The New York Times recently ran a story that may have been published with the most sterling intent. However, as folk wisdom and common sense universally informs us, “good intentions” can easily land us in some less-than-comfortable positions. Indeed, we all know too well what paves the road to hell. The Times story sympathetically and deservedly profiles a 17-year-old yeshiva student who has accepted her well-earned offer of admission to the acclaimed and prestigious U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Throughout the article, the good intentions come through loud and clear; however, so too do numerous biases, disgusting insinuations, and implicitly discriminatory assumptions that play to age-old, terribly hurtful stereotypes about the Jewish people; my people.
In fact, even the title of the article – “17-Year-Old Makes the First-Ever Charge From an Orthodox Yeshiva to West Point” – is wholly inaccurate. Ms. Rachelle David (the subject of the article) most certainly is not the first Orthodox Yeshiva graduate to enter the celebrated West Point military institution. (The New York Times has since corrected this inaccuracy from their April 28th article.)
A major war is being viciously waged against the United States of America, a war that’s global in scope and poses a terrifying threat to our national security interests. The ruthless attacks, which this conflict has generated, have inflicted grievous damage to nothing less than the U.S. Constitution itself, as well as the foundational core values of the United States armed forces. While the mainstream media has been woefully asleep regarding this raging conflict, the Pentagon has verified through its own official publications that the war has already led to vast transformations within the armed forces. Religious fanatics are spearheading this pernicious worldwide campaign and, no, I’m NOT referring to Shia or Sunni Islamic jihadists…. but “jihadist” was a good guess. I’m referring, of course, to our very own fire & brimstone fundamentalist Christian crusaders, both within uniform and without, who have seemingly infiltrated every echelon of the United States armed forces. These religious extremists are bolstered by legions of civilian zealots, parachurch organizations, legislators, and persons of influence who are carrying out their own grievous massacre of bedrock civil rights under the banner of “religious freedom.”
You want the latest proof? Witness the appalling appellation and homage recently given to USAF Chaplain (Capt.) Sonny Hernandez, 445th Airlift Wing Chaplain Corps: freshly crowned as the "Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Individual Mobilization Accession Company Grade Officer of the Year" at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio. The official statement regarding this newly benighted Company Grade Officer of the Year sounds wonderfully amazing and ecumenical. Well, don’t cue the U.S. Air Force band rendition of Kumbaya yet, folks – the plot’s about to thicken with bountiful bile and phlegm.
Forget the love of country and freedom that is denied to the people of Iraq and Syria by this cancer spawned by decades of tyranny and instability, ISIS. The counteroffensive being waged against the forces of radicalized, sectarian jihadism is being frightfully framed at Seymour Johnson AFB as a clash of competing deities. That's right! Our brave warfighters are being fed an extremist narrative whereby a ghastly, caricatured version of Allah (as envisioned by the twisted extremist fringes of Wahhabi Islam) is pitted against Slocum's ultra-sectarian Judeo-Christian god (aka "The Lord") in a mano a mano clash of the titans akin to an epic torn straight from the annals of Greek mythology. The theocratic Col. Slocum peppers his command briefings with a rallying cry that mirrors – in brimstone-tinged, southern fried, fundamentalist form – the rabid religiosity that has poisoned the minds of the bloodthirsty ISIS. What is the goal of both contending forces? To unleash their respective "holy warriors" upon the Middle East, enveloping the Cradle of Civilization in a ferocious conflagration for the purpose of bringing its people under their heinous yoke? For ISIS; clearly yes. For the USAF to adopt the same goal; outrageous, treacherous, and treasonous beyond description.
By now it’s likely you’ve heard about the intense drama going down at the Navy Nuclear Nuclear Power Training Center involving Lt. Commander (Chaplain) Wesley Modder and his Commanding Officer, Navy Captain Jon Fahs. A quick summary is that Chaplain Modder has been accused of making inappropriate comments and of being intolerant, to wit: telling students that homosexuality is wrong; shaming and berating female students for having unmarried sex and becoming pregnant out of wedlock; asking a female staff member about her sexual activities; and discriminating against students of different faiths and backgrounds than his own. He is facing potentially career-ending administrative action from the United States Navy. The Navy has also issued a “No Contact Order,” preventing Chaplain Modder from officiating at the funeral of a recently deceased sailor from a prior unit where the chaplain had served.
