Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Albuquerque Journal Column

Ex-Soldier Keeps Fighting for Freedom

By Jim Belshaw

I hadn't talked to Mikey Weinstein in a while. Then Sunday, there he was in the Washington Post, the centerpiece of a 2,600-word story.

He talked about "laying down a withering field of fire and leaving sucking chest wounds." He reflected on Christian megachurches that had given him a label: "Field General of the Armies of Satan."

Never a dull day in Mikey's life.

It has been two years since he started doing battle with the Air Force Academy and now the Air Force itself.It began when one of his sons, the second to attend the academy, just as Mikey had done, told his father that he was tired of being accused of having "killed Jesus Christ."

Mikey Weinstein is Jewish, a former Air Force officer, an attorney in the Reagan White House, a corporate attorney with Ross Perot and a member of a family with a long history at military academies.

He said it's painful to be at war with such institutions.

He has formed a non-profit- the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, its board laden with generals and admirals and combat veterans.

"I designed this foundation for two things- litigation and agitation," he said.

He has sued in federal court in Albuquerque for a permanent injunction barring the Air Force from allowing superiors to proselytize or evangelize lower-ranking service members while on duty.

He says such behavior is pervasive in the Air Force.

"You know, people say there are bad apples in the crate," he said when we spoke on Monday. "But that's not the problem. The problem is the crate is bad."

He succeeded in bringing about new guidelines at the academy, but then found the new rules no better than the old.

He ratcheted up the fight, making formidable enemies along the way- The National Association of Evangelicals, the Alliance

Defense Fund, Focus on the Family.

He said he's had feces and beer bottles thrown at his Albuquerque home; he said tires have been slashed and "I can't go nine days without getting some kind of threat."

But there will be no toning it down, no easing off.

"For the first year I was in this thing, I quote-unquote dialed it back," he said.

No more.

He is routinely depicted as anti-Christian, a charge he categorically rejects.

"I'd be happy to go to (National Association of Evangelicals leader) Ted Haggard's church and tell the 15,000 people in that church what I'm all about," he said. "I'll be the first one to grab an American flag and lead an army against anyone who tries to prevent you from having your religious belief. But not when the government says what that religious belief should be."

His wife, Bonnie, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and recently with a painful jaw disorder, says there will be no stepping back from the fight.

"The problem was that at no point was there a stopping point, unless you just drop it and run," she said. "But it's not the quality of person I am, nor is it the quality of person my husband is. Stopping wasn't anything we could consider."

He's written a book, filed the lawsuit, travels to fundraisers around the country. In Washington, he found allies in Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent outed by columnist Robert Novak.

The day we spoke, he said he'd just had a lunch with an old friend, a devout Christian and conservative Republican."He's always understood," he said. "He's always gotten it. He knows the people who try to paint me as a Christian basher are completely wrong."

The fight goes on. There will be no dialing it back.

3 Comments:

Blogger Lawrence Swaim said...

Fighting for Religious Liberty

The Interfaith Freedom Foundation is delighted to support Michael "Mikey" Weinstein's fight for freedom of religious conscience in the military. We have been aware of the situation at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for some time. At the time Curtis Weinstein was being harassed with crude anti-Semitic remarks, we believe there were as many as nine Muslim cadets who were being similarly harassed. It must have been hellish for all cadets harassed in this completely unacceptable manner. The pressures of education at a military academy are tough enough without being harassed because of one's faith.
The Interfaith Freedom Foundation advocates civil rights for religious minorities, and religious liberty for all. Our Board of Directors include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. Most of our advocacy has been for Sikhs and Muslims. We are located in Fremont, California, with large immigrant populations, many of which includes Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other faith communities.
I agree that most Christian evangelicals are good people, but there are some associated with what is usually called the Religious Right who wish to use the power of the state (as well as law and custom) to institutiona- lize their brand of Christianity. Attempts to use the military to promote a particular religion is typical of this. Mr. Weinstein put the issue well when he referred to the Religious Right as "theo-cons!"
And like the neo-cons, I'm afraid they often promote religious war as well as religious bigotry. As a Christian myself I'm embarrassed that there are still some of us promoting a Crusader ethic. And just in case anyone has forgotten, it's anti-Semitism of the kind reported by Mikey Weinstein and others that led to the Nazi Holocaust, history's greatest crime. Could we possibly look away from this outrageous behavior and call ourselves good Americans?
What the Religious Right doesn't seem to get is that in a military academy a suggestion by an instructor (that is, an officer) to a cadet carries the weight of an order. And that's the problem: there's a total asymmetry of power between the officer and the cadet. The Religious Right says it's religious liberty for a person to talk about their religion. But what's free about an officer proselytizing a cadet, when the cadet has no power and his institutional life at the academy depends on the goodwill of officers? That's not religious liberty, that's religious fascism!
One of the most inspriring (if little-known) things George Washington did after becoming our first President was to send a letter to a congregation of Sephardic Jews in Rhode Island, explaing that all faiths were welcome in the New World, and suggesting that they invite some of their friends abroad to immigrate to the first country in the history of the planet that had complete freedom religion! He didn't say, "Invite your Christian friends," he invited all who believed in religious liberty to join in building the new nation.
People who violate our precious traditions of religious liberty, like those who commit hate crimes, are really attacking America.
God bless you, Michael Weinstein, for your willingness to engage this issue over the long term. I'm a parent too, and I'd be hopping mad if my child were similarly mistreated at a military academy. I can't help but think that somewhere the ghosts of Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, and all the other heroes of religious liberty in American history are looking down on you in the midst of your good fight and saying, "You go, Mikey!"


Lawrence Swaim
Executive Director
Interfaith Freedom Foundation
P.O. Box 133
Fremont CA 94537
510-745-8178

7:02 PM  
Blogger Caseymarc4 said...

Lawrence,
Thank you for your support, it means so much to my dad and our foundation. Have you given any thought to a joint event between our two foundations? If you have any thoughts on the subject, please email me at usafa4@yahoo.com. Thanks!

6:18 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Mr. Swaim,
I believe your organization should pursue American Universities and centers of Higher Learning if you truly believe the statement you included in your post.
"
What the Religious Right doesn't seem to get is that in a military academy a suggestion by an instructor (that is, an officer) to a cadet carries the weight of an order. And that's the problem: there's a total asymmetry of power between the officer and the cadet. The Religious Right says it's religious liberty for a person to talk about their religion. But what's free about an officer proselytizing a cadet, when the cadet has no power and his institutional life at the academy depends on the goodwill of officers? That's not religious liberty, that's religious fascism!"

This is exactly the same thing that is happening on University Campuses across this country. The problem is that it isn't Military Officers proselytizing cadets, it's University Professors proselytizing hatred for Christian students and their religious views.
We've now gone so far as to deem the Christian Worldview as "hate" speech in this country.

Put your money where your mouth is sir. You either believe the view point you profess or it's simply left wing smoke-and-mirror platitudes disguising hatred for Christianity.

6:17 AM  

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