Vibrant and Heated Debate: a Pitifully Misinformed Jewish Parent of USAFA Cadets vs. MRFF

From: “Detractor”
To: Mikey Weinstein
Subject: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

Mr. Weinstein,

I am the parent of two cadets at the US Air Force Academy who both actively practice their Jewish faith in conjunction with their academic and military obligations. [One of my children] in particular has been active in the Jewish faith worship group at the academy and regularly attends Friday night Shabbat services and dinners.

I have been very pleased that he has been able to find a level of traditional faith that he is comfortable with at the Academy. Through his involvement, he was able to take advantage of the opportunity to visit Israel along with Jewish cadets from the each of the military academies, under the auspices of the Birth Right program. During the visit, he was able to develop personal relationships with fellow Jews both in the US and Israeli military. I believe these experiences have helped him continue to build upon his lifelong value system.

While this is not a scientific survey, with respect to proselytizing, evangelizing, and Antisemitism; I have specifically asked both of them over the years if they have encountered any such activity. Neither of them have had any incidents to report in four years. Not one.

As Officers they may be called upon to make decisions that will require them to rely upon their faith to properly carry out their duty. From my family’s perspective the Air Force Academy is providing an environment that allows individuals to develop their own personal spiritual beliefs and observe their own level religious observance.

Shalom,

“Detractor” (name withheld for the purpose of protecting the anonymity of his children who are attending USAFA)


From: Casey Weinstein
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Re: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

Dear sir,
My name is Casey Weinstein. I am Mikey Weinstein’s son, a 2004 graduate of the Air Force Academy. It’s come to my attention that you wrote a note to MRFF and my family announcing that ‘all is clear’ at the Academy. While I am truly glad to hear that your children have not encountered religious harassment or institutional violations of the separation of church and state, I’m concerned by the tone of your email, particularly since you neglected to thank my father and my family for elevating this issue to the point of at least partial resolution. Indeed, taken at face value, your note is a slap in the face to my family. Are you insinuating that there is and has been NO problem at the Academy? Assuming I interpreted your email correctly, I’d like to share a few points with you:

1) My brother Curtis (class of 2007) and I did receive more than our share of harassment, intolerance, and institutional evangelization during our tenior at the Academy. Since you seem to be unaware, I’ll give you some examples of what we dealt with:
– Being called a ‘Fucking Jew’ and being addressed solely as ‘Jew’ by some of our classmates
– Having to march in ‘Heathen flight’ during Basic Cadet Training
– Being ostracized from our classmates for attending Friday night services, as training sessions conflicted with services at that time
– Sitting through countless mandatory briefings from members of our chain-of-command and ‘motivational’ speakers who were overtly pushing Christianity
– Having my fellow cadets pressure me to convert to Christianity
– Having post cards for ‘The Passion of the Christ’ plastered all over the Academy
– Having my Vice Wing Commander send out a wing-wide email advertising a ‘cadet-only’ screening and bashing anyone who took issue with the film
– Having my Rabbi agree to turn the National Prayer Breakfast into a Christian Service, and warning us not to make a fuss about it

*Note that this is a small sampling of what happened to us personally. There are far more heinous acts that have been and are being committed against our thousands of clients who have contacted us for help since we went public and founded MRFF

2) Beyond what happened at the Academy, my wife (also my classmate from USAFA) and I experienced countless incidents of religious harassment in the Active Duty Air Force that are far too numerous to list here.

3) My family has experienced a series of hateful acts against us personally, including having our tires slashed, windows shot out, thousands of death-threats leveled against us over the years, and a swastica and cross plastered over the front of our home. My father also sacrificed his and my mom’s financial security to make this cause his life’s work. So, this is personal for us.

4) We are not a ‘Jewish’ organization. In fact, the vast majority of our clients are Christian. So, you are spot on when you note that your observations are not ‘scientific’ – particularly since you’ve never spent a day as a Cadet – yet you feel comfortable enough to have formed an opinion about the entire institution.

