Pentagon & Congress

Reserve command: Release on mission trip will stay up

The Air Force Reserve Command has decided that a news release on an airman's church-sponsored humanitarian mission to Guatemala does not violate rules requiring separation of church and state. The releaseand will remain online.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had originally objected to the Jan. 23 release on Senior Master Sgt. Larry Gallo's nine-day trip to provide medical treatment to villagers in Guatemala in December as part of the T.I.M.E. for Christ Medical Ministries.

After MRFF raised its objections, an editor's note appeared on the release.

"Air Force Reserve Command has received complaints about this article on the basis that it could reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief or absence of belief," the editor's note said. "Air Force Reserve Command is currently reviewing the article to determine if it is consistent with Air Force standards.

By Feb. 6, the editor's note had disappeared, and the release remained online.

AFRC spokesman Philip Rhodes said the review was finished earlier that week, and the release will not be taken down.

"We vetted the question about the story through Air Force legal and chaplain corps, and all agreed that the story is appropriate as it is displayed," Rhodes said.

MRFF President Mikey Weinstein declined to comment to Air Force Times.

Gallo, a maintenance support section chief at the 433rd Logistics Readiness Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, his wife and daughters, and other volunteers helped provide medical treatment to more than 720 patients from three villages, San Raimundo, Guachipulin and El Chol in central Guatemala, according to the release. They helped patients with lacerations, knee injections, wound cleaning, abscess removals and drains, stitches, scabies detoxing, ear washes, high blood pressure treatments, diabetes, and urinary tract infections, the release said.

A group called Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that advocates for people's right to for religious expression, and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, which advocates for the religious freedom of military members and chaplains, also sent a letter to the commander of the 433rd Airlift Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas on Feb. 3, urging AFRC to leave the release up.

"The establishment clause [of the Constitution, which forbids the government from establishing an official religion or favoring one religion over another] does not require the AFRC to remove this article or to censor any references to SMSgt. Gallo's mission trips," Alliance Defending Freedom legal counsel Travis Barham said in the letter. "In fact, if the AFRC were to remove this article, it would demonstrate the very viewpoint discrimination and hostility towards religion that the First Amendment and Air Force Policies prohibit."

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