BOMBS AWAY: 'Religious Freedom' group unloads on USAF commander after he clears Bible on desk

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

COLORADO SPRINGS (Christian Examiner) – The Military Religious Freedom Foundation isn't happy with a U.S. Air Force commander who found no violation of military regulations in the presence of an open Bible on the desk of another officer under his command.

Controversy erupted last week when the religious freedom group, which believes "Christian triumphalism" is run amuck in the military, complained that Maj. Steve Lewis "displayed" the Bible in full view of his subordinates. The Bible was open and certain passages were highlighted.

According to MRFF's President Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force officer lawyer, the open Bible was both a threat to non-Christians and an attempt at coercion.

In an email to Col. Damon Feltman Aug. 14, Weinstein called the Bible "a brazen display of sectarian Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism" and an "egregious violation" of Air Force regulations.

Those regulations, however, ensure that an airman can "confidently practice" his or her faith while remaining respectful of others.

They also require the military to proceed from a footing of neutrality to religion, except where religious activity endangers the mission or effectiveness of the unit.

On Aug. 23, Col. Feltman wrote back to MRFF and told Weinstein that, after an investigation, "no abuse of liberties has occurred, and Maj. Lewis's behavior and workplace environment ... are well within the provisions" of military regulations governing the free exercise of religion.

Feltman then asked Weinstein to direct future correspondence to the air wing's public affairs officer of the staff judge advocate.

Instead of heeding the request, however, Weinstein has fired off another broadside calling the commander by his first name (a breach of decorum), accusing him of being partial to "the bible-display king" (Maj. Lewis), and perpetrating a "disgrace" at Peterson Air Force Base's 310th Space Wing.

In the email he disputed Col. Feltman's decision, calling the presence of the Bible "brazenly illicit and wholly unconstitutional Christian proselytizing." He also called the decision "outrageously wrong."

Weinstein then criticized "Damon" for placing Col. Lisa Johnson in charge of the investigation.

According to Weinstein, Col. Johnson was the officer who permitted Maj. Lewis to have the Bible at his workstation in the first place. He said placing Col. Johnson in charge of the investigation was like placing New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in charge of the "Deflate Gate" investigation.

"This matter is hardly over," Weinstein wrote. "Let's see what happens now, when an actual disinterested, third party DoD investigator, with NO glaringly obvious conflict of interest, takes a good, hard look at the utter disgrace you've done here, brother."

On Wednesday, Weinstein filed a complaint with the inspector general of the Department of Defense. The letter bears a strikingly different tone than the mercurial email sent to Col. Feltman.