Finally, my wife, who is also my classmate from the Air Force Academy, was never raped during the sexual assault scandal that we went through while cadets, though she did experience a harrowing incident that I won’t detail in this note. I would never think, however, to tell her that (in my opinion) I thought all was fine, and that The Academy does a great job of preventing and prosecuting sexual assaults. That seems to be what you’re telling us about the religious climate, though.

I hope you’ll understand that we have paid and are paying a significant price for speaking up about this. Before you signal that the issue we’ve fought so hard for as a family is non-existent, you should remember that.

Casey Weinstein


From: Walter Plywaski
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Response to “Detractor”

Dear “Detractor”,

It is always good when good things happen to some people at times and I am very happy that this is what happened to your children studying at the USAF Academy.

However, my life’s experience during World War II in the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz and 7 different Dachau camps forces me to be seriously doubtful that all is well at the Academy simply based on the experience of your family. How else would the Military Religious Freedom Foundation have received so many complaints about the Academy? Do you honestly believe MRFF is fabricating these hundreds of current complaints? I have supported and worked with MRFF for years now and live in nearby Denver; thus I believe I have a very good “read” on what’s happened or happening at the USAF Academy.

The history of Europe is rife with infrequent occurrences of excellent treatment of some Jews who were referred to as “court” Jews working directly for various members of the old nobilities who therefore did not have to wear specialized clothing identifying them as Jews and didn’t have to reside in the ghettos.

In the specific case of the Lodz ghetto, its administrator Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski was made into a “King of the Jews” by order of the Germans and he and his gaggle of functionaries were living lives of relative plenty, almost as before the war. All that of course came to a screeching halt in the beginning of August 1944 with the total “liquidation” of the Lodz ghetto when the remaining few of us were sent on to be exterminated in Auschwitz. That also applied to Rumkowski who, while told that he will be taking care of gently by the Germans for his help to them, was most likely burned alive on arrival at Birkenau.

That was also the case for the German show-case Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto for “privileged” Jews. Succumbing to pressure following the deportation of Danish Jews to Theresienstadt, the Germans permitted representatives from the Danish Red Cross and the International Red Cross to visit in June 1944. It was all an elaborate hoax. The Germans intensified killing deportations from the ghetto shortly before the visit, and the ghetto itself was “beautified” by an enforced spruce-up and sudden supply of even luxurious food.

Not surprisingly, the Red Cross delegation found the conditions at Terezin to be excellent as they witnessed nicely dressed children playing in the newly supplied playground. Very shortly after the “inspectors” left almost all the inhabitants, including the children of course, were shipped off for destruction in Birkenau.

It is far from my intention to equate these horrific happenings to Jews throughout Europe under the Third Reich to the situation at the Academy, but you need to understand that there exists a very pushy and clearly unconstitutional supra-Christian crusader pressure on the Air Force Academy cadets and staff to cow-tow to triumphalist Christian religiosity, regardless of any cadet’s or USAFA staff member’s version of a religion or its total absence.

While I hope that your children’s good experience is truly applicable throughout the cadet body, I am a seriously dubious considering the hundreds, if not thousands, of religious pressure complaints reaching the MRFF. My own experience as a Jew in USAF as an enlisted man during the Korean War culminated in a brutal fight forced on me by a member of a group of airmen in my Quonset hut and which then put me in danger of a general courts-martial for having inflicted grievous harm to my attacker. These charges were shortly dismissed on a report of the actual situation by another airman (black) who heard and witnessed the actual situation.

To the extent that your Jewish children have been so fortunate NOT to have experienced such odious religious prejudice at USAFA, did it ever occur to you that they and you are benefitting from the years of a very brutal fight by MRFF and Mr. Weinstein against fundamentalist Christian oppression there? The timing and the motives of your disrespectful e-mail to Mr. Weinstein are very disquieting, to say the least.

