New America Media – Michael “Mikey” Weinstein opens his e-mail inbox to find another unflattering message.
“You hate Jesus so much [you’re] foaming out the mouth… [you’re] conspiring with the Muslim news media to stamp out Christianity,” the e-mail reads. “In spite of your being a traitor and a big pile of (expletive), have a nice day.”
Weinstein smiles and keeps reading, with an almost renewed zeal. Words like these help fuel his work every day. Weinstein is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a military watchdog organization based in New Mexico that works to promote religious tolerance and freedom in the US Armed Forces.
Weinstein insists he is a constitutionalist – one who strives for the preservation and adherence to the US Constitution – but, more specifically, he wishes to rid the American military of “the fundamentalist Christian mega-church military proselytizing complex.”
The MRFF has leveled a massive court case against US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Department of Defense, alleging a long list of violations of religious freedoms by US military personnel – some of them against Muslims. Weinstein expects the case to be heard by the US Supreme Court.
Government lawyers requested the case’s dismissal in April, but Weinstein remains hopeful that his version of justice will be served.
“We have a killer case, and they know it,” he said.
Last month, Weinstein added a new page to the long list of complaints.
When the Constitution’s Protector Becomes the Violator
The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, a fundamentalist Christian agency that endorses chaplain candidates to serve in all branches of the US Armed Forces, “has continually been in flagrant violation of a number of DOD (Department of Defense) regulations, the US Code, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the United States Constitution for well over a decade,” Weinstein wrote in a letter sent to Gates on June 24.
“[CFGC] habitually denigrates all religions and religious denominations except Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity. This denigration, which includes virulently anti-Semitic and Islamophobic statements, as well as the deprecation of Catholicism and mainstream Protestantism, occurs in the CFGC’s chaplain newsletters, as well as in the speeches, media appearances, and videos,” it continued, listing violated constitutional and military statutes.
Weinstein said he is furious the government would allow such a group to approve spiritual leaders and mentors within the military, and he holds President Barack Obama personally responsible.
“Think of how shameful this is that we have the president addressing the Muslim world at Cairo University on June 4, giving a speech trying to reset the clock and show appropriate balance and respect for all of Islam, when at the same time he’s also the commander in chief of the US military, and this is a military that has specifically blessed the CFGC with the ability to control 270 uniformed military chaplains and chaplain candidates,” Weinstein said.
According to its website, CFGC currently has 270 chaplains serving in the US Armed Forces and is headed by Jim Ammerman, a minister who once called Islam a “killer religion.”
Ammerman has not only called the War on Terror a “spiritual war,” a perspective which Weinstein claims is identical to that of al-Qaida, but he also prayed for the death of President Obama, calling him a “secret Muslim.”
MRFF board member Reza Aslan argues relationships and affiliations between the military and such fanatical religious organizations indicate sentiments within the highest ranks in leadership.
“This is a matter of the infiltration of the military at the highest level by people who think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not about terrorism or about nation states but are about the cosmic contest between Christianity and Islam,” Aslan said.
An internationally acclaimed author and scholar, Aslan is adamant there is a “deliberate, conscious, and well-funded movement to use the military as a missionary apparatus.”
There is great weight to Aslan’s claim, Weinstein argues.
“Iraqis and Afghans are being mercilessly proselytized,” Weinstein said, detailing a long list of allegations.
One of the most noteworthy occurred last year when a group of US military personnel launched a campaign to convert thousands of Iraqis to Christianity by distributing fundamentalist Christian texts translated into Arabic. The group targeted Muslims in particular, Weinstein said.
An article published on the website of Mission Network News reported that Bible Pathway Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization, disclosed that the organization provided thousands of a special military edition of its Daily Devotional Bible study book to members of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, which was stationed in Iraq.
“The soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they’re using it to minister to the local residents,” Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne told the Mission Network News. “Our division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers.”
This was not an isolated incident.
In May, Al Jazeera obtained and released a video of Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, encouraging soldiers to evangelize the Muslim country.
“The special forces guys, they hunt men, basically,” Hensley says on the video. “We do the same things; as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.”
American Muslim community members are not pleased.
“Our soldiers’ (US soldiers) task is to protect our country and establish safety in Afghanistan, not convert Afghans to Christianity,” said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Military spokeswoman Major Jennifer Willis denied the allegations that the US Army condones proselytizing by its soldiers.
“That specific case involved a soldier who brought in a donation of translated Bibles that were sent to his personal address by his home church. He showed them to the group, and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them,” she said. “The translated Bibles were never distributed as far as we know, because the soldier understood that if he distributed them, he would be in violation of General Order 1, and he would be subject to punishment.”
