Air Force general threatened with court martial cleared of violations

by Gregory Tomlin, |

WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) -- An Air Force general who attributed his success in life to God while in uniform at a National Day of Prayer event has been cleared of violating command instructions after a group claiming to defend religious liberty called for his court martial, the Air Force Times has reported.

Maj. Gen. Craig Olson, who commands 2,200 personnel at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, said at the event organized by Focus on the Family's Shirley Dobson that he was personally reliant on God throughout his career. Olson said God helped him learn how to fly complex aircraft on nuclear missions, save failing military programs and negotiate foreign military deals in Iraq.

"I have no ability to do that. I was not trained to do that. God did all of that," Olson said at the event May 7. He also said his fellow Air Force officers needed to "humbly depend on Christ themselves."

A video of Olson's address surfaced shortly after the event.

Mikey Weinstein, CEO of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), wrote in an opinion editorial after the video of the 23-minute speech went public that Olson had violated an Air Force instruction prohibiting officers from endorsing a particular religion while in uniform, Christian Examiner reported May 18.

He also wrote a letter to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh demanding Olson be punished. In the letter, Weinstein – an attorney and Air Force Academy graduate – claimed Olson violated Air Force instruction 1-1, 2.12 which reads:

"Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must 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."

Weinstein avoided mention of the prior instruction on free exercise of religion and religious accommodation (AFI 1-1, 2.11), which states:

"Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own. Every Airman also has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to AFI 1-1 7 AUGUST 2012 19 include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment."

Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Hughes responded to Weinstein's claim in an email to the Air Force Times May 21. He said Olson was speaking at a "congressionally-sponsored event" and "his remarks were his own personal opinions and do not represent the views of the United States Air Force."

The event was hosted by U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt [R-Ala.].

According to the Air Force Times, the MRFF disagreed in the strongest terms with the decision not to punish Olson. Chris Rodda, MRFF's senior research director, stuck to the group's claim that Olson had violated command instructions.

"Olson was very clearly endorsing -- in uniform -- and extending preferential treatment to Christianity and the specific brand of Christianity promoted by the event," Rodda told Air Force Times. "It makes no difference who it was sponsored by. Either way, Air Force Instruction 1-1 applies."