Sincerely yours

Walter Plywaski
Ex “native” of the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz and Dachau


From: Chris Livingston
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Good

Sir,
I had a chance to read your message to Mr. Weinstein. My initial response was: good, they were lucky. I’m glad your children were able to go through the Air Force Academy without ever feeling pressured to change or compromise their religious beliefs. But for me the disconnect comes when you use the narrow experiences of a few cadets (your children) and expand them to make a judgment on the Air Force Academy as a whole. While the perspective of your cadets is valuable it is only one view of a big and complex picture. As a 2005 graduate of the Air Force Academy I will attest that the cadet wing is large and diverse, and no two peoples stories of their time at the Academy is going to be the same. There are different subcultures within each of the squadrons in the cadet wing, and the prevailing attitudes in one little pocket of the Academy are guaranteed to be different than the prevailing attitudes in another part. This should be obvious, but I felt the need to stress it because I feel as though your email is meant to imply that all is well at this large and diverse institution just because your cadets didn’t experience any harassment.

There have been serious problems at the Air Force Academy that went straight to the top of the chain of command. The most obvious examples in my mind were the advertising of The Passion, invitations to creationist speakers, and invitations to the fraudulent and radical “ex-terrorist” Walid Shoebat (this one is especially embarrassing—Google the name). Each of these occurrences required high level approval.

Also, I find it quite obvious that if the AF Academy had been handling complaints of undue religious influence properly, the MRFF never would have come into being. Instead they are active, and they handle the complaints of cadets when the system fails them. And the system seems to fail often enough that they have a steady flow of clients.

So count yourself lucky that your children never were pushed to the point where they felt they needed to be among MRFF’s clients. That’s a good thing. But perhaps you should thank Mikey Weinstein for his hard work to protect the religious freedom of military members, and wish him luck as he continues. Because the administration at the Academy (I can guarantee) would never have developed the inertia to address this issue if it hadn’t been for the pressure of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Chris Livingston
USAF Academy 2005


From: “Detractor”
To: Chris Livingston
Subject: Re: good

Thanks for taking the time to write to me. I appreciate constructive e-mails that are absent of name calling. 

I see your point of this being a small sample size. If you would be willing to take the time, travel to Colorado Springs. Go see first hand what is happening today. As I stated, my has become involved with the congregation on campus. If you haven’t already, perhaps you could join him and some of the other Jewish cadets at one of their Friday evening dinners. As I understand it, they are open to the public, and people from the Colorado Springs community join them each week.

If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to hear for yourself first hand what the Cadets have to say, today. They are a great bunch of young men and women I think you would enjoy the visit. If you do join them for dinner a time or two, you will have the chance to hear from a number of the Cadets about their experiences. They attend on a regular basis and have a Rabbi lead the service. You can hear from them first hand, no anonymous surveys, no one hiding behind the doors of their room, but right out in the open. 

At least to me, from what I hear from the Rabbi, and their fellow Cadets, it seems to be very different story then what I read in the press. If accept this challenge, I would work with you to put together a write up of of findings. I would be willing bet you a dollar that you will find a different environment then is being reported. 

Who knows, maybe I am wrong, but you could find out first hand. 

Let me know what you think and again, thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,
”Detractor”


From: Chris Livingston
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Re: Good

Hi “Detractor”,
Thanks for taking the time to write me back. You seem pretty insistent on some position here—I could guess, but I’d rather not put words in your mouth, so I will just ask you straight out. What is your overall impression of the religious climate at the Air Force Academy now? Do you think there were any problems before? Or do you think things were always peachy out there? What is your view of the MRFF? Do you think they have provided a valuable service by being an outlet for complaints that are ignored by the system? Or do you disagree with that statement? I ask all this because there are strong implications in your letter, never openly stated, and I just want to pin down your actual thoughts. My take on your position is that you seem to think there is no problem and that the MRFF and its many supporters ‘have it all wrong’. Again, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so just give me a full assessment of your views on these matters, and then I can respond more appropriately.

I appreciate the invitation to eat dinner with some cadets, but I live in Washington DC, and a trip out to Colorado Springs isn’t really practical (though I’m sure the cadets I would meet would be great folks, as many cadets are). But I’m also not sure this would give me any new and valuable perspective, to be honest. As I’ve said before, I’m a grad who the Academy not too long ago, so I lived amongst cadets, talking with them, and eating dinner with them every night for four years. So I have all the first hand experience a guy could need. I’m sure the experience could have some value, but as to drawing any real conclusions about the environment at large, it would amount to anecdotal evidence. So for me to eat dinner with you and a small, homogenous group of cadets and then write up the findings… you must know that this is preposterous. This would not have nearly the conclusive value of the “anonymous survey” whose damning results to cast aside so carelessly. And the fact that you make this request gives me some doubts about your intentions, I’m sorry to say. It looks as though you are angling for a good PR hit, by trying to rush to a conclusion that all is well at USAFA. Essentially, in terms of having any sort of academic value, the findings of you and I eating dinner with a small group of Jewish cadets would be zilch. Please keep in mind that I am an agnostic, and the experience for agnostics at the Air Force Academy would never be represented in our ‘investigative dinner’. Or Hindus, or Muslims.

