Michael L. Weinstein

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

 
Jump to: navigation, search

Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein is an attorney, businessman, and former Air Force officer. He is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military and No Snowflake in an Avalanche, both of which describe his fight against alleged coercive Christian Fundamentalist practices by some members of the military.

Military service and education[edit]

Weinstein graduated with honors from the United States Air Force Academy in 1977, consistently earning placement on the Superintendent's List throughout his studies. His father was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.[1] Weinstein decided to study law, arguing that "The law was what protected us, what kept us free... I was good at writing, good at arguing." He has written that at the Academy he encountered a string of incidents of psychological harassment, including notes emblazoned with swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs, death threats, and two violent incidents of hazing where he was ambushed, beaten, and in one case hospitalized.[2]

Weinstein began his legal studies shortly after his appointment as chief of the secure systems branch of the 2049th Communications and Installations Group at McClellan Air Force Base. He qualified for the Air Force law school program and earned his juris doctorate degree in three years. He then served as a U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer for ten years.[3]

Legal and political career[edit]

Weinstein spent over three years in the West Wing of the Reagan White House as legal counsel to the White House. He began with an appointment to the Office of Budget Management and was soon named the Committee Management Officer of the much-publicized Iran-Contra Investigation in his capacity as Assistant General Counsel of The White House Office of Administration, Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Weinstein served as the first General Counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation and left in 2006 to work full-time on the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a nonprofit foundation he founded in March 2006. This foundation was formed as a watchdog organization to protect religious freedom in the military in accordance with Department of Defense Directive 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services.[4][5] MRFF has been nominated on five separate occasions, spanning four consecutive years, for the Nobel Peace Prize.[6]

Activism[edit]

Weinstein found that both his sons were exposed to Christian proselytizing at the Academy. In the case of his younger son Curtis, he reported that it included anti-Semitic language and being asked "how it felt to kill Jesus". His older son Casey, a 2004 Academy graduate, alleged that "Senior cadets would sit down and say, 'How do you feel about the fact that your family is going to burn in hell?'".[7] Weinstein wrote in his autobiography:[8]

It is naturally of great personal consequence that Curtis's and Casey's encounters with religious bigotry occurred at the Academy, which is where I first encountered it as well. Of course, from a historical perspective, Jews have always had the unfortunate role of scapegoat thrust upon them. But I'm under no illusions that what happened to my Jewish sons and my Christian daughter-in-law could not have happened to the son of a patriotic American Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic or atheist. I wouldn't be surprised if it already had.

Describing his trajectory in an interview with LA Progressive that was published in April 2012, Weinstein explained:[9]

With regard to the arc of justice in my life, I started out at point A where I made a commitment that wherever I saw anti-semitism I’d stamp it out. Now I’m at point B, when I see unconstitutional religious persecution of any stripe, I don’t care if I live or die, I’m not going to stand by and let it happen.

In October 6, 2005, Weinstein sued the United States Air Force for failing to prevent religious proselytizing in the U.S. Air Force. U.S. District Judge James A. Parker dismissed the case of Weinstein v. U.S. Air Force and wrote:[10]

No Plaintiff claims to have personally experienced any of the things described under 'Factual Allegations'... while at the Academy or after leaving the Academy. The only fair reading of Plaintiffs’ factual allegations limits them to practices and events at the Academy and policies as they affect persons, other than Plaintiffs, at the Academy...Not a single Plaintiff has alleged any personal factual situation that has allegedly impinged on that Plaintiff’s constitutional rights since the Plaintiff left the Academy.

