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In 2008, candidate Barack Obama famously said, “You can put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called ‘change,’ it’s still going to stink.” That refreshing candor sprang to mind when I listened to the commander-in-chief’s most recent State of the Union address.
Indeed, the absurdity of election-season politicking is back again, and this malady was blatantly clear in his claim that the U.S. military is some homogeneous, undivided, goal-oriented organization where enlistees and officers don’t “obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together.”
At the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, we know of an altogether different reality. For the past seven years our list of persecuted clients within the American armed forces has grown to “biblical” proportions.
We now have 26,300-plus clients (96% of whom are Christian and hundreds more streaming in monthly). This stands as a shameful testament to the fact that the military ranks have been inundated by dangerous, fundamentalist, evangelical Christian fanaticism.
This irrefutable sickness portends only the gravest consequences for troop morale, national security, and the civil rights standards which we’ve grown to appreciate over 223 years since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution
The president stated that his administration would “stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings — men and women; Christians, Muslims and Jews.” Tragically, our nation’s soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, cadets, midshipmen, and armed forces veterans have become de facto exempt from these basic standards of human dignity, respect and tolerance.
These men and women, stationed at roughly 1,000 U.S.military installations around the world, are all-too-often victims of spiritual molestation and religious predation for not attending the “right” church, not praying to the “correct” God, or for worshipping no god at all.
At the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Bible-bashing charlatans have created an intolerable climate for fellow cadets, midshipmen and staff
For instance, Air Force Academy cadets who contacted my organization say well over a hundred fellow cadets have been forced to adopt a false identity as Fundamentalist Christians to avoid the torment which inevitably befalls cadets who won’t fall in line with the prevailing “dominion” fundamentalist Christian supremacy at the academy.
While the president has outwardly sought to reset relations with the Arab and Islamic world, the dire situation confronting Muslim-Americans within our armed forces represents a total refutation of any conception of human rights and fair treatment. Muslim-Americans form a nontrivial portion of those who report incidents of religious torment to MRFF: 453 soldiers of the Muslim faith, representing approximately 10% of Muslims within all military branches, have reported desecration of their guaranteed Constitutional civil rights.
Army National Guard Specialists Khalid Lyaacoubi and Yassine Bahamou, stationed in the Washington, D.C, area, are two prime examples. Eager to serve as battlefield Arabic-language translators, these men were victimized on the basis of unfounded claims that they were plotting to poison their comrades. Told by an officer of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division that “[The United States is] at war with Islam and you are Muslim,” these men are living proof that Muslim-American soldiers are subject to merciless institutional hostility of the most profound magnitude
But there are thousands of other horrifying examples of military-imposed religious predation. Some of the most shocking are detailed in my new book,
No Snowflake in an Avalanche
The roll call of oppressive shame includes:
• Disabled Navy veterans being aggressively and involuntarily proselytized in VA hospitals while hooked up to heart monitoring devices;
• Air Force pilots being stripped of their wings for failing to adhere to mandatory Christian prayers;
• Army and Marine recruits being savagely beaten for refusing to renounce their minority faith and converting to Christianity;
• The Air Force being caught infusing its official nuclear missile launch officer training with “End Times” Armageddon biblical citations and accompanying justifications;
• Almost 1 million rifle scopes branded with New Testament biblical citation
The list is almost endless and the lesson is crystal clear: When you oppress members of the U.S. armed forces by telling them that they lack integrity, intelligence, courage, character and honor because of their chosen religious faith, or lack thereof, there is absolutely no difference between that inhumanity and telling someone that they’re inferior because of the color of their skin or because they are a female
President Obama’s State of the Union “team spirit” message depicts the military as a picture-perfect template of tolerance and multicultural unity. This false portrayal represents a dangerous distraction from the perils of a Christian Fundamentalist tsunami which has sowed division and bigotry.
The mendacity of the president’s claims do grave damage not only to the brave men and women who comprise the ranks of our nation’s military, but to the very core, foundational freedoms assured by the Constitution. Fine oration and “lipstick on a pig” cannot mask the ugly reality which Obama either wittingly or unwittingly seeks to conceal.
There is an old saying: “any sufficiently advanced incompetence is completely indistinguishable from malice.” With infidelity being a recurring theme of this election cycle, the incumbent would do well not to whisper disingenuous pillow-talk, fatally misinformed at best and utterly dishonest at worst, into the ears of the American people regarding a mythical familial harmony within the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind; our U.S. military.
The courageous men and women braving death and grievous injury while honorably serving in our armed forces deserve nothing less.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, He previously served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corp. He is the author of “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo) about religious extremism in America’s military.