It’s long been a popular refrain of military officials that the press is unkind to them and misrepresents them, whenever a scandal is in play. But as I see it, the press has been rather kind to the Academy on this one. And I view it as almost irrelevant, in any case, what the press has to say about all of this. My interest is that my alma mater be a place where hard working cadets of all faiths and backgrounds can come together and learn to be leaders. That mission is hindered by having an environment that pushes any religion over any other one. So I can’t help but notice that you never addressed the few issues I brought up. What does it say to you that Walid Shoebat was an invited speaker at the Air Force Academy?

And why does the MRFF continue to have cadets come to them for help?

If the MRFF has helped cadets, who were not being helped by their chain of command (as indeed they have many times) wouldn’t you see that service as valuable? Once again, would you not like to thank them for helping these people out?

I’m asking some pointed question here because I have a suspicion: that there is some kind of agenda at work here. You seem to be pushing for a certain view without actually stating a position outright. You seem to be dodging any attempt to see the work MRFF has done as valuable. You took care not to address my real examples of high level Evangelical endorsement. And you have asked me to participate in a dinner where we would draw conclusions and publish them. I’ll leave it to you to dispel my suspicions. What is going on here?

Chris Livingston
USAF Academy 2005

(“Detractor”‘s response, and continued correspondence between he and Chris Livingston, continued towards end of thread)


From: USAF Academy Faculty Member’s E-Mail Address Withheld
To: “Detractor”
Subject: USAF Academy Faculty Member’s Response

Mr. “Detractor”,
I’ve got to say that your letter has a unique, ostrich-like quality (and very useful perspective) that I’m sure would’ve appealed to many powerful leaders in the past. Let’s look to the 30s in Europe of the 50s and 60s in the American South for examples.

“Gee, things are fine for our kind here. We like this new neighborhood with just our friends from the synagogue.” “They treat my kids and me just fine!. We don’t really want to sit in the front of the bus anyway. These schools they have set up for us are good, too!”

Saying that you don’t feel like YOU or your kids are not being mistreated is your data point. We respect that and wish you and them well on their journey. Extrapolating that feeling to the entire institution, while ignoring the dozens, nay hundreds, of confirmed, documented cases of religious abuse that continue at USAFA and throughout the military is disrespectful and disingenuous–and can be lethal in the long run.

My perspective is different that yours. My son (a grad in the last decade) and I (a currently serving officer) reject the constant litany espoused by the insistent evangelical mainstream that religious belief–particularly their flavor–is a necessary and sufficient condition for honorable service. We hear it all the time when USAFA’s senior leaders join together at the National Prayer Luncheon to confirm each other’s righteous orthodoxy by their presence. And why wouldn’t they? They used the base e-Mail system to announce it? It was publicized that the Superintendent and all of his mission element leads would also attend. It was also stressed to be “voluntary.” (You see, that’s code for: we want to know who’s REALLY with us and who isn’t) Are you aware that a few short years ago, before MRFF formed, that the currently serving Dean and Athletic Directors signed their names to a full page ad in the base newspaper’s final edition of the year stating that the reason for the season was Jesus Christ and that only by seeking him could one achieve salvation. And that it listed their names and ranks? Really. This happened–and both got promotions.

