Base officials say the phrase ‘have a blessed day’ is consistent with Air Force standards and isn’t a violation of Air Force instructions.
Several people called for gate enforcement personnel to stop using the "unwelcoming greetings" when they drive on and off the base.
"This is an absolute travesty. If the Air Force thinks this is over, they’ve got another thing coming. This is the top of the first inning and it’s a nine inning game," Mikey Weistein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said.
When you pull in, there’s no question you’ll see them. Armed guards at each gate surrounding Robins Air Force Base — checking badges and sending driver’s off with a message.
"There’s only one particular type of faith that says have a blessed day and it is the conservative, very evangelical form of Christianity," Weinstein said.
He tells 41NBC the group was approached by 13 U.S. Air Force members as well as civilians. Nine are practicing Roman Catholics or Protestants. The group was upset about the fact that when they came through the gate, they were told "have a blessed day."
"Think for a second if the gate guards were all saying ‘allahu Akbar’ or ‘Satan rules’ or ‘there is no God’ every time you go through the gate, it’s clearly a violation of the no establishment clause of the Constitution, Weinstein said.
Reverend Charles Nall says the phrase shouldn’t be considered religious.
"If you’re a Christian, of course, it has a different connotation, but if the person is not a Christian, they shouldn’t be offended by somebody telling them have a good day," Nall said.
He retired from the air force in 1977 and is now a pastor at a church in Warner Robins. He says the term "blessed" means "happy."
He adds monitoring the use of the phrase is a slippery slope.
"Why can’t I say things that I’m comfortable with as well as them? Are you going to allow me or not to tell them have a happy day, even though I used the word ‘blessed.’ It’s getting to be a messy situation," Nall said.
Weinstein says the practice also violated a number of Department of Defense directives, instructions and regulations.
"People say it to me when I walk into a store, that’s fine, it’s no big deal. It’s very different when it’s an armed member of the United States military at a security point on a military installation," Weinstein said.
He says he contacted the Pentagon and also the unit commander of the security forces at Robins. He says the call lasted 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
He adds the two came to an understanding, and in a short time gate guards were saying "have a nice day."
Weinstein disagrees with the base’s decision to reverse the decision. He adds he’s looking for one of the anonymous complainants to come forward to take the issue up with Air Force administration.
He also sent an email to 41NBC from one of the anonymous service members addressing the current atmosphere at the base.
READ THE EMAIL BELOW:
Mr. Weinstein, Sir, I am one of the MRFF’s 13 clients at Robins AFB. My wife and I are Christians and I am an Air Force officer. We are raising our kids as Christains too. Thank you for fighting the good fight over the "have a blessed day" fiasco down here. It’s so wrong that I shouldn’t have to go into it further. As you might guess it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to both flagrant and not so flagrant evangelical Christian bullying that goes on here as naturally as everyone breathers. Now the chain of command is trying to find out who went to you and the MRFF for help. People are scared. I wish I could come forward but I have a family to think of and they would be hurt if I did. I would be hurt too. I’m so sorry and I feel terrible about it and so does my wife.
Please do know how much we all appreciate your intervention but for now we must stay in the shadows. Sad to have it be that way in our Air Force.
READ ONE OF THE COMPLAINTS BELOW:
"I am an active-duty Air Force member/employee currently assigned to Robins Air Force Base, Georgia for the purpose of training. I have been entering through what is known as the ‘Russell Gate’ since the 23rd of February. On no less than 15 occasions over the last two weeks, I have been greeted by the military personnel at the gate with the phrase ‘Have a blessed day.’ This greeting has been expressed by at least 10 different Airmen ranging in rank from A1C to SSgt. I found the greeting to be a notion that I, as a non-religious member of the military community should believe a higher power has an influence on how my day should go."
READ THE STATEMENT FROM ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE:
"We are a professional organization defended by a professional force. Our defenders portray a professional image that represents a base all of middle Georgia can be proud of. Defenders have been asked to use the standard phrase "Welcome to Team Robins" in their greeting and can add various follow-on greetings as long as they remain courteous and professional.
The Air Force takes any expressed concern over religious freedom very seriously. Upon further review and consultation, the Air Force determined use of the phrase "have a blessed day" as a greeting is consistent with Air Force standards and is not in violation of Air Force Instructions."