Mikey Weinstein couldn’t be happier to have an amendment in his honor approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, even if it is one aimed at keeping his Military Religious Freedom Foundation as far away from the Pentagon as possible. He couldn’t be happier because Weinstein is the kind of guy who revels in the dislike of his adversaries.
“How terrified are these little pu***es in Congress that they have to pass an amendment about me?” he shouted in a phone interview from the foundation’s headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M.
Weinstein wants troops free from coercive evangelizing by their superiors, but a number of conservative lawmakers and activists see Weinstein as the threat to religious freedom.
Inspired by a report that Weinstein had met with Pentagon brass, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) introduced the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act in a statement that called Weinstein a “notorious anti-Christian zealot.”
In his House speech the same day, Huelskamp complained, “It seems that secretive meetings continue with individuals actually opposed to religious liberties.”
Weinstein welcomed the amendment, which requires the Pentagon to notify Congress of any meeting it holds with civilians to discuss military policy with respect to religious liberty. The language of the amendment, he notes, also would cover meetings between the Pentagon and Christian conservatives.
The amendment reflects growing concern in certain quarters that Weinstein is an anti-Christian crusader in disguise of a fighter for freedom from religion coercion in the military.
Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) in May asked the Pentagon for further information about a meeting between its officials and “anti-Christian extremist Mikey Weinstein,” and Rep. Michele Bachmann said the meeting was with “left-wing, anti-Christian activists.”
The core of Weinstein’s threat, as depicted by his conservative opponents, is that he is at the vanguard of a bid to squelch religious expression in the military but Weinstein does not target Christian expression as long as there is no evidence of coercion. His problem is with commanders who intimidate subordinates by permitting proselytizing — or engaging in it themselves.
“The military is indescribably tribal, adversarial, communal, ritualistic,” Weinstein said. “If you are being even gently evangelized by your military superior, ‘Get the f*** out of my face, sir’ is not an option.”
Weinstein has been lobbing bombs at the religious establishment since the mid-2000s, when two of his sons told him of coercive efforts by their superiors at his alma mater, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. He established his foundation in late 2005.
His younger son Curtis ,said he was exposed to anti-Semitic language and was asked “how it felt to kill Jesus.” His older son Casey, a 2004 Academy graduate, alleged that “senior cadets would sit down and say, ‘How do you feel about the fact that your family is going to burn in hell?’”
“I’m under no illusions that what happened to my Jewish sons and my Christian daughter-in-law could not have happened to the son of a patriotic American Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic or atheist,” Weinstein has written.
Weinstein says he does not target any particular faith, to the point that one of his recent victories involved getting a commander to remove atheist bumper stickers from his car.
Weinstein has attacked what he calls “Dominionist” Christians seeking to advance the United States toward theocracy. And he has referred to fundamentalist Christians as “monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.”
The Anti-Defamation League, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), all of whom publicly supported Weinstein in the past, will say little about him now.
The RAC and Israel both declined multiple requests for comment, while the ADL’s civil rights director, Deborah Lauter, would only say, “We don’t like the lack of civility on either side. ADL’s approach has always been if we see a problem, find a constructive way to fix it.”
Former Jewish community associates of Weinstein would not speak on the record but delivered tortured accounts of their relationships with him, which essentially boil down to this: Weinstein is wacky and impolitic — and right.
“It’s not that he’s not correct’ it’s that he’s not political” is how one put it.
In defense, he says his mission — keeping the most powerful military on the planet out of the control of theocrats — is too important for niceties. He likens himself to bygone activists who have chosen more moderate paths than their ideological allies.
Lost in the mutual expressions of outrage are efforts by the military to address the abuses Weinstein helped expose at the Air Force Academy in the mid-2000s.
The academy now requires cadets to undergo two hours of training in their first and fourth years, and one each in their second and third, to help sensitize them to religious differences. The ADL helped develop the curriculum.
It is the mission of the military to ensure that troops “observe the tenets of their respective religions and respects the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs,” said Col. Robert Bruno, the academy’s senior chaplain.
Weinstein is dismissive of such assurances, saying that any actions taken through the hierarchy are bound to invite career-ending retribution. The only way to protect cadets is to keep complaints anonymous.
“I’ll call a commander and say, ‘You have an hour to make this go away,’ ” Weinstein said.
Weinstein recently noted on his website a speaker in a commissioning ceremony allegedly urged the graduates to “help return this country to the Christian values it was founded on.” According to the foundation, Weinstein quickly received a pledge from a senior Academy official to review pre-ceremony briefings for speakers.
His influence is not negligible. Defense News last year named Weinstein one of the “100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense” by Defense News, outranking General David Petraeus.
Weinstein scored a major victory in 2011 when the Air Force suspended a training course for nuclear missile launch officers that used Bible passages and religious imagery in a PowerPoint presentation about the ethics of war.
“I started out at point A where I made a commitment that wherever I saw anti-Semitism I’d stamp it out,” he has written. “Now I’m at point B, when I see unconstitutional religious persecution of any stripe, I don’t care if I live or die, I’m not going to stand by and let it happen.”
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