My son marched as a commander of “Heathen Flight” as a basic when he decided that he didn’t want to spend time at Bible Study sipping sodas and calling home with the religious members of his class. I’ve accepted the fact that by leaving out the last four words of the oath of office at my last promotion, that many think are mandatory–but aren’t, I will not see any more promotions. But we’ve both taken these actions and suffered these abuses with our heads up–and out of the sand. So, when another member of the USAFA staff tells me that they and their spouses feel marginalized in an academic department because of the prevailing christian sentiment, or when the command chaplain asks us all to join him in prayer “to the Lord,” I don’t just look away and say, “these seats in the back of the bus suit me just fine–they’re comfy, too. Thank you for letting me sit here, massa! If you need to show the complainers that we’re all happy here, I’ll be glad to talk to the news people.”

(USAF Academy Faculty Member’s, USAF Officer’s name, rank and USAFA Faculty Dept., title and position withheld)


From: USAF Academy Faculty Member’s e-Mail Address Withheld
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Re: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

Dear “Detractor”,
I’m glad your kids are doing so well and have not seen any intolerance at USAFA. Unfortunately, they are too ignorant and blind to see the blatant prejudice and discrimination or they are just idiots. Maybe both.

Thanks for completely disregarding the efforts of our allies like MRFF and stomping on our collective oppression we experience under the fundamentalist christian zealots at USAFA. Don’t dismiss all the hate and pain that is inflicted upon us on a regular basis. Basically, you validate what we’ve fought against for so long. You are correct in saying that your “survey” of two individuals, through an obviously biased lens, is not scientific. Family anecdotes do not represent the rest of us who experience harassment on a daily basis.

Stay comforted in knowing that the two remain ignorant to these issues while the rest of us suffer. I guess as long as you and your family are doing fine, the rest of us don’t matter. Have you turned your backs on our struggles and become the oppressor now?

– Struggling at USAFA

(USAF Academy faculty member’s, USAF Academy Graduate’s and active duty USAF officer’s name, rank, USAF Academy academic dept. withheld)


From: USAF Academy Faculty Member’s e-Mail Address Withheld
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Re: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

Dear sir,

To simply address your condescending email, you have absolutely no clue. We cannot win this war logically.

When your livelihood is threatened by those who can end it, we can only speak out anonymously. Mikey and MRFF is our voice. You can comfortably armchair quarterback this from the safety of your home. On the other hand, we work and live in a poisonous environment. As soon as I identify myself, my career is over and I become unemployed. You probably have never laid eyes on an EPR or OPR and its ramifications on our lives You have absolutely no idea what it feels like to walk on eggshells at work, so that you can continue to provide for yourself and your family while enduring hate and oppression.

You talk about having guts? Until you’re in our shoes experiencing the threat of unemployment for speaking up, you remain clueless.

Go ahead and continue to call us gutless. If you wanted to demonstrate guts and show us what that looks like, you can meet Mikey face to face to tell him that in person.

(USAF Academy faculty member’s, USAF Academy Graduate’s, and active duty USAF officer’s name, rank and USAF Academy academic department withheld)


From: USAF Academy Faculty member
To: “Detractor”
Subject: RE: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

While I’m pleased to hear that two Jewish cadets at USAFA have not experienced neither unsolicited proselytizing nor discrimination based on their faith, there are still problems, three which I witnessed in the past ten days alone. Going in chronological order:

– On Tuesday 24 May I was invited to a commissioning ceremony. The program had a page explaining the oath of office. The option to “affirm” instead of “swear” was not present, and the only part of the oath that was in all capitals was “SO HELP ME GOD”. This squadron commissioned 23 new officers that evening, and I’m sure any agnostics or atheists among those cadets, did not get to fully enjoy such a special occasion.

– On Wednesday 25 May there was an invocation at the Graduation Commencement, instead of a more appropriate moment of silence. Chaplain Colonel [name withheld] prayed to the “lord” and condescendingly mentioned believers and non-believers as part of a prayer to this “lord”. Was he insinuating praying for the non-believers?

– Today 3 June, I happily helped Mikey with a simple task to confirm if our AAFES stores were selling a book called “The Airman’s Bible”. For a few seconds, I had the silly thought that I’d be able to tell Mikey that I found no such thing and that perhaps USAFA was starting to do its part. Boy, was I disappointed! There were versions of this bible that uses its title next to the seal of the USAF. This particular bible is tailored toward evangelicals, and its last few pages have George W. Bush’s Inaugural Address, which means it is also endorsing right-wing Christian conservatism to our men and women in uniform.

