After investigation, Air Force officer CAN have Bible at his desk

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)Personnel work at the Air Force Space Command Network Operations & Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2010.

COLORADO SPRINGS (Christian Examiner) – The U.S. Air Force has ruled that an officer at Peterson Air Force Base who had an open Bible on his desk was not in violation of military regulations and the Bible can return to where it was.

Last week, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation – led by former Air Force officer Mikey Weinstein, who claims Christians are trying to take over the military and subvert the Constitution – alleged the presence of the open Bible with highlighted passages was an act of coercion on the enlisted personnel who came near the officer's workstation.

Weinstein called the open Bible a "brazen display of sectarian Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism" on the part of Maj. Steve Lewis. He also said there would be "limitless, overflowing blood in the streets" if a Quran or a Book of Satan was allowed on the desk.

As pledged, we have reviewed the situation there. We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred, and Maj. Lewis's behavior and the workplace environment ... are well within the provisions of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12, 'Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation' and 'Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause.'
- Lt. Col. David Fruck

He demanded in a letter to Col. Damon Feltman, commander of the 310th Space Wing, that Lewis and an officer over him who allowed the display be swiftly and severely punished for the "egregious" violation.

Feltman responded quickly to Weinstein's letter and said he would investigate the matter. The Bible was removed from the desk during the course of the investigation.

Now, however, the Colorado Springs Independent reports that Lt. Col. David Fruck, the public affairs officer for the wing, wrote in an email to the paper that the promised investigation failed to uncover a nefarious plot or a violation of regulations.

"As pledged, we have reviewed the situation there. We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred, and Maj. Lewis's behavior and the workplace environment at the RNSSI are well within the provisions of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12, 'Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation' and 'Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause.'"

The first of those regulations (2.11) allows for religious liberty so long as actions taken do not display partiality or coerce service members toward a particular religion. Otherwise, the service is expected to abide by a policy of neutrality toward religion.

The second regulation (2.12), on the free exercise of religion, allows for religious accommodations so long as they do not violate the standards set forth in the previous one. It also states airmen are "are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no religious belief at all."

"You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own," the regulation reads.

In this case, the presence of the open Bible was not regarded in the investigation as coercive or out of line with the regulation on the free exercise of religion. Maj. Lewis, if he so chooses, may return the Bible to his desk.

That answer is not good enough for Weinstein and the MRFF, who allege that the officer who conducted the investigation – Col. Lisa Johnson – is the officer who authorized Maj. Lewis to have the Bible on his desk in the first place. The military has not addressed Weinstein's allegation about Col. Johnson's leadership of the investigation.

Weinstein told the paper the investigation was a "sham and a travesty," as well as a "disgusting conflict of interest." On the group's website, MRFF called it "fatally flawed."

The group has also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to review all documents related to the investigation, indication that it plans to sue the personnel involved since its demands were not met.