Thanks to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the mythical War on Christmas has some soldiers helping out this year. Last week at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina, a nativity scene was taken down after complaints, just before the annual tree lighting.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the MRFF, said they got complaints from Air Force personnel and contacted the Pentagon. After the call from the Pentagon, the display was removed in two hours and fifteen minutes. He cited Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.11 as reason for the removal:
Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
That seems pretty straightforward and it seems obvious that a nativity scene wouldn’t exactly be non-sectarian… but who cares what the rules are when it’s only one person complaining, am I right?
Actually, Weinstein says that they received complaints from 41 airmen.
Of course, anything that has to do with Jesus, even if it’s a plastic baby version of him, brings about complaints (and complaints about the complaints) and now military officials are receiving backlash about their decision to follow the law.
“This becomes an issue of command endorsement of Christianity particularly since it was right next to the Christmas tree, there was a Christmas lighting that was just about to happen,” Weinstein said. “We commended the Air Force for how quickly they moved after we contacted them at the Pentagon.”
To be clear, MRFF is not an explicitly atheist organization. In a response to someone asking them why they’re persecuting Christians, board member Pastor Joan Slish writes:
Mikey is Jewish (not an atheist) and 75% of the Board, Advisory Board, volunteers and supporters with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) are Christian. Also, 96% of our soldiers clients are Christians. We support the rights of Christians more than any other religion.
The 41 airmen at Shaw Air Force Base may largely be made up of Christians who believe that their base should follow the rules. This isn’t discrimination against Christians; this is about a base following rules. A base, while not entirely public, is also not entirely private property and it’s no place for a nativity scene.
So, as of now, there is no nativity scene at Shaw Air Force Base. They’re working on getting a more inclusive display, but they are still trying to determine the proper placement and arrangement. The nativity scene may return, but not without representation from other groups (whatever that will look like).