Again, this is a ten day period!

My four years at USAFA have been very rewarding, but the climate of disrespect and intolerance toward belief systems outside of right wing evangelical Christianity still exists. It is not blatant like I experienced as during my 4 years as a USAFA cadet, but now it’s something that I call “passive defiance and foot-dragging” on the part of the Big Three (The Superintendent and the Commandant are part of the defiance, and the Dean (who is not an evangelical) is too scared to take bold, brave steps. USAFA had a big chance to fix things when six months ago we discovered cadets were lying to get evangelicals off their backs. Instead, the leadership chose to invite former leaders from USAFA who served during some of the most disgusting incidents of bullying against non-evangelicals to supposedly invite cadets and staff in confidence to discuss concerns. Instead, only cadets who felt things were good came forward, while concerned cadets and staff, including myself, saw this as a farce. The Dean also encouraged us to participate in a climate survey, and we were encouraged to list our concerns. I listed two specific cases of religious problems in my department. My evangelical Dept Head promised he would address every problem, but instead chose to use the feedback session to say that evangelicals were now experiencing reverse-discrimination at USAFA. That is not true! I have not seen anyone ridicule or mock evangelicals. This is just another foot-dragging tactic. They are entitled to the same tolerance and respect we in the majority are seeking. These series of problems convinced me USAFA is not serious about ending this problem once and for all. The “Big Three” generals at USAFA need to be fired and replaced with generals who are willing to eradicate this plague, instead of just making fluffy statements that don’t mean squat.

If it were not for the bravery and efforts of Mikey, these two Jewish cadets would be experiencing the nightmare his three kids lived between 2000 and 2007. Let me also remind the father of these cadets that the evangelicals who have caused so many problems at the Academy like to pretend to be nice to those in the Jewish faith and support a restoration of Israel to its biblical borders, something extremely dangerous and irresponsible in the current geopolitical environment, because they see that as a way to speed up the “end of times” and make the Jews “see the light/be saved” by meeting Christ on his second coming. My maternal great grandmother was a German Jew who was fortunate enough to have left Europe in the late 1800s. I never met her, but my maternal grandmother spoke to me proudly about her mom and gave me an appreciation on respecting different faiths.

Again, I’m glad to hear about a positive experience, and I can say things are better since my cadet days, but WE HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO!

(USAF Academy Faculty Member’s, USAF Academy Graduate’s, active duty USAF officer’s name, rank,and USAFA Faculty Dept. withheld)


From: USAF Academy Cadet
To: “Mikey Weinstein”
Subject: USAF Academy Cadet’s Response to “Detractor”

Mr. Weinstein, I am a Jewish cadet at the USAF Academy. I have been a MRFF client since the first week I was going thru BCT and wrote to my mom and step dad that I was being severely proselytized by the upperclassmen in my First Beast Cadet Squadron. They called you and I don’t know to this day what you did but whatever it was it stopped the proselytizing. For a while at least. I have just been sent the e-mail which a Mr. “Detractor”(name withheld) just sent to you. I don’t know his kids at all. I am not that religious and don’t have a typical Jewish last name. Alot of people here don’t even know that I’m Jewish, but I am proud of my Jewish culture and heritage. If Mr. (name withheld)’s children have never encountered ANY religious persecution at USAFA I am glad for them. But that is not my story or the story of so many others here, most of whom are Christians. I have had so many upperclassmen, USAF officers, NCOs, coaches and faculty and staff cross so very far over the line of insult and injury and trample on my Constitutional rights in my time as a cadet here at the Academy. I cannot begin to recount each and every one of them. But I will tell you about one time. I know that you already know this story as I called you and my mom and step dad also called you right after it happened. I had just started a meeting with a USAFA faculty member who was trying hard to get me to sign up to major in his academic dept. He was and is an active duty USAF officer. After he spent 20 minutes trying hard to persuade me to declare my major in his academic dept., he then told me, knowing me to be Jewish as I had mentioned it to him in passing, that an added benefit to me would be that he and some others in the dept. would be working hard to “bring me to the Lord”. I could not believe he said that. But given everything else I’ve encountered here, I can honestly say that though I was shocked, I was not surprised. I chose another major. I have about a hundred more such stories to tell but there is not time to do so. I am not going to give my name or USAFA Class year or anything else because to do so would bring down the house. This is the same reason I refused to talk to the General Gamble people in late March. “Detractor” may think that USAFA is heroic in its efforts to promote religious respect. It is not. The heroes are you, MRFF, Dr. David Mullin and the others who were the unnamed USAFA people who joined MRFF and Dr. Mullin in suing USAFA back in February. Thank you for letting me have my say. Thank you and MRFF for fighting this fight. If only Mr. (name withheld) could walk a day in our shoes?
V/R,

