A nativity scene at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina was abruptly removed last week.
Now we know why.
The recommendation to remove a Nativity from a Christmas display at the base came from Pentagon lawyers who feared the plastic Baby Jesus could give the appearance that the military is endorsing religion.
A spokesperson for the South Carolina base told me that Pentagon lawyers were acting on a complaint filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a radical anti-Christian organization whose leaders appear to hold great sway over President Obama’s Pentagon.
Lt. Keavy Rake said the Pentagon warned that items that are almost exclusively religious in nature, like a Nativity scene, “could appear to endorse religion” if they are displayed alone and away from chapel grounds.
Rake said the Pentagon recommended the Baby Jesus either be displayed on chapel grounds or as “part of a larger secular or multicultural display on base.”
Ultimately, base command made the decision to pull the plug.
Rake said volunteers have been given permission to assemble the Nativity on the chapel groups. Until then, Mary, Joseph and the Newborn King have been covered with a tarp.
“It is truly a sad state of affairs when a demilitarized zone has to be created on an Air Force base for Baby Jesus,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “The events in the Air Force alone show that this is much more than a war on Christmas, this is a war on the freedom of religious expression.”
The controversy started just a few minutes after the Nativity was erected last Friday near the base’s Memorial Lake.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said they were alerted by an undisclosed number of Airmen who said they were emotionally troubled by the sight of the plastic Jewish family.
The MRFF claims that because the Nativity scene was not located near a chapel it was a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution as well as Air Force policy.
Mikey Weinstein, the president of the group, immediately telephoned the Pentagon and exactly two hours and 15 minutes later the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes had been hauled away.
The Air Force base released a statement explaining that all faith-based and secular groups were offered an opportunity to put up holiday displays. The only group to take advantage of the offer was the one that erected the Nativity.
“Based on only one faith group being represented, 20th Fighter Wing officials determined the appropriate course of action was to celebrate the holiday season consistently and elected to remove the nativity scene from Memorial Lake,” the statement read.
In other words, to truly celebrate the Reason for the Season, you have to remove the Reason for the Season.
Rake acknowledged that if there had there been no complaint from the MRFF the Nativity would probably still be at the Memorial Lake. And contrary to what the MRFF claimed, she said not a single person had complained about the display.
“To the best of our knowledge, nobody directly complained to base officials or through their command or to the chaplain’s office,” she said.
The removal of the Nativity disappointed many Christians on the base.
“I was shocked and disheartened to see the Nativity removed,” said James Ward, a retired Air Force veteran. “This has tarnished the reputation of the Air Force.”
Perkins told me the events at Shaw Air Force Base exposed a glaring problem in the military.
“This is much more than a war on Christmas, this is a war on the freedom of religious expression,” he said.
Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said military members have every right to express their faith, even through a nativity scene.
“This is yet another example of the Air Force yielding to a phone call from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” Crews said.
If there is any good news in the controversy, it’s that Americans have finally decided to take a stand. Rake told me her office was inundated with thousands of telephone calls from people demanding that the Nativity scene be returned.
“It brought Christians together who are frankly tired of having their religious freedoms systematically taken away,” Ward told me.
And that, said Perkins, is great news.
“The reason we are hearing about so many of these attacks on Christmas is not necessarily because the number of attacks have increased, but because more and more Americans, both civilians and members of the military, are saying enough is enough,” he said.
But I’m still troubled by the amount of power Mikey Weinstein wields at the Pentagon. It took two hours and 15 minutes for the Pentagon to respond to his query. It took them six days to respond to the media.
The Pentagon may privately assure religious liberty groups that Weinstein is nothing more than a gadfly. But the facts prove otherwise. When Mikey Weinstein speaks, the Pentagon obeys.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.