“[Hensley] said they were there trying to hunt people for Jesus; who was he talking about?” Aslan replied, challenging the military’s statement. Aslan insists there must be an evangelical infiltration in the military’s highest ranking officers.
“It is being done at the highest levels, within the Pentagon itself,” he added. “We have high-ranking soldiers who are the forefront of this military missionary movement. The only difference between that event and what happens normally is that event was caught on camera.”
Weinstein becomes outraged when he hears or reads the military’s deflection of what he feels is clear evidence of constitutional violation.
“Show me one instance where an officer was disciplined,” he said, claiming the military has never taken action in previous incidents. “We have to have people willing to stand up.”
To date, nearly 13,000 active duty and retired members of the US Armed Forces, most of whom are Christian, have approached Weinstein with allegations of infringement on religious freedoms by the military.
He hopes that more officers and non-commissioned officers will come forward so the officers responsible for this behavior can be reprimanded publicly.
“The Romans got it right,” he said. “We need severed heads on poles.”
A popular cable television show on the Trinity Broadcasting Network recently fueled the religious controversy surrounding the military when two so-called “extreme” missionaries embedded with a US Army unit in Afghanistan openly tried to convert Muslims to Christianity.
Named Travel the Road for the exotic adventures the program chronicles, the show’s stated goal is to “preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and encourage the church to be active in the Great Commission.”
The show’s second season ended with three episodes filmed in Afghanistan, depicting multiple scenes where co-hosts Will Decker and Tim Scott accompanied US Army units on patrol.
“For these episodes, the missionaries were completely embedded and, thus, actually permitted to stay on US military bases, travel with a public affairs unit, and accompany and film troops on patrols, all for the purpose of evangelizing Afghanis and producing a television show promoting the Christian religion,” Weinstein explained.
“This is despicable and unconstitutional,” he said. “The number of Department of Defense Public Affairs regulations violated in the military’s participation and assistance in producing a religious program alone is staggering, not to mention other violations, including constitutional, documented in the content of the program, which include the outrageous violation of the United States Central Command’s General Order 1-A, which absolutely prohibits any proselytization whatsoever in the Middle Eastern theater of operations.”
Robert Salaam, a Muslim-American Marine Corps veteran, wrote on his blog: “I don’t know what aspect of my background makes me angrier about this news.” If it were a Muslim that was proselytizing in a Christian nation, “there would be an uproar,” he wrote.
Salaam blamed the US government, the military, and the fundamentalist Christian groups for this phenomenon, but he didn’t stop there. He blamed Muslims as well.
“Our lack of unity, vigilance, and concern for fellow Muslims allow the opportunity for exploitation to exist,” Salaam said.
He said Muslims need to actively object to any religion’s endorsement in the military, adding that it is a much more important issue than other issues that Muslims have championed.
Weinstein agrees with Salaam’s perspective, but he also senses a pattern of religious marginalization and persecution by the military.
“This conflict of religious extermination has happened before,” Weinstein said. “They called it ‘The Crusades’.”
Weinstein argues that the military’s sanctioning of shows like Travel the Road emboldens America’s enemies and provides them with recruiting tools and more propaganda.
He also described the show’s co-hosts as “treasonous”.
The Man behind the Foundation
Listening to Weinstein and reading his often heated newsletter articles, one may begin to wonder how he became so passionate.
His opponents claim his hate for Christianity fuels his work, but he dismisses these claims.
To him, it’s personal.
“I started off as a [very angry] parent,” he told said.
Weinstein’s family boasts three straight generations of military academy graduates with more than 130 years of combined active duty.
When his sons and daughter-in-law joined the ranks of the US Air Force after graduation from the Air Force Academy, Weinstein couldn’t be prouder. It didn’t take long for his outlook to change, however.
Weinstein, a Jew, received multiple phone calls from his sons and daughter-in-law, who is Christian, complaining of anti-Semitic remarks from ranking officers.
They used to joke that his ancestors murdered Jesus and called him a “(expletive) Jew”.
Weinstein says Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and homophobia were so rampant in the armed forces that he felt he had to do something.
In late 2005, he founded the MRFF, and he published his book With God On Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military the following year.
A former White House attorney under Ronald Reagan, Weinstein has been named one of the 50 most influential Jews in America by a prominent Jewish magazine, but his cause appeals to people from all backgrounds.
He is hopeful that with support, he can succeed in his mission to rid the US military from what he perceives as religious tyranny.
“We are going to win this,” he promised, referring to his organization’s case against the Department of Defense.
“But we absolutely must stop the tsunami of fundamentalist Christian influence.”