However, the smoking lamp (or is it, the "BS lamp") has been lit on this stinking travesty and you don't need to be a Constitutional scholar (or rocket scientist) to see the Mach 3 hypocrisy here. The Air Force is busy citing their "AFI" for not specifically forbidding the greeting. (Note: AFI stands for Air Force Instruction—we don't call them ‘regulations' any more in this kinder, gentler, more developmental time). What they don't mention is that the AFI also doesn't specifically prohibit sentries from saying "Namaste", "Hail Satan", "Have a godless day" or "Allahu-Akbar" either. The AFI simply is not an ultimately dispositive or controlling authority to quote in opposition to armed, uniformed, USAF sentries offering "Have a blessed day" or any other non-mission-oriented statement. There still exists, however, remarkably compelling arguments that lead any reasonable and rational supporter and defender of the Constitution to wonder why the Air Force would allow, much less promulgate, the belief that such willful stupidity is the right thing to do. Let's look at the situation more closely.
At first glance, one can be forgiven for thinking that a floral arrangement for a gay wedding doesn’t carry much significance for the essential national security of the United States of America. With perilously increasing military tensions spanning the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, one can be absolved for making such an assumption. However, the military implications of this week’s historic decision in Washington State by Benton County Superior Court Judge Ekstrom simply canNOT be understated.
Ekstrom’s watershed decision came about when a case was brought before the Benton County Superior Court when the ownership of a small flower shop, Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide services on the professed basis of their Southern Baptist, Christian fundamentalist zeal to a frequent customer who sought arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Judge Ekstrom struck down this reprehensibly unlawful and unconstitutional behavior when he stated, "While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren't necessarily protected." Indeed, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is NOT a license for private business owners to sanctimoniously bully, marginalize, and violate civil rights as they see fit because of their alleged “relationship with Jesus Christ” (or Allah, Jehovah, Yaweh, Odin, Shiva, Spiderman etc.). Indeed, just as it isn’t a license for anyone else to engage in whatever extremist, unlawful practice they might imagine their chosen deity to prefer.
For those of us who have been leading the civil rights fight of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the only organization devoted solely to fighting the scourge of extremist Christianity within the U.S. Armed Forces, the story is a common one. Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), we saw that various Dominionist bigots within the military were pathetically prostituting the flimsy gauze of “free speech” as a means towards turning back this historic victory for sex & gender minorities (and by implication, all Americans) within the U.S. armed forces. Squealing like stuck pigs, disingenuously, that DADT’s repeal represented a grave offense against their so-called “religious liberty”, these reprehensibly homophobic Christian extremist predators created a virtual media cyclone of misinformation, disinformation, and bald-faced lies. As they say, “haters gonna hate.”
AUTHOR'S NOTE: No one sect has a monopoly on murderous misanthropy. As this article goes to press, horrifying details are emerging of the tragic mass-murder of young Muslim-American students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Indeed, initial reports about the shooter indicate that even atheists, of course, are capable of the foulest sorts of bigotry and hatred. When we acquiesce to or normalize a situation where entire populations are subject to wholescale denigration, distortion, and demonization, then one can be assured that rivers and rivers of blood will spill.
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
- J.K. Rowling
In what’s become an increasingly mundane and predictable ritual as of late, the fundamentalist Christian Religious Right is up in arms over the latest “outrage” emanating from the White House. President Obama’s ‘sin’? A salient commentary delivered at the annual Presidential National Prayer Breakfast on the nature of religious wars. I have not always applauded the actions of our President but I believe I DO know courage when I see it, and our President exhibited unadulterated courage a few days ago when he bravely swung a verbal two-by-four upside the head of Christian supremacists at their annual "Jesus-Fest Tribute” in our nation’s capitol. His comments were made in light of the current campaign against ISIS, and they were absolutely right on the money. However, our fellow American citizens on the theocratic right have never been known to let facts get in the way of a damn good tantrum. Indeed, the hysteria and downright perfidy of the indecorous response to the president’s speech just shows the pathetic depths to which reasonable and rational political discourse in the United States has plummeted.
