For the second time this holiday season a US military installation had a display of a Christian nativity moved because of complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
For the record, the base says the display was improperly places due to non-military contractors operating outside the rules. The base also says it has no records of anyone complaining to them from inside the base about the displays:
Both Nativity scenes will be moved to the courtyard of the base chapel, said Kelly Wirfel, a spokeswoman for Capt. John Nettleton, commander of the base in southeastern Cuba. The displays were set up by foreign contractors who manage the two dining facilities and were “not intended to endorse any religion,” Wirfel said in response to concerns raised by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
But somehow MRFF found 18 individuals based at the Guantanamo navel base who were bothered by the display. The MRFF is also claiming there is more to this story than a misplaced nativity.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the organization received an email from 18 service members who were afraid that any direct appeal to commanders would be ignored and result in retribution.
“They are terrified. Right now, there is a witch hunt going on to find out who did this,” said Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer who said the troops wanted to remain anonymous.
Eleven of those who complained are Protestant or Roman Catholic and the rest are Muslim, Jewish, agnostic or atheist, he said.
Weinstein said one service member who brought the issue up with a superior officer was told, â€œWe donâ€™t need any troublemakers here. Why donâ€™t you just go over to Subway?â€
Guantanamoâ€™s dining choices also include KFC, Starbucks, McDonaldâ€™s and Taco Bell, said Weinstein, locations where service members have been told to eat if they are uncomfortable with the Christmas decorations in the galleys.
â€œThe religious climate was made very clear when we received our initial in-processing brief,â€ the email sent from service members to MRFF said. â€œOne of our senior command team members briefed that their relationship with God was placed higher than even their relationship with their family.â€
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, said concerns such as this are handled on a case-by-case basis by leaders of involved command. Calls to public affairs officers on Guantanamo and at Navy Installations Command were not immediately returned.
Christensen stressed that DoD does not â€œendorseâ€ any religion.
â€œWe work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion â€” in a manner that is respectful of other individualsâ€™ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission,â€ he said in a written statement.