May 31, 2010

Mikey Weinstein: A Champion of Religious Freedom in the Military

Mikey-Weinstein.jpgToday is Memorial Day in the U.S., a day to honor the men and women who have given their lives in our military. I want to do something a bit different for Memorial Day this year and honor an Air Force veteran who is still with us: Mikey Weinstein, a true hero.

Weinstein founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) four years ago and has been the most influential defender of church-state separation in the U.S. military since that time. His organization has often worked alongside groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State on cases involving military personnel.

Stephen Glain wrote an excellent piece on Weinstein for Foreign Policy last week, and I cannot recommend it enough for those who may have missed it. Not only does it describe how Weinstein became interested in this form of activism and highlight some of his recent accomplishments, but it serves as a wake-up call to those who are still reluctant to acknowledge the well organized efforts to Christianize the U.S. armed forces.
For the past four years, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has been doing battle with a Christian subculture that, he believes, is trying to Christianize the U.S. armed forces with the help of a complicit Pentagon brass. He calls it the "fundamentalist Christian parachurch-military-corporate-proselytizing complex," a mouthful by which he means holy warriors in contempt of the constitutional barrier between church and state.
I have praised Weinstein and the MRFF here many times, as he often seems to be the only thing standing in the way of a Christian extremist military. Glain quotes Weinstein as saying that the scariest part of the efforts to remake the U.S. military as a Christian extremist force is that it "is it's going on not with the blind eye of the Pentagon but with its full and totally enthusiastic support." From what I've read in The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, this certainly seems to be the case.

Weinstein and his organization helped in Spc. Dustin Chalker's suit over being forced to participate in public prayer sessions, were key in getting Trijicon to stop engraving bible references on the rifle scopes they were selling to the U.S. military, and persuaded the Pentagon to rescind an invitation to have Christian extremist Franklin Graham speak at a National Day of Prayer Task Force service. He will likely next take up the case of Zachari Klawonn, a Muslim at Fort Hood, TX, who says that he has been harassed and subjected to anti-Islamic bigotry since the on-base shooting.

One of the things I found most interesting about Glain's profile was the revelation that most of Weinstein's clients are Christian soldiers, Catholics and mainline Protestants, who are being harassed by evangelical superiors.
The root of the problem, Weinstein believes, is a cluster of well-funded groups dedicated to Christianizing the military and proselytizing abroad.
From Sharlet's The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, I can see the fingerprints of "The Family" all over this. In fact, the names of the organizations Weinstein provides in the article are the same Family-affiliated groups Sharlet describes. This is more than a little distressing, and it makes me appreciate Weinstein's efforts all the more.

Note: By using the "atheist heroes" label for this post, I am not claiming that Mikey Weinstein is an atheist. I have no idea if he is or not. He has worked on behalf of atheists as well as others who are not evangelical Christians in the military, and I applaud his efforts.

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