On September 17, 2007, Weinstein and the MRFF filed a federal lawsuit[11] in Kansas City, Kansas, against Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Major Freddy J. Welborn, accusing them of allowing a "pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional religious rape of freedoms of our U.S. military.[1] On March 5, 2008, the lawsuit was re-filed to include allegations that co-plaintiff Army Specialist Jeremy Hall was denied a promotion due to the filing of the original lawsuit.[11]

Following the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Weinstein suggested that proselytizing by "fundamentalist Christians" may have created a hostile environment that contributed to the psychological pressure on Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan reportedly claimed that he had faced harassing insults related to his Arab ethnic background and Islamic faith.[12][13][14] In November 2009, the American Family Association issued the statement "No More Muslims in the US Military", which explicitly stated that Muslim military enlistees be barred from military service in the United States armed forces on the grounds that "...just as Christians are taught to imitate the life of Christ, so Muslims are taught to imitate the Prophet in all things. Yesterday, Nidal Malik Hasan was simply being a good Muslim." [15] MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein 's denunciation of the AFA position as "bigoted, racist, [and] vile" was featured prominently by Hatewatch, the official blog of the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights organization.[16] Mainstream Jewish groups generally declined to comment on the shooting at Fort Hood.[17]

A significant MRFF victory arrived in 2011 when the US Air Force, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Foundation, revised a training course taught to nuclear missile launch officers which included quotations from Werner Von Braun and also cited Christian Just War Theory, among other materials.[18] This led to Mikey coming under attack from various opponents, including radio shock jock Michael Savage (Weiner), who mocked Weinstein's name as "Mickey Whine-stein" while asking "Why do you hate Christians, America, and the military, when, was it not for the Christians and the military your ancestors would have been turned into [something edited out]?" Savage also noted that "What Weinstein doesn't know was if it was not for the warrior mentality of the Christians he hates so much, who rescued his ancestors from the ovens of Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, Mickey Whine- [something edited out] wouldn't be here plaguing the United States of America.".[19] Weinstein responded in a Newsletter to his audience, noting that Savage's "stupefying rant" was "a rabidly ad-hominem, personal assault... which should serve as a particularly revealing clue as to the psychological state of this specimen, a professional bottom-feeding hyena who earns his daily bread by foaming at the mouth and spreading extremist hysteria which he likely doesn't even believe himself." [20]

In January, 2012, No Snowflake in an Avalanche (Vireo, 2012) was released. The book, written by Weinstein and Davin Seay, details MRFF’s prominent case studies and struggles, as well as the violent impediments that continue to be imposed against MRFF by its opponents. Weinstein supported the book release with nationwide speaking and book signing tour which includes one book store in Albuquerque, NM being forced by public pressure to reverse its decision to deny an in-store appearance due to “controversy” surrounding Mikey/MRFF/Book.[21]

When protests broke out in various parts of Afghanistan over the improper disposal of copies of the Qu'ran at the US military Bagram Air Base, for which the US apologized.[22] Protesters shouted "Death to America" and burned U.S. flags. In a MRFF statement, Weinstein noted that the desecrations of the Muslim holy book by U.S. personnel revealed "a fatal attitude of patronizing colonial hostility [that] has indeed been allowed to hijack the US mission in Afghanistan. By adding grist to the mill of escalating regional resentment, America's own religious extremists, racists and anti-Muslim bigots within the military have ensured that they and their comrades in arms will continue to pay the awful price in spilled blood... the real-world consequence of this intrinsically ingrained religious prejudice and bigotry is the loss of service members' lives and limbs." [23]

In 2012 Weinstein sued former chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt for issuing an imprecatory prayer that he equated to a fatwa. The suit was dismissed by the judge, who stated that Weinstein failed to connect the prayer to any subsequent threats or actions against him.[24]

When news sources announced that permission granted to use military emblems on Holman Military Bibles had been revoked, with B&H Publishing Group being notified in 2011 that the decision was made based on new military trademark licensing issues.[25] The Bibles were a military variant of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and included “quotations, prayers, and inspiration” from figures ranging from George Washington and President George W. Bush to various historical figures from each of the respective branches of the U.S. Armed Services. Additionally, the Department of Defense announced that all Bibles with military emblems must be removed from military stores. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had threatened to sue the government if permission to use military emblems on Bibles was not revoked, with Mikey noting that the Bibles were both an "unconstitutional government endorsement of religion" and a "national security threat." In response to the revocation of the Bibles, Twenty-two members of Congress led by Mississippi Republican Alan Nunnelee wrote a letter seeking clarification for the pulling of B&H's permission to use military insignia, mischaracterizing MRFF as an "atheist group" to which the military "succumbed." [26] Weinstein himself has also be characterized as an atheist. [27] In a Newsletter by his organization, Weinstein explained the rationale for MRFF's pressure to have the Bible pulled:

