The Air Force Reserve Command is threatening to censor a report about a reservist and his family who spend their Christmas holidays each year on humanitarian trips – most recently visiting Guatemala and providing medical treatment for indigenous people. The threat is drawing outrage from the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which has dispatched a letter to the military that not only is the article acceptable, to censor it would be to allow a “heckler’s veto” to control expression, “something that the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected.” The article, on the Air Force Reserve Command website, features Senior Master Sgt. Larry Gallo, who with his wife, Yvonne, and daughters, Daizha and Paree, have made similar humanitarian trips for several years.
The article mentions that “Christ” is part of the name of the group that organized the trip, and a pastor went along. The mention prompted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to object that the military was endorsing a specific religion. The chaplains’ group argued to Col. William Whittenberger Jr., the commander of 433rd Airlift Wing, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, that the Supreme Court has made clear that as long as the military grants “equal access to both secular and religious speech,” it does not “endorse or disapprove of religion.” “It has repeatedly declared – no less than seven times – that the government does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause when it treats religious and secular expression alike.”
The chaplains said it’s “important to recognize that the First Amendment exists to protect controversial speech, even if it is religious.” “The ‘bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment’ … is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive of disagreeable.” The chaplains said MRFF may be offended by Gallo’s expression of his faith and is entitled to those feelings, but the Supreme Court has “made it clear that merely coming into contact with things MRFF finds ‘disagreeable’ is not a constitutional injury; it is just part of life in a pluralistic society.” More