ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A Halloween celebration at a military installation was canceled by the unit’s commander because the event was “disrespectful to Christian personnel” and that it elevated “satan over Christ.”
In July 2019, a junior officer whose name and rank were withheld for privacy privileges were placed in charge of a Halloween event for their unit’s military personnel and their families. The officer reports having no issues at the time and during the planning phases and while working with other unit military personnel.
The Halloween event was then abruptly and unexpectedly canceled by the unit’s commander recently. The junior officer attempted to address the decision through the unit’s proper chain of supervision but reported frustration and fear that their careers might be impacted by challenging their unit commander’s decision.
In a letter to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) on October 27, 2019, the officer wrote: “WTF? I could not believe this happened? My spouse and many others were shocked. And by the way my spouse and I are both church going Christians as are most of the others helping with this Halloween event.”
The junior officer then contacted the MRFF who intervened on the cancellation. The MRRF reports that their clients – now the whistleblower and 15 other event organizers – “were met with the same frightened reactions when they approached the unit’s JAG and Chaplain personnel … fear of career retribution in questioning this Commander’s unexpectedly sudden and religiously tinged decision.”
MRFF representatives including Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the organization, contacted the unit commander who subsequently rescinded his order the same day. In a thank you letter from the junior officer and 15 other clients expressing their gratitude to MRFF for their intervention, the officer writes, “Mr. Mikey Weinstein actually answered my first call himself and spent almost an hour on the phone with me & my spouse and some of the other folks in our (military unit’s name withheld). Mikey and MRFF representatives at the military installation found a (military branch name withheld) regulation and US Supreme Court case which we could use to fight back. The very next day our (military unit’s name withheld) Commander rescinded his prior canceling of the Halloween event and it was back on!”
However, while the unit commander reversed his decision about the Halloween party, he added stipulations about the type of costumes permitted at the event. The officer wrote:
But unfortunately he also made a decree that no one, especially children, could wear costumes that were of a “satanic nature” or “celebrating satan” such as “devil, demon, witch, vampire, monster or skeleton” costumes. There were many other Halloween costumes on the list which were likewise banned. Including pumpkin costumes! One of my kids was going to be the cutest pumpkin for Halloween. No one challenged our (military unit’s name withheld) Commander here again. That was too much to believe! We went back to our chain of command and they told us to just be “satisfied that we’re even having a Halloween party.
The stipulations brought a second response call from MRFF to the unit commander. The costume restrictions were rescinded the following day.
The officer wrote in a letter that “The MRFF was 2 for 2 in saving Halloween!” The officer added in the thank you letter:
This whole thing has given me, my spouse and many others here at (military installation name withheld) a true wake up call to the illegal stronghold which certain Christian commanders have on the (name of military branch withheld). Unless you have gone through this yourself it is hard to digest and believe. You feel alone and small. And disappointed and confused.
But the worst of all of this was not receiving support from our intermediate commanders whom we went to for help first. Most of them admitted they supported us silently but none of them would do so on the record to our (military unit’s name withheld) Commander. Which is why we all followed my sister’s advice to then call the MRFF.
I know that me and my family and those who worked with us to keep the Halloween party and allow for the usual Halloween costumes may still face blowback from our chain and the (military unit’s name withheld) Commander. All because we sought help from the MRFF and Mr. Weinstein. Everybody pretty much knows that the MRFF was involved now. Even if that happens it will still have been worth it. We upheld our oaths to the Constitution to keep church and state apart. And we will call the MRFF again to help us fight the blowback!
Other units and military bases have taken different courses of action. Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, for example, will be holding Halloween festivities but offering an alternative called “Hallelujah Night” at the base chapel as a spiritual fall festival requesting that “that children not wear scary costumes”.
The identity of the individuals was also an issue. The MRFF withheld their clients’ names, as mentioned, out of privacy for the whistleblowers. Several individuals commented about releasing the identity of the unit commander, especially as the decisions were viewed as an abuse of authority and violation of First Amendment protections and Uniform Code of Military Justice.
One person wrote: “With respect… the identity of this unit commander needs to be provided… because this person needs to be mustered out of the U.S. military.” They added “ I have no objection to fundie Christian whack-a-doodles being in the military. But when and if they abuse positions of authority to impose their silly superstitions on others, they need to be slapped down, hard… If they allow their superstitious belief in a bunch of Middle-Eastern bullshit from 2,000 years ago to trump the Constitution, they need to be thrown the hell out of the military, immediately.”