Air Force Base denies atheist display, allows Menorah and Nativity Scene

Travis Air Force base is already under intense scrutiny over these displays that are inappropriate to begin with.

The official word so far was that each of the 20 or so displays represented a squadron on base. Apparently this facade implies that an entire squadron is Jewish. And wouldn’t you know it – their display just happened to be next to an entire squadron of Nativity Scene enthusiasts.

(Forgive the transition into third-person, but the following is from an upcoming press release from American Atheists.)

Staff Sergeant Dan Rawlings is a hero, and this is why

Travis Air Force Base is displaying inappropriate religious decorations, including a Nativity scene. The displays are not even near a chapel, though that would still be unlawful. These decorations were recently expanded to include a Jewish display, clearly an effort to claim ‘all sides would be represented’.

Staff Sergeant Dan Rawlings is an atheist stationed at Travis. Rawlings contacted American Atheists about putting up an Atheist-themed display as well. The display was intended to go up next to the Nativity Scene and the token Jewish Menorah. Justin Griffith, the Military Director at American Atheists offered to provide and pay for an equivalent display for Staff Sergeant Rawlings to submit.

Staff Sergeant Rawlings expressed interest in peacefully participating in the controversial holiday display. Rawlings’ intent was to provide the local atheist community with a voice, letting them know there were others out there. He said he was excited when American Atheists stepped in and offered to make it all happen.

The proposed sign would have stated “Have a safe holiday season! – Travis AFB atheist community“. Minor variations had been tossed around, including ‘Stay Safe for the Holidays’, but the message was about as harmless as it gets.

Unfortunately, the illusion of a pluralistic environment was shattered when Rawlings was told by his USAF chaplain that he could not participate. His chaplain claimed to be following the orders of his higher headquarters; the Air Mobility Command commanders and their guidance.

The reason given was that “an investigation was being launched, so Air Mobility Command has requested that the entire display be left as-is.” This is reminiscent of efforts to preserve a crime scene. Except that in this case, preserving the display as it stands is the crime.

Staff Sergeant Rawlings then requested that the chaplain explain the denial in writing, so that Rawlings could forward it to American Atheists. The chaplain refused to document the incident at all, clearly aware that he was in the wrong.

Griffith immediately recommended that Staff Sergeant Rawlings contact the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. MRFF’s highly visible fight for equality at Travis Air Force Base has recently been demanding the removal of the potentially discriminatory displays. The unconstitutional “potential discrimination” is now an ugly reality.

It is painfully obvious that non-theists are being discriminated against at various levels of the command structure. The situation regarding USAF Staff Sergeant Dan Rawlings proves the fact that the Air Force commanders at Travis are not simply allowing ‘all groups to have their space’.

American Atheists, Inc has not heard back from officials at Travis Air Force Base. There is very little time left for commanders to correct the situation in a meaningful way. The secular organization is now joining with their peers in a vocal demand to remove the entire display altogether.

Encompassing the entire spectrum of religiosity, The California Council of Churches IMPACT, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and now American Atheists are standing up for bedrock United States Constitutional principles. American Atheists Military Department sees nothing strange about these bed fellows.

A world class legal team is now in contact with Rawlings. Griffith said, “We can do this the easy way. Or, we can do this the hard way. But we absolutely will ensure that the U.S. Constitution is not subverted at the expense of its very defenders.”

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  • Old_Warhorse

    It’s really no surprise that the Air Force is denying equal representation, nor is it a surprise that they are insisting upon keeping religious displays up on Air Force property in violation of both military regulations and the Constitution of the United States of America.

    The American Taliban is alive and well, unfortunately. I’m just glad we’ve got the folks at American Aetheists, Military Religions Freedom Foundation and the California Council of Churches IMPACT to stand up and fight for our Constitution when our Air Force obviously will not.

  • cgilder

    I wonder I’m related to this guy somehow. 2nd cousins or something. Either way, good on him!

  • eNeMeE

    He said was excited when

    A second “he” seems to missing from that sentence (in case it doesn’t get noticed before it goes out).

    • Justin Griffith

      Thanks, good eye. Fix’d.

