In defense of religious freedom

The highest echelons of the U.S. military need to learn a valuable lesson, literally, from a guy in charge of … Continued

The highest echelons of the U.S. military need to learn a valuable lesson, literally, from a guy in charge of a game.

Last month’s swift and decisive suspensions of the New Orleans Saints’ head coach, general manager and defensive coordinator were the clearest statement NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could make that intentionally injuring others would absolutely not be tolerated by the league.

This is how effective leadership can — and should — respond when it becomes apparent that those in charge are allowing others to run amok. 

When a military officer allows those in his or her charge to proselytize, ostracize, and abuse fellow service members because of their chosen faith (or lack thereof), they are permitting the commission of potentially irreparable harm. 

We continually learn of allegations of military command influence being used as a coercive tool upon anyone who is not the “right kind of Christian,” these ”players” are injuring each other because they believe that they’ll receive the “bounty” of eternal salvation.

For example, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, for more than two decades nuclear missile launch officers were exposed to training material including a presentation which included New Testament “end times” citations and quotations from St. Augustine. As CNN reported, images of mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were disgustingly juxtaposed alongside biblical citations such as “Revelation 19:11, Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior.”

Christian officers joined with others who were outraged that some would propagate the offensive notion that Christ adores weapons of mass destruction. Sixty-eight officers, 62 of them Christians, stepped forward to report this travesty to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the civil rights organization which I head. When MRFF’s primal scream regarding this situation reached the press, the presentation was yanked almost instantly from the curriculum and a review of all training materials was immediately ordered. Was anyone at all punished as a result of this violation of the separation of church and state? Were the results of the review published?

Only the lonesome sound of chirping crickets could be heard.

Soon after the Vandenberg incident, 21 Air Force instructors and 42 ROTC cadets at multiple  colleges and universities notified MRFF of another Christian-themed indoctrination program veiled as “ethical value training.”  The material, titled Core Values and the Air Force Member, included generous references to the Sermon on the Mount and gave pride of placement to seven of the Ten Commandments, including, “Have No Other Gods Than Me.” When MRFF shed light on this egregious case of Christian fundamentalist proselytizing, more empty promises of a review were issued. We have yet to see any form of justice from this constitutional violation.

Chirp you crickets, chirp.

      In their campaign to save souls regardless of the collateral damage, the forces of fundamentalism sometimes resort to appeals for repression. This was the case at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., my alma mater. Our foundation has seized every opportunity to confront the academy’s cavalier, dismissive and imperious attitude towards the guaranteed of separation of church and state within the U.S. military.

Perhaps for this reason, the dean of faculty, Brigadier General Dana H. Born, has been accused of attacking our foundation, our clients, and our supporters in a written directive to a subordinate. Our calls for a deep investigation have elicited a tepid response, with the Pentagon merely promising “appropriate consideration.”

 More chirping crickets.

Through it’s unwillingness to take these religious freedom issues seriously, the military has suggested that it doesn’t really care to uphold the First Amendment of the very Constitution its members are sworn to “support and defend.”

 All that can be heard is the telling and ubiquitous sound of crickets.

We’ve seen what the NFL is willing to do to set a vitally important enforcement precedent.  My foundation and those who we support  won’t rest until the Pentagon sets a far more significant precedent by handing out similarly forceful punishments.  The next time a superior forces his or her religious dictates on subordinates, or attempts to integrate sectarian religious contraband into the culture of the armed forces, the result must be significant enough that it will never happen again.

Do I think that will happen? Cue the crickets.




Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy. He served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corp. He is author of “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo) about religious extremism in America’s military


 

  • ccnl1

    Mikey Weinstein’s IRS Form 990:

    Hmmm, Mikey W is the president of the non-profit Military Religious Freedom Foundation and therefore must file an IRS Form 990. This report then becomes part of the public record. Said foundation must report donations, salaries, expenses etc. on this form. And Mikey W’s salary for 2008 was ? And the donations were?????

    As per Form 990, Mikey W’s salary for 2008 was $252,485. Total donations made to his foundation for 2008 were $545,434. Non-profit??? Hmmmm????????

    And the US taxpayers paid for his lawschool education.

  • Mrs-Weasley

    Interesting that you attack the messenger and not the message.

    I find the whole idea of proselytizing repugnant at the best of times but to do so at work is the lowest of the low – especially when the ones doing it are in a position of authority and can make someone’s work life difficult if they refuse to go along.

    Military units have to be able to completely rely upon one another to function – where is that trust if one or more of them feel rejected because of a religious belief/non-belief?