The Holman Bible endorsement was a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." We can't allow for precedents to be set that wear away, through an atrocious process of attrition, these important safeguards. Additionally, the endorsement was an open violation of Clause 3, Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Awards and recognition[edit]

In 2006, Weinstein was named as one of Forward Magazine's "Forward 50", a list of the most influential Jews in America.[28] Weinstein has also received a nomination for the JFK Library's Profile in Courage Award and received the Buzzflash Wings of Justice Award.[29] Jews for Racial and Economic Justice awarded him its Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award for taking extraordinary risks in pursuit of justice.[30]

In 2010, Weinstein was given the Anne Froehlich Political Courage Award by the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club, which had previously been awarded to such prominent political voices as Phil Donahue, Daniel Ellsberg, Ron Kovic, as well as Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson and wife Valerie Plame.

Weinstein was named Americans United for Separation of Church and State's 2011 "Person of the Year" at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on November 7, 2011. Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Esq., executive director of Americans United, said: "We've never named a 'Person of the Year' before, but I can't think of anyone more deserving than Mikey Weinstein. Time and again, he has stuck his neck out to defend the religious liberty rights of the men and women serving our country in the armed forces."[citation needed]

In December 2012, Weinstein was named one of the "100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense" by Defense News.[31] As one individual on the list explained, inclusion on the list is a matter of "…making change, it’s not just celebrity." Ranked at #95, Weinstein even managed to outrank the recently disgraced General David Petraeus. Defense News noted:

A former Air Force officer and White House lawyer during the Reagan administration, Weinstein is today a one-issue whistle-blower who has driven real change in religious policy throughout the military. Advocating for secularism in the military through the Military Religious Freedom Foundation he founded in 2005, Weinstein has fought a campaign against public prayer and proselytizing by Air Force officers, particularly at the Air Force Academy, his alma mater, where he says he and his sons experienced religious discrimination. Weinstein has been accused of tilting at windmills in his struggles, but he scored a major victory in 2011, when the Air Force suspended a training course for nuclear missile launch officers that used Bible passages and religious imagery in a PowerPoint presentation about the ethics of war. Weinstein's public persistence continues to influence Pentagon religious policies, including new rules released in 2012 restricting the sale of Bibles adorned with military insignia.

Criticism[edit]

Weinstein has been accused of "waging a war on Christianity" by his detractors, though he has stated that the vast majority of his clients are practicing Catholics and Protestants of mainline denominations who claim to be targeted by proselytizing evangelical superiors.[32] Weinstein has clashed frequently with leaders in the Evangelical community such as James Dobson and Ted Haggard, whom Weinstein challenged to a fistfight after an e-mail exchange between the two was leaked.[33] Even some of Weinstein's allies have acknowledged that he can be "over the top" and "hell-raising", though they defend his behavior as being what is needed.[34] Weinstein recently came under criticism for his larger than average (for a non-profit) salary and his practice of voting on his own compensation (he is one of the voting members of MRFF’s 3 member board).[35][36]

The group Jews in Green, a Jewish military support group, has challenged some of his claims, such as an entrenched anti-Semitism in the military, calling them baseless.[37]

Media[edit]

Weinstein appeared in the film adaptation of James Carroll's best selling book, "Constantine's Sword", a history of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews.[citation needed]