However, my friends, one such response towered above others in its grotesque hideousness: the response from Adjutant Rich Sestili of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 6 in Marrieta, Georgia. Sestili’s message was specifically designed to incite irrational rage and fury against our president: “Never in the history of the United States has any other president ever made a negative comment about Christ.”
Huh? When did President Obama, a lifelong Christian, ever make a negative comment about Jesus Christ? All things considered, the president’s “criticism” was pretty tepid, as well as most justified and germane, to the proceedings of this National Prayer Breakfast. This event is almost always an unapologetic and garish spectacle of exclusivist American Christian supremacy and primacy no matter HOW hard those who produce it try to disingenuously include token and minute, atomic particles of secularism, respect and acceptance for those who are not "the right type of Christian." Obama’s courageous comments were clearly aimed at those who cynically manipulate and pervert religion for the purpose of harming others. And apparently he struck a nerve.
This is what the president actually said:
"Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."
Simple enough, yet in the leaden-eyed views of the ignorant, these comments are an indicator that our president “is a one-man sleeper cell” who seeks to “advance in America what Islam is advancing worldwide.” Obama even received criticism from his supporters on the liberal left for his supposedly “patronizing tone.”
However, what the president dutifully noted was simply the tip of the iceberg – let’s not forget the even more recent history of unbridled violence committed in the name of Christianity.
"That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time."
The U.S. Senate has courageously just stood up to the Christian-supremacist bullies in the House of Representatives. Oh yes, the Senate has just completely ripped away from their religiously bigoted, House counterparts a would-be treasured bible-thumping bonanza of immeasurable, unconstitutional proselytization. This erstwhile prize of legislative plunder had been specifically designed by these Congressmen and Congresswomen from the House, in nefarious collaboration with their legions of fundamentalist Christian parachurch allies, to be embedded deep within the confines of the 2015 Pentagon authorization/funding act.
Fortunately, the plan by these Christian crusader Members of the House failed. Please let me briefly explain, my friends.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a performer, but this week I responded to an invitation to take part in a circus. While the clowns did their routine in formal business attire and the "big top" was an imposing construction of marble, granite, concrete, and steel, I can still only describe the spectacle I participated in as a circus... a sad and pitiful circus, controlled and manipulated by fundamentalist Christian monsters, which calls itself the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in the United States Congress.
Let me explain.
As the President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), for nearly eleven years I’ve devoted my life to fortifying the once sturdy (now rapidly disintegrating) wall separating church and state in the U.S. armed forces. As such, I’ve been privy to the ordeals of nearly 40,000 servicemember victims (about 96% of them Christians themselves) of unconstitutional religious tyranny and oppression: the hazing, bullying, and proselytizing, the mandatory sectarian Christian prayer services, the subtly (and not-so-subtly) embedded religious references in training material, the massive imbalance and evangelical overrepresentation in the denominational breakdown of the chaplaincy, et al. While we at MRFF have spared no effort trying to rally the American people around the noble cause of safeguarding the religious liberty rights of the servicemembers who defend our nation, we’ve faced bitter opposition from the entrenched, extremist Christian Religious Right. Indeed, far, far more than merely just a few elected officials have ceaselessly covered the flanks of those bestial Christian fundamentalist forces that are actively commandeering our U.S. military.
Thus, it was with cautious enthusiasm and guarded optimism that I accepted a formal invitation from the House Armed Services Committee to testify live before a Congressional hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 (rescheduled from an original date in September).
Asinine anti-Semitic comments aside – the man has on numerous occasions voiced openly racist, bigoted sentiments – the record clearly shows that Robertson has no right to speak of toughness in the armed forces.
