Air Force Base Violates Open Forum Laws, Relents

Air Force Base Violates Open Forum Laws, Relents December 22, 2011

Justin Griffith reports that Travis Air Force has accepted a Christian and Jewish holiday display but refused to put up a display proposed by an atheist group on the base. Here are some of the details from a press release put out by American Atheists:

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.

There are really only two choices here, either they are explicitly endorsing the content of the religious displays — which would be unconstitutional — or they have an open forum, in which case they must accept the atheist display as well.

Update: The Air Force has backed down and the atheist display will now go up. Good news indeed.

Update 2: The sign is up and it’s already been vandalized. Hardly surprising but still vile.

Update 3: And it was vandalized a second time. How very loving.

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