Military Official Puts God in Presentation and Gets Called Out On It

This is what happens when atheists in the military become more aware of their rights and aren’t afraid to speak up.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, also the head of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), recently gave a talk to all employees in the DISA department and he included the following slides in his presentation:

Why #1 and #18 are on the list, I don’t know. Even if they’re personal “rules” he uses, they don’t belong in a presentation he’s giving as military leader.

Thankfully, someone was alert and aware that this was improper behavior:

A DISA employee who witnessed the presentation spoke with Air Force Times under condition of anonymity. He said he was shocked that a senior leader would include such direct references to God in a commander’s call that in his opinion was held to say “I’m your new commander and this is what I expect of you.”

The employee said that he provided the presentation to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group, “in hopes of saving lives.”

MRFF’s founder and president, Mikey Weinstein, is calling for Hawkins to be court-martialed for violating his oath to the Constitution. He said he is representing 21 employees at DISA.

The employee said what might seem like an ordinary presentation to Air Force employees can be easily obtained and used as propaganda in other countries — something he said a commander should know. People in Arab nations for example, might see Hawkins’ comments as a show of support toward one religion by the U.S. government, he said.

There’s no word on any punishment for Hawkins yet, but this is what we need to keep doing in any public line of work. No commanding officer or government official or public school administrator should be using their positions as a pulpit for preaching their religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter what the intent is or how innocuous it may be — until they get called out on it, they won’t learn their lesson.

(Thanks to Justin, a Foxhole Atheist, for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    1. Always put God first, and stay within His will.
    2. Take care of your family…
    18. Always remember that God is good — all the time!

    .
    Which reminds me, Daylight Atheism just had a discussion about the The Abraham Test; asking members of the Abrahamic religions how they would have responded if God had asked them to kill their own child.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      For the regulars, I know I’m a broken record on this, but I just can’t get enough of the Hitchens Response to the Abraham Test: 
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQorzOS-F6w&t=5m20s

      My own advice to my FB friends was to go to a Dr. and get scanned for a brain tumor.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The employee said that he provided the presentation to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation….That was a good idea, because according to Ronnie’s Rules #8, Winners assemble as team.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Dionne/100000122058172 David Dionne

    The more and more we stand up to this kind of behavior, the better.   It’s regrettable it has to come to a court martial, but if that’s what it takes, so be it.

    • Sierra

      I liked this for you Lt. Cmdr. Data profile pic and your pr0-atheism comment. :)  

  • Anonymous

    Most of those line items are lame motivational phrases. The references to God shouldn’t be there, but not because Muslim nations would misconstrue that, because their own governments would only be happy to have even stronger religious lines.

  • Skeptico

    Doesn’t #6 mean that you should ignore this entire thing?

    • Annie

      I thought so too… plus if everyone was making their own choices, the military wouldn’t function very well.   I’m just glad the DISA employee took #14 to heart.

  • Blzbob

    I think a Court Martial is a bit much unless this is a constant issue with this officer. A Letter of Reprimand may be more than sufficient to get the point across.

    • Anonymous

      I would be OK with no Court Martial if he agrees this is not Outstanding and follows #17.

      This guy has a huge ego filled with bulloney. #1 and #18 may be unconstitutional, but my rule, would be “Only follow somebody with more than handful of rules, if you are the next speaker, and don’t work for them”.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/FRJD66AT6LQ6CZZ46XJO43A4FM Artor

      A court martial is just a military court, afaik. One can be brought before it on the equivalent of misdemeanor charges and the like. I’t not always the instant end of a career, although that can sometimes be the result. A military court order might be just what’s needed here.

  • Miguelitoraton

    I like most of what he advocates in these slides, I think a stern reprimand is all that is needed, and not a court martial. That is going to far with something that can easily be fixed

    • Miguelitoraton

      And I say this as a former Army NCO, who was and still is an Atheist in a foxhole

  • Anonymous

    Not only are the references to God out of place and unethical, but the majority of these “rules” sound as though they were written by a high-school kid. Talking about being ‘dumb’ and what a ‘loser’ does is a puerile use of language and is inappropriate in this context. How did this guy attain a leadership position with such poor communication skills?

  • Ndonnan

    So a guy is asked to present his personal points he lives by and this is the petty crap he gets..in a country where the vast majoritory would agree, but when a student wants to publish her views in the newspaper,where the vast majoritory would disagree,he should be court marshalled and she gets paid $1000,give me a break

    • Coyotenose

       Please read up on Red Herrings and Arguments From Popularity. Please.