Indeed, voluminous allegations corroborate a scenario showing that Robertson deserves an honorary medal for being a Class A Coward of the highest rank...
Pat Robertson doesn’t seem to like me very much. Normally, none of us with more brains than a toothbrush should give a damn as to why that’s the case, but times are hardly normal these days. Therefore it does matter, so please let me fill you in. First, a little backstory here:
One would think that as Americans, most of us can agree on certain core foundational values that have made our nation great; freedom of speech and the freedom to worship (or not) as we see fit stand out as two shining examples. However, the enjoyment of these freedoms means that we must also witness the heinous words and deeds of those who don Ku Klux Klan hoods, wear swastika armbands, and call for modern-day inquisitions against perceived “enemies of the faith.” Indeed, some have amassed fortunes and built veritable “evil empires” by peddling twisted, violent ideologies like fundamentalist Christianity, to cite one example. Foremost among these evil opportunists and parasitic jackasses is the Reverend Pat Robertson.
Robertson recently flew off the handle when the U.S. Air Force (USAF) was forced to make the Constitutionally correct decision to end the mandatory requirement that USAF airmen recite “So Help Me God” in their official reenlistment and commissioning oaths. This blatantly unconstitutional religious test came to the world’s attention after an airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada learned that unless he performed the sectarian oath, his days as an airman would be through. Shamefully reprehensible, isn’t it?
Eventually, the Air Force and the Pentagon “saw the light” of Constitutional fidelity, with no small amount of pressure from organizations like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, the organization I head), the American Humanist Association, and other valiant allies. It was, after all, a no-brainer from a legal perspective. As I said in my last Op-Ed, “The case law is so universally settled in this precise area that even actors who play lawyers on TV or in the movies could win this one in court.
Well, no sooner was the law upheld before the bitter juice from sour grapes began flowing in rivers from the pulpits of arch-hypocrites like Robertson and his wretched ilk, who condemned the decision as “crazy.” Continuing, Robertson took specific aim at yours truly, stating:
“There’s a left-wing radical named Mikey Weinstein, who has got a group about people against religion or whatever he calls it, and he has just terrorized the armed forces… You think you’re supposed to be tough, you’re supposed to defend us, and you got one little Jewish radical who is scaring the pants off of you… You want these guys flying the airplanes to defend us when you got one little guy terrorizing them? ... That’s what it amounts to. … How can [USAF] fly the bombers to defend us if they cave to one little guy?”
“Little Jewish radical,” eh? Got anti-Semitism, Pat? Perhaps Robertson forgets that he apparently claims to worship another "little Jewish radical” who is said to have “terrorized” the authorities of his day? Anyway, his asinine anti-Semitic comments aside – the man has on numerous occasions voiced openly racist, bigoted sentiments – the record clearly shows that Robertson has no right to speak of toughness in the armed forces.
Indeed, voluminous allegations corroborate a scenario showing that Robertson deserves an honorary medal for being a Class A Coward of the highest rank. This vile specimen is to human dignity and sanity and integrity and character what dog shit is on the menu of a fine French restaurant.
Let me explain. In his 1972 autobiography, Shout it From the Housetops, Robertson boasted about his outstanding service as a “Marine combat officer in Korea.” The only problem with the claim is that many of his former comrades allege that never once did he ever see battle. Robertson filed a libel suit against McCloskey, only to be unceremoniously dropped later on. Contradicting Robertson’s claims, war hero and former seven-term Congressman Paul “Pete” McCloskey alleged that the “Marine combat officer” may have used his privileged family ties as the son of a Virginia Senator to pull the strings and skirt his combat duties. Apparently, the order from General Lemuel Shepherd was to "Take good care of him; his Daddy is Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Appropriations Committee."
