Pentagon refuses to turn over records of communications with controversial anti-Christian activist
WASHINGTON, D.C., October 2, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The government watchdog group Judicial Watch has sued the Pentagon after it failed to respond by the June 18 deadline to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed in May demanding the Department of Defense turn over all records of communication between the Pentagon and controversial anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein.
Weinstein, whom Defense News called one of the “100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense,” has been meeting with Pentagon officials in an advisory role since the earliest days of the Obama administration. He is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). According to Defense News, the organization “Advocat[es] for secularism in the military” and “campaign[s] against public prayer and proselytizing by Air Force officers.” He has compared practicing Christians to Nazis and terrorist groups, called for a ban on Christian prayer in the military, and said that soldiers who attempt to share the Gospel with others are guilty of “sedition and treason” and “spiritual rape.”
In his own biographical profile at the MRFF website, Weinstein boasts proudly of the nicknames he claims his Christian “enemies” have given him, including “’Satan, ‘Satan’s lawyer,’ ‘the Antichrist,’ ‘That G-dless, Secular Leftist,’ ‘Antagonizer of All Christians,’ ‘Most Dangerous Man in America’ and ‘Field General of the Godless Armies of Satan.’”
The DoD first opened its doors to Weinstein in early 2009, just after President Obama took office. During the Bush administration, Weinstein had filed a discrimination complaint against the DoD on behalf of a Fort Detrick soldier, an atheist who argued that hearing opening and closing prayers during a mandatory military ceremony was “humiliating and dehumanizing.” Both the Bush administration and the Obama administration fought the complaint, and it was eventually dismissed. But General Norton Schwartz, then-Air Force Chief of Staff, accepted a meeting with Weinstein in February 2009 to discuss Weinstein’s concerns about what he called “improper religious influence” in the military, including the appearance of uniformed officers at religious events, displays of crucifixes at military chapels, and the practice of “dipping” the American flag before the altar at the U.S. Naval Academy.
At the time, Weinstein told the New York Times, “the thing I found encouraging is that not only did [Gen. Schwartz] take it very seriously, but he also acknowledged that there is a problem, which is always a first step.”
From that point on, Weinstein became something of an unofficial advisor to the Pentagon, communicating frequently with Schwartz and consulting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about issues including proper punishment for chaplains found guilty of “proselytizing” (Weinstein recommended court martial), and whether Air Force Academy cadets should be permitted to participate in the “Operation Christmas Child” holiday toy drive (absolutely not, given the group’s evangelical origins, said Weinstein).
Chris Rodda, one of Weinstein’s associates at MRFF, bragged in a May article for the Huffington Post that after Weinstein became aware of a Christian inspirational poster hanging in the dining hall at an Air Force Base in Idaho, he “immediately called the Pentagon because, you know, he can do that (to the obvious consternation of … modern-day Christian crusaders).” Wrote Rodda: “Mikey gave the Air Force an hour to take action.”
Wrote Rodda, “By the time Mikey talked to the Wing Commander at the base a few minutes later, the Wing Commander had already been contacted by the Pentagon.” Fifty-six minutes later, the poster had been removed, and the base wing commander promised to “order an inspection to rid his base of anything else like what had been hanging in the dining hall.”
So close was the relationship between Weinstein and the Pentagon that in December 2012, Weinstein was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense” by Defense News, who called the activist a “one-issue whistle-blower who has driven real change in religious policy throughout the military.”
Uncomfortable with Weinstein’s seemingly cozy relationship with the Pentagon, Congressional Republicans called for an investigation and passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill requiring the Pentagon to inform the legislature whenever its employees meet with outside individuals regarding military policy related to religious liberty.
Weinstein reacted with glee, reportedly shouting at one reporter from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “How terrified are these little pu***es in Congress that they have to pass an amendment about me?”
Of particular concern to observers was Weinstein’s relationship with General Schwartz, with whom Weinstein frequently boasted he had a close relationship.
“As months passed and turned into years, Norty and I spoke frequently,” Weinstein once said about his relationship with Schwartz. “Sometimes we spoke numerous times each month, and occasionally we spoke numerous times per week. Indeed, I still have a plethora of voice mails left by him from when I was unable to answer his calls.”
At Weinstein’s insistence, General Schwartz in 2011 published what Weinstein called a “watershed edict” stating that military personnel “must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”
The directive further added that although commanders are responsible for “Chaplain Corps programs, including activities such as religious studies, faith sharing, and prayer meetings … they must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion.” As such, the memo instructed commanders that they were forbidden to even notify subordinates about the existence of such programs.
One year later, just days from retirement, Schwartz followed up the initial edict with a draft of a 27-page Air Force instructional guide stamped “COMPLIANCE WITH THIS DOCUMENT IS MANDATORY” in which he restated the ban on proselytizing – this time adding the threat of court martial for those found in violation.
But all of that wasn’t enough to satisfy Weinstein’s anti-Christian zeal. Calling the proposed guidelines “too little, too late,” Weinstein turned on Schwartz, slamming the general for waiting until the final days of his tenure to release the controversial directive, and criticizing his “scandalously non-confrontational approach to the Christian extremist predators” in the Air Force.
Upon Schwartz’s retirement, Weinstein published a ranting opinion piece on far-left website Truthout.com bidding the general “good riddance” and comparing him to disgraced former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, accused of looking the other way as colleague Jerry Sandusky sexually abused numerous young boys.
“The situation is far worse now that Schwartz has issued that one little memo and failed to manifestly stand behind it,” argued Weinstein. “Schwartz's term of service as USAF chief of staff has epitomized a tortured, gutless legacy that's now being left behind for the rest of us to wretchedly wallow in.”
“Was Norty daunted by the prospect of being called a ‘Jesus-basher?’ Maybe. I don't know. Ask him,” Weinstein wrote. “Perhaps one day, Schwartz, like Paterno, will also stare endlessly into an abyss of unbridled public outrage and woefully lament that he wishes he ‘had done more.’”
Weinstein lamented that the memo was not followed up by decisive action, and told Fox News he wouldn’t be satisfied until “Someone [is] punished for this. Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior.”
Meanwhile, after Schwartz’s departure, Weinstein continues to enjoy access to the Pentagon brass. As recently as April 23, Weinstein met privately with Secretary Hagel and a number of other top officials. Soon after that, the Pentagon released the final version of Schwartz’s Air Force instructional guide, with the ban on sharing religious faith intact. In an op-ed for the Air Force Times, Robert Dorr credited Weinstein for the provision, called “Government Neutrality Regarding Religion.”
“As officials confirmed for me — it was mostly because of Weinstein's in-your-face activism that [the ban on proselytizing] came into existence,” Dorr wrote.