Almost five years ago, the Air Force posted a video featuring Captain Christian Williams, a protestant chaplain. Williams spoke about his experience as a chaplain in the military, calling it one of the most rewarding ministries in the world, giving multiple examples of times that remind him of why he loves his job.
“We’re riding over in a C-130, I’m sitting beside an airman, and she says, you know what, I’m really scared,” he recounted. “She says this to me. She says, I’m really scared. I said, it’s gonna be fine, I was talking her through it. And at the same time, I didn’t know what to expect. This is my first deployment. So I said to her, I said you know what, you’re gonna be fine. She says that’s easy for you, because you’re a chaplain. And I looked at her, and I said, it’s easy for you as well, because the same God that loves me, He loves you. And the same God that’s gonna take care of me is gonna take care of you.”
Williams then said that she later told him, before leaving Iraq, that she had found God because of the example he set. And it’s this anecdote that has Mikey Weinstein calling for the video’s removal.
It’s not clear why Weinstein is only now, five years later, upset about the video. But according to Weinstein, who is the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the anecdote shared by Williams violates the First Amendment. Weinstein, who is an atheist, regularly challenges displays of faith in the military. He unsuccessfully demanded that Marine Corps Base Hawaii remove a “God Bless the Military” sign, and found issue with an Army recruiting poster that implored potential soldiers to fight for God and country.
In this case, it seems that Weinstein won’t be able to get the video removed. Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson says there is no problem with the video.
“The Air Force Chaplain Corps’ mission is to provide for the spiritual needs of airmen. Air Force chaplains are ready to support airmen facing the challenges and stressors inherent in deployed and home environments,” she said. “Chaplains being available to airmen for spiritual support, and sharing these experiences in their official capacity, does not violate the establishment clause or Air Force regulations.”
Michael Berry, senior counsel and director of military affairs for the First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, also says that he doesn’t see a problem with the video, pointing out that the Pentagon allows service members to share their personal faith with other service members, as long as they don’t proselytize.
“That is a bedrock principle of religious freedom for which First Liberty Institute fights,” he said. “In the Air Force recruiting video, the young airman approached the chaplain and explained that it was his leadership by example that led to her religious conversion. That is precisely the kind of character our military needs in its chaplains, and it’s the type of religious expression Congress has taken great steps to protect.”