  • Where do these D’bag Chaplins come from? I have never met one who is as dumb as this…but maybe cause I’m in the Navy an we are a bit more progressive?

    • Justin Griffith

      Navy isn’t without it’s issues.

      Have you heard an atheist message on the nightly prayers when you are on a ship?

      • I have never been on a ship myself. Just a Squadron and shore duty. The NOSC Chaplin here in Albuquerque is one of the few supporters for humanist chaplins. I guess I can consider my self lucky?

        Did you say nightly prayers on ships? Wow…just wow.

  • What a lame trick. It actually demonstrated incompetence. Reminds me of something that might happen in a Leslie Nielsen movie.

    “This display can’t be moved!!!”

  • Hailey

    He needs to contact his inspector general. The IG will squash that crap and get him his fair representation

  • Chuck Rairdan

    You guys are such an inspiration and breath of fresh air. Keep up the great work!

  • David Potter

    I don’t know if it is possible to sue the Air Force or not, but even if it is, I know that INDIVIDUALS within the armed services can be sued. In this case, I think that would be the chaplain. I seriously doubt if the chaplain has the legal resources to withstand a lawsuit – especially if it came from a large atheist organization.

    Of course, the first option would be the Inspector General. But in the event that this fails, a lawsuit against the chaplain – and anyone else who is in violation of the Constitution (which, ironically, everyone in the armed services is required to swear an oath to defend), is still an option.

  • Cesear

    What bullshit. There is no atheist religion. Or is there. Making up one to protest other religions. What. Crap.

    Your beliefs or what you call being fair. Athiestism is a non belief, not a religion. These religious displays are from real religions. And if atheist are saying so, then they themselves are breaking their own Non religious. Reliefs. Sour grapes Americans that don’t having a fucking life.

    I’m pretty sure on your fucking death beds or in combat your be praying for God to Help, save, and protect you. Of course you will be in denial. That is the f ing truth about your clan.

    Mark my words.

    So let it be written bitch, so let it be done.

    God Bless America

    Ps. You all will go to Hell.

    • Arbie

      Do you feel better now, Cesar, after vomiting up that bullshit rant?

      Pretty sure that if there’s a hell, we’ll see you there. Merry Christmas.

    • Wow


      First of all, we all know that atheism is not a religion. What the article is talking about is the fact that government endorcements of religious displays on public property is a violation of the FIRST AMENDEMENT’s establishment clause! This should not be allowed in the first place! Adding a secular display would make it a little better, however they would not even allow that.

      Secondly, you just do not understand atheists, period. We do not beleive in any gods, therefore on our death beds or whatever there is no way that we will “pray for god to help us”! If you were on your death bed and of course all of the praying to your god wasn’t working, would you pray to Buddah, or Zeus, or some other god that you did not beleive in? Of course not! Atheists feel the same way! We are not, under any circumstances going to pray to any god because we realize that there is nothing out there.

      Thirdly, atheists do not go to Hell. They do not go to heaven, they go where everyone else goes when they die … nowhere!

      • Chief


        Though I agree that Cesaar’s rant was inappropriate and that your points on atheism are correct, I must disagree with your comments on the U.S. Constitution and the 1st Amendment. As I remember it the 1st states that Congress (i.e. the federal government) shall make no law establishing a State (big “S” means federal State as opposed to small “s” which means one of the 50 states) religion or prohibiting the free practice there of (obviously I paraphrased, but the essential bits are there). No where does it say anything about religious displays on public land. That interpretation has come from the use of high-powered lawyers, weak judges and judges with a political agenda. (Needlss to say, that last sentance is just my opinion, the rest is fact). The chaplain’s refusal to allow the atheist display is not a violation of the 1st amendment.

        As an on again off again pagan I personally have no problem with public displays of christianity so long as no law is made that prevents me from practicing my religion as I see fit. This country was founded on judeo-christian principles and anglo-saxon law. America is a Christian country which allows for freedom of religion; unlike many other countries I can think of.

        At my retirement ceremony I gave my own invocation and invoked bot the Goddess and the God. Though I got a few strange looks from those who didn’t know it was coming, I received no grief for practicing my religion. However, I did have the courtesy to clear it through my X.O. first and if he had said no, I would have complied with his wishes.

