After a United States Air Force commander allegedly sent out an email encouraging participation in a Christmas toy drive for disadvantaged children, he soon fell under attack by an atheist military group because of the message’s religious affiliation.
Lt. Col. Donald C. Tasker was targeted by Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) President Mikey Weinstein because he reportedly had his secretary send out an email to his entire squadron urging them to help fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child — a Christian toy drive organized by Samaritan’s Purse, an offshoot of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Weinstein alleged that the Tasker’s email constituted an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because the gift boxes to be filled with Christmas toys also carry a Gospel message to children around the world.
“[Tasker’s email constitutes] an absolutely unambiguous endorsement of [Operation Christmas Child],” Weinstein initially said about the email forwarded by the USAF commander’s administrative assistant, Valencia Branch, from his Dover Air Force Base office in Dover, Delaware.
According to TheBlaze, Tasker subsequently attempted to separate himself and his office from the email that encouraged his squadron’s participation in the Christmas toy drive. He reportedly tried to do this through a follow-up email.
“Recently an email … was forwarded to the entire 436 Force Support Squadron,” Tasker reportedly wrote to the squadron. “The invitation included in that email also contained language supporting the Christian faith and encouraged participation in this event as an act of Christian faith. I want to be absolutely clear that the email in question was not sent at my direction and is not endorsed in any way by me or any level of command.”
Also in the email, the USAF commander explained what is permitted and what is prohibited in emails issued by the U.S. government.
“[Government emails] cannot violate the Joint Ethics Regulation, which prohibits the endorsement of non-federal entity or event by a DoD employee in their official capacity,” Taker’s follow-up email continued, noting that such messages cannot give any indication that they are endorsing any religion in any way.
Pleased by what he considered to be a repudiation of the email that called for the support of Operation Christmas Child, Weinstein declared Tasker’s follow-up email denying any involvement in program a “total victory” for MRFF. Weinstein’s anti-Christian organization threatened to sue Tasker if he did not take immediately action to rectify the matter to MRFF’s liking.
“Our clients are delighted that this is a total victory,” Weinstein expressed to Military.com last week. “But it’s not a victory for anything other than the U.S. Constitution and the Air Force doing the right thing.”
But it is unclear if future action will be taken over the matter, although Weinstein apparently got results he wanted.
“Though his client’s demands were met after he complained about the Operation Christmas Child email, Weinstein said that Tasker’s quick response won’t matter unless there’s an investigation and those involved are punished,” TheBlaze’s Billy Hallowell reported. “[The] debate touched off after 14 unnamed personnel at the Air Force base complained to Weinstein about the email, which called for staff to assemble boxes to ‘show children in desperate situations that God loves and values them,’ adding that many of the children ‘have never heard of God’s incredible Gift of Salvation though His Son.’”
Really a violation?
Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty Executive Director Ron Crews contends that Weinstein’s self-proclaimed victory was based in misinformation and intimidation, arguing that no policies were violated by Branch or the email encouraging the squadron’s participation in Operation Christmas Child.
“We should be commending members of the Air Force, not condemning them for wanting to serve orphans,” Crews declared in a statement on Tuesday. “The e-mail announcing a volunteer opportunity in no way violates any Air Force policy or regulations, especially since the program involved is a federally approved charity.”