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Pentagon: Hold On, Christian Soldiers!

Friday, Aug. 03, 2007



Mikey Weinstein is a very specific kind of gadfly. When he believes that church and state are intermingling in the military, he goes in with a sting. On Friday, he hit a bullseye when the Inspector General's office of the Department of Defense released a report concluding that a former Pentagon chaplain and several generals inappropriately loaned the prestige of their positions — and that of the Pentagon and the U.S. government — to make a fundraising film for a non-governmental evangelical group, the so-called Christian Embassy. The report identified Christian Embassy as affiliated with the group Campus Crusade for Christ.

The report cleared some DOD personnel of wrongdoing but concluded that the chaplain, Colonel Ralph G. Benson, had "provided a selective benefit" to the Christian Embassy by "mischaracterizing" the video as a documentation of the chaplain's ministry rather than a film promoting the Christian Embassy group and intended for outside consumption. The mischaracterization, the report noted, enabled the video's makers to film in recognizable Pentagon locations.

The report also criticized four generals and two colonels who appeared in the film, saying they "improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform." It observed that "their remarks conferred approval of and support to Christian Embassy, and the remarks of some officers implied they spoke for a group of senior military leaders rather than just for themselves."In the course of defending himself to the Inspector General's office, one of the generals asserted his belief that the Christian Embassy had become a "quasi-federal entity." This seems to support assertions by Weinstein that there is real confusion in high ranks of the military regarding armed service's secular status.

Chaplain Benson told the Inspector General's office that the office had violated his due process rights, that it lacked authority to investigate a complaint by a non-federal employee, that Benson's speech was protected under the Constitution's First Amendment, and that his identification in the film as "Pentagon Chaplain" did not imply DOD endorsement of the film.

For some years now, Weinstein, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former lawyer in the Reagan White House, has been on a kind of anti-crusade: to prove what he regards as the illegally close relationship between parts of the military and evangelical Christian groups. Weinstein was deeply involved the 2005 Air Force investigation of the Air Force Academy, outside Colorado Springs, CO.

Weinstein said of the Inspector General's report, "This is a victory, but a pyrrhic victory. The Pentagon's response has been at best tepid." He predicts that the Inspector General's recommendation for "appropriate corrective action" will be interpreted leniently. However, he says, "this supports what we've been saying, that a Christian Taliban is running the military."Such rhetoric is fairly typical of Weinstein, who claims that he has faced a retaliatory campaign of harrassment and threats, some of violence. The new Inspector General's report will hardly reduce the flow of Weinstein's hate mail. But it constitutes an instance of official support for some of his concerns.