    • Retired Prodigy Bill

      When you read comments like Cesear’s, you have to wonder — is this a poe or just a drunken idiot?

    • I bet that omnipotent planet maker sleeps well knowing you’ve got his back with your strong words! Way to go…

    • Do you feel better now, Cesar?

      Do you feel like you just behaved like a good Christian? Demonstrated love for your neighbors and all that?

      Do you think you gained any converts to Christianity?

    • bible & water heater

      Thanks for the trip to hell. See you there then.

    • Aquaria

      What bullshit. There is no atheist religion. Or is there. Making up one to protest other religions. What. Crap.

      It’s not made up, you illiterate piece of shit.

      It’s FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION, you ahistorical moron.

      Since you’re obviously too fucking stupid to have read the thing, here’s what the First Amendment says:

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

      Your beliefs or what you call being fair. Athiestism is a non belief, not a religion. These religious displays are from real religions. And if atheist are saying so, then they themselves are breaking their own Non religious. Reliefs. Sour grapes Americans that don’t having a fucking life.

      Free exercise, dumb fuck, includes rejecting your scumbag delusion. That is what is protected, since you’re too fucking stupid to get that.

      Sucks to be you, you traitorous pile of vomit.

      I’m pretty sure on your fucking death beds or in combat your be praying for God to Help, save, and protect you. Of course you will be in denial. That is the f ing truth about your clan.

      I’m pretty sure that you’re full of shit. Got some evidence for that bullshit of yours, or are you just pulling it out of the same place you do all your best ideas–out of your ugly ass?

      Mark my words.

      Mark mine, moron: We all die, and that’s the end. Fucking deal with it.

      So let it be written bitch, so let it be done.

      So let it be written that you’re a fucking moron, so let it be done.

      God Bless America

      Fuck you, you unAmerican fraud.

      Ps. You all will go to Hell.

      PS: You don’t have any evidence for your Big Boo-Boo Land, asshole. And even if it were real, trust me, I’d rather be there than in heaven with human scum like you.

      Fuck off.

    • Captain Spaulding

      What do you expect from a guy who can’t even spell his own name? BTW it’s Caesar.

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    “an investigation was being launched, so Air Mobility Command has requested that the entire display be left as-is.” This is reminiscent of efforts to preserve a crime scene.

    At a crime scene, you take photos to show what and where everything is, then you clear the corpse out of there, pack up your evidence and put it in storage.

    They have found a way to leave it up without officially approving of its being there.

  • “We can do this the easy way. Or, we can do this the hard way. But we absolutely will ensure that the U.S. Constitution is not subverted at the expense of its very defenders.”

    That’s a great message, Justin. Very empowering.

    • Kate from Iowa

      Ad much more reasonable than my mebrain, which is so sick of the fucking holidays that it’s instant response was “SET IT ON FIRE!”

  • bible & water heater

    Well, there is a simple solution to the problem.

    If conservatives win in 2012, they would try to turn the clock back and reinstate “don’t ask don’t tell” to banish gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.

    If that is the case (god forbid! pun intended) then an addendum against expressing one’s religious beliefs should be enacted. Whoever reveals his/her religious beliefs (or lack of them) will be expelled from the military.

    The article shows that religious beliefs or the lack of them are divisive matters among the military and therefore should be removed to improve the services’ readiness

    Alternatively, we should get rid of all chaplains and charlatans and let people who has chosen to serve to do so regardless of what they believe in or whom they love.

    • Lmaris

      As we have seen over and over and over again, it is the Christians in the military who create division. They demand that their faith, and ONLY their faith, be practiced by their fellow members of the military. That all other faiths be summarily shunned as well as any found practicing these unacceptable faiths.

      Yes, ban Christians, or at least make them hide their faith as they demand others do.

    • Bubba

      You cannot have a military without religion. Very few people would be willing to fight for a cause they didn’t actually believe in with the promise of everlasting life should they be killed. That is the Chaplin’s job, to keep soldiers motivated to fight by convincing them they are actually invincible.

