- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2016

A group advocating the separation of church and state is demanding the Air Force rebuke a commander who expressed his Christian beliefs in an interview.

In a “Meet your leadership” question-and-answer session with the 39th Air Base Wing’s public affairs office, Lt. Col. Michael Kersten answers a question about his greatest influences by talking about Jesus Christ.

“As a Christian, my example is to be like Christ,” Col. Kersten says in the Sept. 15 interview. “He is my guide and affects all of my decisions. He teaches to do all things as unto the Lord and I believe this is synonymous with integrity first and excellence in all we do.”

The interview quickly drew the ire of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which sent a demand letter Thursday to Col. John C. Walker, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base in Adana, Turkey.

The missive demands the Air Force apologize for the expression of faith, rebuke the statement, punish Col. Kersten and take measures to ensure an atmosphere of inclusion and diversity is upheld on the base.

Mikey Weinstein, who heads the MRFF, said his group represents more than 100 Incirlik Air Base personnel and a number of Turkish soldiers who took issue with the declaration of Christian faith.

He said the avowal violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause and Air Force prohibitions on religious expression.

“Lt. Col. Kersten was making it clear, ‘I’m a Christian, and everything that I do is affected by my love of Jesus.’ We get all that, and we made it very clear in the letter that that’s great privately,” Mr. Weinstein said. “But this is an official Air Force website, on the internet, he’s being introduced to everyone who’s going to be working for him.”

Mr. Weinstein also said there would have been “riots” if Col. Kersten had made a declaration of Islamic rather than Christian faith.

The Air Force has not yet responded to the demand letter, Mr. Weinstein said.

This is the latest dispute between the MRFF and the Air Force. The secularist organization previously took the military branch to task for allowing football players to pray on the field before games.

The Air Force ruled in an investigation into that case that the players have a right to pray publicly.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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