Mikey Weinstein: Fighting the Good Fight for Religious Freedom in Our Military

The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

May 5, 2008 – I spent the day last month with Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, a living Jewish hero.

He is the Air Force Academy honors graduate, boxer, Air Force officer, lawyer, Nixon staff person and bundle of energy who is devoting himself and his own treasure to protecting the First Amendment principle of separation of church and state. That wall of separation is being breached by evangelical Christians who have insinuated themselves into the U.S. military and particularly the military academies. Separation of church and state is the bedrock in the Bill of Rights; a doctrine from which Jews have benefited as in no other place on earth.

I drove Mikey, a 50-year old fireplug of a guy, from KCI to Topeka for his meeting with his civil rights lawyer Pedro Irigonegaray. He was also interviewed by a New York Times reporter that day. Mikey’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation (militaryreligiousfreedom.org) has pending in the Federal District Court in Kansas City, Kan., a lawsuit wherein the co-plaintiffs are Army active duty Specialist Jeremy Hall, an atheist, who was decorated during his two tours of duty in Iraq, and the MRFF. Hall is now stationed at Fort Leavenworth. He was relieved from his post in Iraq a month early, because he was threatened with “fragging” — military slang for physical harm — because he stood up for his Constitutional rights against officers who were aggressively attempting to proselytize him to fundamentalist Christianity. Defendants are Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Air Force Major Freddy J. Welborn. The suit alleges retaliation and reprisals taken against Hall when he resisted the evangelicals’ entreaties.

The windows in Mikey Weinstein’s home have been shot out, and he and his family receive telephoned death threats daily. Dead animals have been thrown at his front door. On the road between Lawrence and Topeka, he received a death threat on his cell phone, which he took in stride and immediately punched one number to reach the FBI agent on his case to report the “female voice which repeated ‘You’re going to burn in hell’ over and over.” Nice folks, huh? The FBI have offered to place a trace on his cell phone, but Mikey has declined because that would mean they would also have an automatic trace on the soldiers in Iraq who call him to report aggressive proselytizing, and he says he can’t have that. He did not appear to be armed, although he was wearing a sports jacket.

Mikey asked if I had incurred any anti-Semitic experiences in the Marine Corps back in the 1950s, and I assured him I had not. He remarked, “I’m not fighting Jesus, just the evangelicals’ takeover of the U.S. military.” We agreed that esprit de corps was a vital part of the mission statement of every U. S. military unit, and that invasion by a divisive force, insisting upon a superior loyalty to a religious creed, was of grave damage to that military unit, and, if widespread, to the entire force.

Mikey’s book, “With God On Our Side,” contains clear evidence that the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., from which two of his sons recently graduated, has been invaded by its neighbors, the evangelical churches that dominate the landscape and even paint their buildings Air Force blue. Their entree is through the chaplaincy, approved by the commanding officer of the institution. Their message that Jesus must be accepted as one’s savior is rampant throughout the cadet corps. Some say the religious atmosphere at the Air Force Academy has improved after an investigation. However, the evangelicals insist it is their religious right to proselytize the “un-churched,” even while in uniform, on government property and to cadets under the control of superiors. Mikey strongly disagrees, and so do I.Mikey notes that the Air Force controls our atomic arsenal, and senior Defense Department officials therefore can not tolerate division of loyalty or authority.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, the Jewish soldiers who had served Germany in World War I were not honored for their service to the fatherland. It did not protect them or their families. That’s because the Nazi creed had superseded military honor.

An American soldier’s loyalty must steadfastly be to the United States and its Constitution, and not be superseded by any particular religion. We Jews cannot allow evangelical Christians to divide and take control of our military, and particularly the military academies. We have way too much to lose.

I support the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and wish Mikey a lynga-leben. I hope you will support MRFF too at: Military Religious Foundation, 13170-B Central Ave. SE, Albuquerque, NM 87123.

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