Weinstein has appeared many times on major cable and network TV news networks and is a frequent guest on national radio networks. He is a prolific author of Op-Eds which have been published by Washington Post, AlterNet, and Truthout. His activism has been covered in such media as CNN,[38] the New York Times,[39] the Washington Post,[40] the Los Angeles Times[41] The Nation,[42] the Guardian,[43] and Time magazine.[44]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Philadelphia Jewish Voice: An Interview with Michael Weinstein, February 2008, accessed June 13, 2012
  2. ^ Weinstein and Seay, 188
  3. ^ Weinstein and Seay, 14
  4. ^ "DoD Directive 1300.17, "Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services"". DTIC.mil. February 3, 1988. Archived from the original on 18 November 2007. 
  5. ^ "About the Foundation". Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Archived from the original on February 19, 2009. 
  6. ^ Military Civil Rights Group Gets 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Nomination – Veterans News Now
  7. ^ Harwood, Matt. Alternet. (July 12, 2010).
  8. ^ Weinstein and Seay, 208
  9. ^ Religious Freedom in the Military
  10. ^ "Air Force Academy Case Will Be Appealed". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. December 2006. 
  11. ^ a b MRFF: MRFF v. Gates, undated, accessed June 13, 2012
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ http://www.jewsingreen.com/2009/11/different-perspectives-on-fort-hood-shooting/
  14. ^ The Telegraph (UK): Philip Sherwell, "Fort Hood shooting: Nidal Malik Hasan 'said Muslims should rise up'," November 6, 2009, accessed June 13, 2012
  15. ^ American Family Association blog No More Muslims in the U.S. Military
  16. ^ SPLC Hatewatch (November 12, 2009) Violate the Constitution? Christian Right Group Says Yes Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  17. ^ LoonWatch: "Religious Extremism and Islamophobia in the Military a Major Concern," May 28, 2010, accessed June 13, 2012
  18. ^ The Washington Post, August 2, 2011 Air Force suspends ethics course that used Bible passages to train missile launch officers Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  19. ^ Chris Rodda: Michael Savage Attacks Mikey Weinstein Over Stopping of Air Force "Jesus Loves Nukes" Training
  20. ^ Military Religious Freedom Foundation - August 2011 Newsletter
  21. ^ http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/2012/02/jim-belshaw-column-guadalupe-county-commissioner-the-first-amendments/ Belshaw Jim, "The First Amendments" February 23, 2012,
  22. ^ [2], Reuters, February 21, 2012, retrieved February 21, 2012
  23. ^ Mass Burnings of Korans at Bagram Fuel Anti-Americanism
  24. ^ Praying for God to hurt someone is not illegal, judge rules
  25. ^ A Biblical Threat to National Security
  26. ^ Congressmen question Pentagon's removal of military insignia on Bibles » The Commercial Appeal
  27. ^ [3]
  28. ^ Forward: Forward 50, 2006, accessed June 13, 2012
  29. ^ http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/newsletters/2007-07/award.jpg
  30. ^ Mrff Press Release - MRFF's Mikey Weinstein To Receive Distinguished Justice Award
  31. ^ Defense News - 100 Most Influential
  32. ^ Mikey Weinstein's Crusade
  33. ^ Mikey's Mission, Colorado Springs Independent, March 2, 2006
  34. ^ Marching as to War, the Washington Post
  35. ^ Losey, Stephen. "Exclusive: Nonprofit CEO cashes in on religious freedom campaign". militarytimes.com. Retrieved 07/03/2014. 
  36. ^ Losey, Stephen. [4] "Exclusive: Nonprofit CEO cashes in on religious freedom campaign"]. armytimes.com. Retrieved 07/03/2014. 
  37. ^ http://www.jewsingreen.com/2008/10/an-open-letter-to-mikey-weinstein/
  38. ^ CNN: Randi Kaye, "Atheist soldier sues Army for 'unconstitutional' discrimination," July 9, 2008, accessed June 13, 2012]
  39. ^ New York Times: Neela Banerjee, "Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats," April 26, 2008, accessed June 13, 2012
  40. ^ Washington Post: Kimberly Winston, "Military atheists get ready to 'rock beyond belief'," March 14, 2012, accessed June 3, 2012
  41. ^ Los Angeles Times: Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan, "Not so fast, Christian soldiers," August 22, 2007, accessed June 13, 2012
  42. ^ The Netion: Stephen Glain, "Backward, Christian Soldiers," February 28, 2011, accessed June 13, 2012
  43. ^ The Guardian (UK): Matthew Harwood, "Evangelical grunts," June 27, 2008, accessed June 13, 2012
  44. ^ TIME: David Van Biema, "Pentagon: Hold On, Christian Soldiers!," August 3, 2007, accessed June 13, 2012

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]