    • http://inmyunbelief.wordpress.com/ TCC

      You realize that “the vast majoritory [sic] would agree” is entirely irrelevant when we’re talking about a commander suggesting rules for living to his new subordinates, right? (And no, he wasn’t asked to present his personal rules for living; he appears to have done that on his own.)

    • http://twitter.com/silo_mowbray Silo Mowbray

      What does “vast majority” have to do with anything? The “vast majority” thought it was okay to treat women like chattel and blacks as slaves at one point. Some probably still do.

      You people with your “reality by consensus” nonsense really need to take an intensive course in critical reasoning.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      One of them was representing themselves, and another was representing an organization that happens to be a section of the government.  Big difference.

      I think the critical issue is:

      “Those two slides, in particular …were in no way a directive or expectation I have for our dedicated men and women

      vs.

      I’m your new commander and this is what I expect of you.

      I don’t want him to hide his religion, but if he’s going to express it in such an overt way, while listing rule/guidelines, I would hope he’d also be explicit about what he does and does not expect of the staff under him he’s presenting to.

      Can you imagine the brouhaha if Hemant gave a class a list of “Hemant’s Rules” and included “Don’t waste time on silly supersaturations like homeopathy and religion”?

      • Ndonnan

        You make some good points Rich,but i really dont think he was giving rules to live by,more his personal things to live up to

        • http://www.facebook.com/anique.vanberne Anique Van Berne

           The fact that it is debatable wether he meant  ‘my personal rules’ or ‘rules I expect you to live by’ is part of the problem.

          It is similar to the reason a superior should not be in a relationship with a subordinate: there is too much risk of the subordinate feeling pressured to do certain things – even if the superior did not mean to pressure.

          Therefore, in these kind of situations, it is always inappropriate to posit your personal views of the world. Discussions about religion, the meaning of life or anything in that category should be restricted to situations where all participants are equal.

  • foxhole atheist spouse

    I, too, think of a court martial as going too far.  I’m offended by this , not because of any “enemy” interpretation, but b/c it violates the Consitution.  You know, that little piece of paper he’s sworn to protect against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  I’d say he counts as one of the domestic ones.

    • eskomo

      A court martial is not like getting slapped with a felony. It is merely the military equivalent of going to court. The level of the offense is unknown.

  • http://www.suburbansweetheart.com/ Suburban Sweetheart

    Mikey Weinstein is sometimes a real nut, but I’m glad they’ve taken on this one. Totally inappropriate.

  • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

    Even if they’re personal “rules” he uses, they don’t belong in a presentation he’s giving as military leader.

    You are free to have your opinion, but your declarative statement his rules were “improper” is incorrect.  There is no law, policy, or military regulation that says a member of the military may not include references to their faith when they introduce themselves to their unit.

    It seems like atheists frequently criticize Christians for feeling “persecuted” at the slightest offense.  It seems Hemant has joined the chorus of hypersensitive souls.
    Do you think Ike or Patton should have been court-martialed for their command-directed prayers?
    http://christianfighterpilot.com/blog/2012/02/20/ltgen-ronnie-hawkins-berated-for-god-in-commanders-call/

    • Greisha

       By today standards yes.  Back then it was ignored even constitution was the same.  If you remember, it was even before the Supreme Court decision regarding prayers in public schools.

  • John

    He is the architypal militant christian. They have become complacent and and expect to be able to pontificate without question.

  • Mairianna

    Methinks #1 and #6 are diametrically opposed.  Are ya’ gonna follow god’s will or your own?????? 

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

      And #13  makes no sense.  The Air Force always “plays” on “someone else’s turf.”

  • Ouel

    What a bunch of jerks.  Our money says “In God We Trust” and our nation was founded on religious priciples.  Good on you, general!

  • AFOfficer

    A court martial or letter of reprimand? He did nothing illegal. I’m in the military and am not religious. I take no offense to him saying this to his new people unless of course he demands we follow his way or in some way derails our career if we don’t. I’ve had many leaders tout God (who says it’s the Christian God?). How many of us have been to a change of command or promotion ceremony where we’re asked to stand and pray to god? I’d say pretty much everyone in the military has witnessed this, and yet no one complains about that. Quit bitching about every little thing someone else says, live your life in your own spiritual way.


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