By Rabbi Bruce Warshal
November 10, 2010
The following article will be published in the Florida Jewish
Journal on November 10, 2010. At that time it will also be
available at floridajewishjournal.com.
The Journal is the largest Jewish newspaper in the country,
with a weekly circulation of over 150,000.
Four years ago Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, led the fight to cleanse the Air Force Academy of Christian proselytizing. At that time cadets were pressured by faculty members and chaplains in command to accept Jesus. The football coach displayed a banner proclaiming “Team Jesus Christ.” Pressure was put upon cadets to view Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of Christ.”
When a Lutheran Air Force chaplain complained that the cadets were being abused by “systematic and pervasive” proselytizing she was immediately transferred to Asia. Finally the superintendant of the Academy acknowledged the problem and predicted that it will take years to rid the campus of religious intolerance: “If everything goes well, it’s probably going to take six years to fix it.”
Apparently everything is not going well. This month Weinstein is preparing legal action against the Academy in light of new evidence that Cadets for Christ, an organization that many consider a cult, including Evangelicals like Pat Robertson, is actively proselytizing on campus with the help of officers and some faculty.
When confronted with evidence of this activity by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation the Academy Superintendant Lt. Gen. Michael Gould answered through a press release that, “To date, the allegation is not substantiated.” But at the same time Gen. Gould has not released the annual Climate Survey for the first time in the history of the Academy. The obvious question is what does he know that he doesn’t want us to know?
Veterans Today published a first-hand report by Darryl Wimberley, a former Air Force Academy professor, who wrote: “The cadets don’t harass other cadets under religious pretext on their own; they take their cues from officers, junior and senior, a core of whom believe, or at least behave as if, the USAFA is the seminary of God’s Air Force.” He continues, “One of the officers speaking with Gen. Gould, at the meeting where I was present, spoke of how his own son had been punished for not attending a ‘voluntary’ prayer service.” He also reported that the wife of an officer was told that her husband would never be promoted unless he started to attend Sunday school.
Mikey Weinstein has allegations from 51 cadets who have corroborated that Cadets for Christ is actively influencing cadets on the academy grounds. One of those cadets writes: “Mr. Weinstein, USAFA is literally overrun with Christian conservative fanatics…I keep ‘Christian” books and ‘Christian CD’s in my room so others will be fooled and leave me alone.”
Why does this cadet feel pressured? He explains: “We all need those discretionary academic instructor points. We all need our AOCs and Wing and Group and Squadron staff to want to support us. We all want more playing time with our athletic teams. We all need help from ‘the system’ in an infinite number of ways, but we will never get that help if we do not appear to be extreme conservative evangelistic Christians in every way.”
This past month has not been a good time for the separation of church and state, the bedrock of religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment. The Army Times reported that 80 soldiers at Fort Eustis, Virginia were confined to their barracks and put in “lockdown” because they refused to attend a Christian rock concert. Pvt. Anthony Smith, one of those soldiers said, “Anybody in the military will tell you that lockdown is a form of punishment. When we don’t want to go to this concert and we’re not allowed to use our laptops or our cell phones or music, we’re not allowed to be sitting in our beds – that’s a form of punishment.”
What is truly scary is that this concert was part of the “Commanding General’s Spiritual Fitness Concert Series.” I understand the need for physical fitness, but I question the legitimacy of born-again generals to define spiritual fitness. There should not be such a program in the military. But there is and it’s expensive.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation reports that a Christian headline group costs between $30,000 and $100,000. Weinstein looked into the Department of Defense contracts for other spiritual fitness events and programs and discovered that one outside consulting firm was paid $3.5 million. A columnist in the dailypress.com commented: “Praise the Lord and pass the military contract.”
Why am I so upset about this? Here’s my doomsday scenario: As this country is becoming more religiously and culturally diverse the military command is becoming more fundamentally Christian. As America slides into if not third-rate at least second-rate status over the next century there could become a cadre of officers who decide to revitalize us through Christian fundamentalism. I know that I will not live to see this and I pray that my grandchildren will not either. But nightmares sometime come true.
A military that thinks it answers to God and not to the president (whether that president is a Republican or Democrat, white or black, male or female) is a dangerous force in society. I don’t want to let the camel’s nose into the tent. That’s the reason that I’m alarmed over the current situation. That’s why Mikey Weinstein and his Military Religious Freedom Foundation is an important organization.
I have spoken to Weinstein on the telephone. I have never met him, but I intend to meet him this coming Monday, November 15 when he will be speaking at the Palm Beach Democratic Club meeting at 7:30 PM at the Marriott Hotel on Okeechobee Boulevard, West Palm Beach (near the Kravis Center and the Convention Center). It’s free and open to the public. I don’t get paid for this promo, but I believe that Mikey Weinstein has an important message that we should hear. I’ll see you there.
Rabbi Warshal is the publisher emeritus of the Jewish Journal and is the author of “Provocative Columns: A liberal Rabbi Reflects on Beliefs, Israel & American Politics.” He can be reached at [email protected]