    The military is no place for proselytizing – believe what you want on your own time and let everyone else do the same – keep your beliefs to yourself and work on building the best team possible.

    Sad that the MRFF even has to exist.

  • ccnl1

    It is even sadder that Mickey W makes a lot of money off of his brand of proselytizing. And we the US taxpayers are also paying for his pension.

  • Mrs-Weasley

    Still no comment on the message? How sad that you must only attack the messenger!

    What you fail to comprehend is how very dangerous this right wing proselytizing is to the troops. Religion is a private matter not to be used as a weapon against a junior soldier!

  • watchtower

    ccnl1 — Hmmm, you must realize that Mikey does have a legal right to reimburse himself from the donations he receives to cover his expenses. And if you did a little research you will find everything legitimate. It has nothing to do with the “non-profit” designation or his pension…he served his country well for that. Please stop implying Mikey has done something wrong because he hasn’t.

    Now YOU on the other hand have done something wrong…you have accursed a man in good standing of wrong doing…SLANDER! YOU will be the one everyone will call “SAD!”

  • ccnl1

    Mickey W takes 50% of the donations to his “non-profit” as his salary. If he was really concerned about the situation, he would simply donate his time and effort to the cause at no cost but paying himself a quarter of a million dollars every year for writing a few op-ed pieces has the stench and ooze of a money-grab.

    I donate the following prayer at no cost to my former military units:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (references used are available upon request)

  • RickWatcher

    These godless groups try so hard to remove God from all areas of our lives and at the same time deny that God played any part in the development of and life in these United States. They are spiritually blind to the truth that is all around them and in order to prove their point they must destroy the proof of the truth they deny. This in itself proves what the Bible says about such people, “The cross is an offense to those who are perishing.”
    Our founders including those in the military used God’s Word to show their is such a thing as justifiable warfare and that a Christian is not condemned in defending their God given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.and in defense of the helpless. The bible speaks of a time for peace and time for war. David said that God had trained his hand to war. When translated rightly the command is, “Thou shalt not murder.”
    For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear you can see all around you and the nation of what happens when you remove God life and government.
    Wake up before it’s too late.

  • mustang4me

    These religious groups try so hard to force their God into all areas of our lives and at the same time deny that religion played no part in the development of and life in these United States.

    You can have all the faith and religion you want. When you start harrassing and attacking those who tell you to leave them alone, you get the war you deserve. If the theocracy you so fervently desire ever gains power over this nation (over my dead body), it will destroy the nation.

  • SODDI

    One might suspect that there was an organized Christian conspiracy to seize control of the military, most notably the Air Force’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.

  • mustang4me

    Weinstein is entitled to compensation for his work. He also deserves extra compensation for the security measures he must employ for his own safety, as your believing brethren have seen fit to vandalize his home, poison his dogs, and make numerous death threats against him and his family, all because he dared to stand up for the Constitution and said something that hurt their poor little feelings.

  • ccnl1

    Please provide reliable references supporting your comments that Mickey W requires added security.

  • HiggsBoson2

    Not funny. This is a very, very serious situation; it’s a sick, sick pattern that is perverting the military. Educate yourself and don’t make mockeryof MRFF’s sincere efforts to clean up the swamp.

  • HiggsBoson2

    You need to move to a country where your theocratic madness can have full rein. Try Saudi Arabia for one. You either follow their Wahabi fanatic version of Islam …or else.

    They don’t have a Constituion and a Bill of Rights like we do, thanks to the genius of the Founders in mandating separation of Church and State.

    You can go to any house of worship you choose; you can say anything you want in favor of your particular belief system, but in the United States of American you can NOT inject your beliefs into public, tax-supported institutions.

    Your problem is, you don’t know when you’re well off!

  • HiggsBoson2

    You — and we — are damn lucky to have Mikey Weinstein, who has stubbornly and doggedly fought to keep Fundametalist Christianity OUT of the military and the Academies, where it does NOT belong!

    Slowly, MRFF is gathering momentum, though there is still deeply ingrained resistance from elements of the miitary and the service academies that don’t respect the Constitution of the United States, but think they can threaten and intimidate troops who refuse to brown-nose their religious fanatic superiors.

  • ccnl1

    Replacing Mickey D’s expensive/money-grabbing commentary with some cost-free information for my fellow USA military members and/or vets:

    “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

    The Situation Today
    Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

    It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

  • SODDI

    I know it’s not funny.

    And I’m not “making a mockery”, I’m stating a very real concern.