Therefore, the future televangelist (and saber-rattling warmonger) was reassigned from combat duty to the far less heroic undertaking of keeping the barracks watering hole stocked with liquor. As numerous fellow marines claimed, throughout the Korean War the “Marine combat officer” was known as the Masan Liquor Officer. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a ‘liquor officer.’ However, speaking as a former Air Force officer and Air Force Academy honor graduate, whose two sons, daughter-in-law, and son-in-law are all, likewise, Air Force Academy graduates as well as either current or former proud members of the U.S. Air Force, I am positively pissed that such a putrid example of cowardly cretinism in the ignoble person of Pat Robertson would have the gall to question the bravery of our USAF airmen. Every American, every service member, should know well to ignore the attention-hungry ravings of this false prophet and posturing poseur of the first order.
But don’t take it from me; take it from the late Corporal U.S.M.C. Leo T. Cronin, who participated in the first-wave amphibious assault by Marines who fought tooth and nail in the Battle of Inchon, Korea. Commenting in a Letter to the Editor penned amidst Robertson’s failed Presidential run in 1988, Cronin didn’t mince any words:
There is a person who calls himself a combat Marine. He is not. His name is Pat Robertson. I saw him often in the division headquarters where he was clean-shaven and clothed and showered. He was in charge of making sure that the officers' booze ration was handed out and re-supplied. He was a lieutenant. He was in my battalion. The line company marines I saw smelled badly, looked poorly. For months at a time they were cold, eating C-rations. Trying to stay warm and dry was a constant battle. These line-company men were the combat Marines of the First Marine Division. Neither Pat Robertson nor I could carry their gear. He is trying to get elected by standing on those frozen bodies I saw, by putting himself in the company of those seven Marines who repulsed the enemy. Imagine a person who aspires to be President being so loose with the truth, so lacking in grace and so dishonorable. He says God talks to him. I'd like to hear what God says to him about this.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org. Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side” (2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).
Mikey Weinstein (right) and Blake Page (left) at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point
This guest post is a slightly altered version of an e-mail that was sent to several specific Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) clients by my fantastic Special Assistant and Director of West Point Affairs, Blake Page. The original intention was not to publish it, but after reading this amazing message I knew that it had to be shared (albeit in a form meant for a broader audience, with sensitive personal details removed to protect anonymity). Fortunately for our intense civil rights mission, Blake has been on board with MRFF for the better part of two years as of today. In that time he has repeatedly proven himself to be an incredibly resourceful, responsible, and strong-willed fighter for MRFF who has made numerous sacrifices for this vital cause, sparing no effort to perform the needed tasks I've asked of him, even while fighting his own personal battles. Please note that the opinions expressed below are the personal views of Blake, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of MRFF.
Ladies and Gents,
I'd like to expound a bit on the topics of civic duty, patriotism, and courage. Each of those venerable qualities exists on a spectrum. Someone can claim to have fulfilled their civic duties by voting every now and then and paying taxes, while another exercises their civic duties by thrusting themselves into the fray of politics head-first. Someone can show their patriotism with a bumper sticker, while others show it by defending the constitution with their actions. Many people claim to be courageous for doing difficult things with the full support of those around them and our culture at large, while others show courage by doing what they know in their heart and mind is right without consideration of what might be thought of, said of, or done to them. Of course, most people find themselves at the center of a normal distribution in each of those spectra. What would a hero be if everyone could be brave?
We frequently hear from our clients that they cannot have their names known by their chain of command for fear of retribution. Mikey will assure each of you that he will gladly find himself in prison before violating your confidentiality (and I would gladly follow). Here is where he and I disagree though: I do not believe that fear of retribution is a reason to remain silent. From where I sit, it's the only reason to speak up and be counted. If you are afraid your chain of command will punish you for rejecting theocracy, ask yourself what the punishment will be? Will they slow your career progression, give you an undesirable assignment, or publicly chastise you? Or are you afraid of what your peers will do? Perhaps they will sabotage your work or vandalize your property. If these people are so bold today, imagine how much bolder they will grow if things continue unimpeded. By soliciting our help from a safe distance you are moving in the right direction, but that move will be meaningless if you fail to follow through when needed. Inaction, in this case, is not a neutral position. Inaction in an environment that is hostile to the rights of non-Christians is an endorsement of Christian Supremacy.