By Joseph La Rue
Can Christians be commanders in the Ohio Air National Guard? Apparently, only if they keep quiet about their faith. At least, that seems to be the answer that Col. Craig R. Baker, the Commander of the 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio National Guard recently gave when he censored a unit newsletter.
Here’s what happened. The Stinger, a newsletter of the Guard’s 180th Fighter Wing, commanded by Col. Baker, includes a monthly informational column called “Commander’s Comments.” Recently, Col. Florencio Marquinez, the Commander of the Fighter Wing’s Medical Group, volunteered his views in the September, 2014 edition of The Stinger.
That’s when the problem started. A civilian complained about Col. Marquinez’s article, claiming it to be “odious” and “offending.” Now, those are pretty harsh words. Surely the article must have been really bad. It must have advocated something horrible. So what was it that got the civilian so upset?
It was simply this: that Col. Marquinez recognized that military service brings many challenges, and for him, his faith in Christ helped keep him on the right path. Noting that our nation proclaims “In God We Trust,” he suggested that personal faith could also bring value, explaining that his mom taught him to put God first, then family, and only then, work. And he shared how the priorities his mom taught him help him serve the men and women under his command. Oh, and he invited anyone reading his article, who might have struggles similar to the ones he had experienced, to let the Lord help them with them (See the article here; click the image to magnify it).
That’s it. That’s what was “offending” and “odious.” That’s what got the civilian so worked up.
This story should have ended right here. I should be reporting how the civilian complained to the base commander, and the base commander did the right thing and explained to the civilian that Col. Marquinez has First Amendment rights, and the military cannot censor those rights. And he could have explained that being “offended” is not reason enough to crush constitutionally protected rights.
Sadly, that’s not what happened. Instead, Col. Baker ordered the newsletter to be republished, with the “offending” and “odious” piece removed. And that’s exactly what happened. Col. Marquinez’s column, which originally appeared in the September edition of The Striker, is nowhere to be found. This Striker may be the only one ever published without a “Commander’s Comments” column. It’s simply gone.
And here’s the problem with that: the First Amendment prohibits the government censoring speech it doesn’t like. A long time ago the Supreme Court famously said, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” In other words, the government doesn’t get to tell us what we are allowed to say. Nor does it get to tell us what we are not allowed to say. And the fact that this was a government publication doesn’t help Col. Baker. The Supreme Court has explained that, when the government allows discussion by others of certain topics in its publications, it is not allowed to impose restrictions that discriminate among viewpoints on those subjects.
So, because the military allows discussions about "what has made your life better," "what helps you as you lead your troops," or secular psychological principles, it is not allowed to say that some answers are okay, while others aren’t.
Common sense tells us that it would be wrong, of course, for Col. Marquinez to order those under his command to attend church, or to follow Jesus. But that’s not what he did. No: he merely said, Jesus has helped me, and if you have problems, you should consider letting Him help you, too. There’s nothing wrong or improper about that. And he went on to say that there are other forms of help for the challenges of military service, pointing to the availability of psychological and medical services.
Col. Baker trampled Col. Marquienez’s First Amendment rights. And in doing so, he tacitly sent a very dangerous message: if you’re a Christian, you can’t be a commander in the Ohio Air National Guard. Or, at the very least, you must keep your Christianity to yourself.
Those who are prepared to give their lives defending our freedom should not have their freedom taken away.
If you agree, maybe you should call Col. Craig Baker and tell him. The 180th Fighter Wing website doesn’t list a direct dial for him, but the base operator’s number is 419-868-4250. Press option 1, (“locating an ID card number or phone number”), then press option 2, (“locating a phone number”). That transfers you to the operator, and you can ask to be transferred to Col. Baker.
Thank you for defending the freedoms of our service men and women.
Will you contact Col. Baker? What do you think of his response? Comment below with your thoughts.