  • rsl903

    Rick- You suffer from a mass delusion when you write about this god as if it were real. Its not and never was. Your bible is a collection of stories,myths,folklore,allegorical tales etc. It is not an expression of reality as it contains numerous references to supernatural beings and occurances. Please try to understand the very real difference between fiction and non-fiction in the future.

  • TX2NJ_Transplant

    Hate to tell you, but our founding fathers wrote things the way they did because they wanted religion where it should be: at home and at church, NOT in government. In the US today there are so many distinct versions fo Christianity alone (much less when we get into OTHER religions, too) that putting forth ANY religious teaching at all can only be viewed as a form of favoritism/exclusion culture when no other religion’s views are included. In essence, you’re saying our military personnel aren’t allowed to have the basic freedoms (freedom of and FROm religion if they so choose) they DIE to give to our other citizens? You’re messed up in the head.

  • TX2NJ_Transplant

    So, basically, you’re saying our military personnel don’t have the rights they DIE to give to you? You know, that right to freedom of religion? It also covers freedom FROM religion, just FYI. If that’s really what you’re saying, then you are severely messed up in the head. In case you didn’t know it, our Founding Fathers very carefully and purposefully wrote the laws of this land to keep religion in the home and the church and OUT of the government for a reason. They came from a culture where the church opressed them and tried to force them into beliefs they did not subscribe to. So don’t drag the founders of this country into your “My god is the only god” ranting insanity. No, your religion is one of HUNDREDS on this planet and all of them are right… for the people who believe in them. NONE of them have any place in a government which rules a mix of people who have a mix of beliefs.

  • csintala79

    When, as a young man, nay, a boy of 17, I enlisted in the Navy. That was in 1964. Part of the incoming processing for boot camp was a visit to the Chaplin’s office. Of course the Chaplin was too busy to meet personally with thousands of recruits; in his stead, a young seaman apprentice, a Chaplin’s assistant, was delegated the duty of gathering religious related information from us. As he sat earnestly at the typewriter (egad, what is that!) One of the first questions he asked was, “What religion do you belong to?” I paused a moment, and then, bravely and with some trepidation (after all, this was in 1964), admitted that I had none; I was an agnostic. He stared at me blankly for a moment, and then repeated the question, and I repeated my response. Ruminating over this a few seconds, his eyes lit up; he had figured out how to classify me! “OK, you are a Protestant!” There has always seemed to be something deliciously ironic about this. It wasn’t a big deal. All it meant was that every Sunday morning I had to march with a thousand or so of my fellow devotees to an outdoor stadium; this was probably one of the first mega churches. It was a bland, non-denominational service, as was appropriate for an agnostic, but some of the hymns were enjoyable. Don’t take those surveys on denomination and faith membership too seriously.

  • ccnl1

    Mickey Weinstein takes 50% of the donations to his “non-profit” as his salary. If he was really concerned about the situation, he would simply donate his time and effort to the cause at no cost but paying himself a quarter of a million dollars every year for writing a few op-ed pieces has the stench and ooze of a money-grab.

    I donate the following prayer at no cost to my former military units:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the …See More

  • Sara121

    Yes, we should take them seriously, because they use it for monetary allocation.

  • Catken1

    Rick – no one is “removing” god from anyone who wants to worship him.
    But if you can’t sustain your belief without forcing unwilling others to worship with you, pray to your deity, and incidentally pay for your events exclusively, you don’t deserve it.
    And if you think freedom of religion gives you the right to force your beliefs on others, well, I don’t want to hear you complain when your new Muslim boss requires you to adhere to Sharia law as a condition of employment, or your Jewish boss insists that you keep kosher and wear a yarmulke to work at all times, and not shave, or your atheist boss requires you to say a pledge declaring that there is no god every morning before you begin work. They have freedom of religion too. Just as our soldiers – all of them, not just the Christian ones, do.

    “For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear you can see all around you and the nation of what happens when you remove God life and government. ”

    Um, yeah. The happiest and most prosperous nations on the planet are the ones with the least religious influence or commitment. (At least, where that state has been reached through reasoned persuasion rather than force – China’s top-down policy of religious suppression is no more appropriate than forcing everyone to believe.)

  • amelia45

    I keep reading these stories and they keep not making a difference.

    Write your congressmen.

  • nkri401

    Hey Mister,

    Will you defend “My” religious freedom also?

    Say what? I’m free to practice any religion as long as it’s your Christianity?

    Is it like I can choose any color as long as it’s black?

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.