The Air Force Inspector General's Office has found that Maj. Gen. (Chaplain) Dondi Costin, the service's chief of chaplains, did not act improperly when he appeared in uniform at a July event sponsored by the Chaplain Alliance for Military Liberty.

But the matter may not end there as the Defense Department's IG takes a second look.

The two-star delivered the benediction July 12 at an event in which outgoing Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., was presented with the alliance's Torchbearer Award.

That caught the attention of Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who demanded an investigation into the chaplain's actions by the Defense Department Office of the Inspector General.

Weinstein's group has waged an aggressive campaign for separation of church and state in the armed services.

By appearing in uniform and delivering the benediction, Costin "blatantly violated both Air Force and DoD regulations prohibiting the endorsement of a non-federal entity," Weinstein wrote in a July 25 letter to the acting DoD IG, Glenn A. Fine.

Weinstein noted that the actions of Army Maj. (Chaplain) John Scott, who delivered the invocation, and the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, Brig. Gen. Steven Schaick, both of whom attended in uniform, also amount to an endorsement of the alliance.

In a late July interview, Weinstein said that Forbes has consistently opposed allowing gay and lesbian people to serve in the military, and members of the alliance have also advocated for a renewed ban on LGBT people serving in the military, based on their religious beliefs.

Fine's office referred Weinstein's letter to the Air Force Inspector General, according to a Nov. 1 letter to Weinstein from Marguerite C. Garrison, deputy inspector general for administrative investigations.

"After conducting interviews and gathering additional facts, the Air Force IG found that Maj. Gen. Costin's benediction was a generic, non-sectarian prayer seeking God's blessing on the event's honoree, Congressman Randy Forbes," Garrison wrote. "The Air Force IG found no prima facie evidence that Maj. Gen. Costin endorsed [the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty] by appearing in uniform and performing the benediction, thereby implying Air Force sponsorship of CARL or sanction of a particular cause, or discrediting the Armed Forces.

"We reviewed the matter, to include the Air Force IG's assessment," she continued. "We also concluded Maj. Gen. Costin's attendance and benediction did not violate Department of Defense or Air Force standards on endorsement of, or participation with, a non-federal entity, uniform wear, public speaking, or free exercise of religion."

In a Nov. 9 emailed response to the ruling, MRFF's lawyer, Donald G. Rehkopf Jr., with the Brenna Boyce law firm in Rochester, New York, argued that the ruling did not address the specific legal issues raised by the foundation, and noted that no one from the Air Force IG's office "bothered to contact anyone at the MRFF."

"One would expect that in the interest of conducting a full and fair 'investigation,' that whoever was tasked to investigate this would at least contact the complainant to discuss their concerns," Rehkopf wrote.

The Air Force IG appeared "to have missed the underlying point," he argued. "CARL is … an entity that would not be allowed (or at least should not be allowed) to operate on any U.S. military installation because it openly discriminates on the basis of religion and sexual orientation. It is not just the fact that Maj. Gen. Costin appeared in uniform, it is that plus the fact that he is the AF chief of chaplains, speaking at an allegedly 'Christian' sect group's political event.

"This … was not a 'free exercise' issue," he wrote, "it was and is an establishment clause issue where the AF chief of chaplains has entangled himself with a group that espouses religious and other intolerances."

Garrison replied that she would provide a response when her review of the matter was complete.

Reporter Phillip Swarts contributed to this report.

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