapolis, Minn., and Laura Wides-Munoz in Coral Gables, Fla., contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Rewards for Justice: http://www.rewardsforjustice.net
Study: False statements preceded war
Associated Press Writer
A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.
The study concluded that the statements “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.”
The study was posted Tuesday on the Web site of the Center for Public Integrity, which worked with the Fund for Independence in Journalism.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel did not comment on the merits of the study Tuesday night but reiterated the administration’s position that the world community viewed Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, as a threat.
“The actions taken in 2003 were based on the collective judgment of intelligence agencies around the world,” Stanzel said.
The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.
“It is now beyond dispute that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction or have meaningful ties to al-Qaida,” according to Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith of the Fund for Independence in Journalism staff members, writing an overview of the study. “In short, the Bush administration led the nation to war on the basis of erroneous information that it methodically propagated and that culminated in military action against Iraq on March 19, 2003.”
Named in the study along with Bush were top officials of the administration during the period studied: Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Bush led with 259 false statements, 231 about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 28 about Iraq’s links to al-Qaida, the study found. That was second only to Powell’s 244 false statements about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and 10 about Iraq and al-Qaida.
The center said the study was based on a database created with public statements over the two years beginning on Sept. 11, 2001, and information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches and interviews.
“The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war,” the study concluded.
“Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical. These mea culpas notwithstanding, much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq,” it said.
On the Net:
Center For Public Integrity: http://www.publicintegrity.org
Fund For Independence in Journalism: http://www.tfij.org