  • WaxPoly

    Somewhat unrelated, but not entirely so. There’s a pic floating around Facebook etc., of a kneeling anonymous soldier with the caption “We fight and die for your freedoms…including the right to say MERRY CHRISTMAS!!”

    I couldn’t help but get a little (a lot) offended. Technically true I suppose – our freedoms absolutely include the right to say Merry Christmas. But they also include the right to say Happy Hanukah, or General Seasons Greetings, or Could You Kindly Not Shove Your Holiday In My Face For Two Months? (Where’s the heartfelt poster for that one??) And how do I know the soldier in the picture isn’t actually Jewish, or even an Atheist annoyed at all this ‘War on Christmas’ BS?

    Anyways, I thought the image to be quite tactless, but I wanted feedback from the Atheist Military community. Am I way out on a limb, or is there a good way to say “Wow, that’s really disrespectful to a large group of soldiers who may or may not celebrate Christmas but who do face actual war for our freedoms – including your right to be uppity about your one holiday, and my right to call you out on it.”?

  • Bobby

    As a TSgt in the USAF, I can verify that religious discrimination is alive and well. From invocations (always Christian, of course) at every ceremony possible, to vague disapproval from leadership when they discover you are a non-believer. I had a new section chief rant about how ridiculous it was that “those atheists” wanted their own group on base (a free thinker’s group was starting up). The look on his face when I informed him I was a founding member was worth it, though. I’ve put up with it for a long time, and get a lot of flak because I won’t be silent as long as it is being shoved in my face.


    Give unto Cesear that which is Cesear’s – hysterical rant award. Unhappy man, hope he finds peace of mind one day. As for the Travis/Rawlings affair, aren’t there any muslims in the air-force?

  • Suzie

    This guy…he is my hero!!

    I would also like to echo what TSgt Bobby said. I’m in the USAF as well, and have experienced the same forms of open discrimination. The one difference is, I stay silent when I’m faced with it, because if I were to come out of the closet as an Atheist I would suffer greater consequences, carrying two less stripes on my shoulder than he does. It makes me a much easier to push around, being lower-ranking. My Christian coworkers are allowed to have out-loud, frank discussions on their religion and all associated opinions at the workplace, including banter about how atheists are going to hell, etc, etc. However, the same standards aren’t applied in practice to me. If I were to speak up even in a matter-of-fact, informative discussion of beliefs (as my coworkers are allowed to have with their religions), I would be ostracized. If I don’t pray along with the invocations, which are before every official ceremony and I’m caught, I am treated as if I am disobeying something much more sacred than a commander’s order. It’s out of genuine fear of isolation, and isolation itself, that I do and say nothing.

    I hope that this “investigation” will create a legal precedent of some sort. Part of the reason I am choosing not to continue my service past my first enlistment is the fact that I’ve experienced so much outward discrimination – there’s rules against it, sure, but how well are they REALLY enforced, when going to your immediate supervisor about it is as threatening as any of the rest of your chain of command?


  • Gregory

    The theist nutcases are coming out of the trees, it would seem.

    Question for Cesear, Danita and rest: Why your god, to the exclusion of all others? Why not Zeus or Amaterasu or Odin or Allah or Vishnu or Gaia or Pele or Ukko or mac Lir or Unkulunkulu or Ishtar or Asherah or any of the other thousands of deities that have been worshipped for tens of thousands of years?

    Because your holy scriptures say so? I can supply scriptures — older, and therefore presumably more true — that claim the world was created when Marduk murdered his mother, Tiamat, and created the cosmos out of her body. I have another book that says the Grand Canyon was dug when Paul Bunyan got tired and walked along, dragging his axe behind him, and that the Grand Tetons came about because he and his blue ox, Babe, got to wrestling. Why should I accept your book and not some other?

    “I contend we both are atheists; I just believe in one fewer god than you. When you understand why you reject all other gods, you will understand why I reject yours.”


  • tony ansell

    Love your work Dan! With you all the way.

  • articulett

    Danita– you know that part in your bible about god not having other gods before him? Well, the Muslims think that worshiping Jesus as a god breaks that commandment and that Christians will, therefore, be going to hell. Bummer, eh?

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