(USAF Academy cadet’s name, USAFA class year, USAFA Cadet Squadron withheld)


From: “Barry Fagin”
To: “Detractor”
Subject: A different perspective

Sir,

My name is Barry Fagin, I’m a professor in the Computer Science department here, and a lay Torah Reader at Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs. I’ve been on the faculty for 17 years, before any of this stuff broke and before I met Mr. Weinstein. Feel free to google me if you wish.

I’m sure others have made points about anecdotal evidence that I need not report here. And of course I’m happy that things have gone as well for your kids as they have. I would suggest that you consider the possibility that the biggest reason that your cadets’ experience was as positive as it was is *precisely* because of Mikey’s efforts over the past ten years. Based on my lengthy involvement with the issue and Mr. Weinstein, that is not only my perspective, but the only reasonable conclusion one could possibly draw given the evidence. Your letter struck me as rather like that of an African-American contacting Dr. Martin Luther King a couple of years after the first civil rights marches. His own kids are sitting in the front of the bus every day, so what exactly is his problem?

Far from believing you offer a “different perspective” ostensibly worthy of Mikey’s consideration, you should be thanking him. Better still, you should send him a check, so that the Jewish sons and daughters who will come after yours can continue to enjoy the same treatment. If MRFF goes away, I can guarantee they won’t. The other side thinks in terms of eternity, so we have to as well.

Respectfully,

Dr Barry Fagin
Professor of Computer Science
US Air Force Academy


From: Former USAF Officer and Orthopedic Surgeon
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Re: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

Dear “Detractor”,

Your [children]’s service to our nation is much appreciated.

That said, sometimes, it is difficult to see the forest for the trees.

I entered active duty as a commissioned officer just over a year before Mikey founded the MRFF. During Commissioned Officer Training, our class’s one and only chaplain candidate was permitted to provide the invocation for a required event. As per my appointed status in class, I approached him, afterward, to ask that he never, again, end any such effort with the words, “…in Jesus Christ’s name…” He refused. He stated that the very clergy who nominated him for active duty required this of him, and he could not break his oath to them to do otherwise.

To the credit of those teaching us, the decision was made not to let him give him anymore opportunities — at least, not before our class graduated and moved on. I was told he would receive appropriate training to deal with this issue at his next stop: chaplaincy school. I trusted this to be true.

At my next stop, a politically prominent base, I found the group commander had used his first winter there to proselytize/evangelize non-verbally, putting nativity scenes and only nativity scenes all around the buildings under his command. Others had courageously stepped up and spoken with him, so he took another tack. He allowed them to form a committee ostensibly created to enhance religious diversity. He insisted, however, that it be named using Dominionist code words: The Spiritual Wellness Committee. In addition, once the committee was organized and starting to work, he had a civilian Dominionist preacher brought in to take over the meeting and use it — and its attendees — to create an evangelical stage production! Thankfully, that effort fell flat.

It was a year or so after I finally connected the dots and realized I’d been ousted due to religious discrimination. The one subconscious thought that kept trying to break out to conscious level was this: The commander ordered me not to attend his own wife’s holiday program for kids on base. It was the commander’s second winter, my first, and I — having been manipulated into the role of Jewish Lay Leader — had been specifically invited to sing, as she so quaintly put it, “Chanukah caroles.”

Then, other bits of evidence came to light, including an email from someone in my chain of command stating he didn’t understand why our commander had been targeting me. In my file was a handwritten note acknowledging that my chain of command realized its behavior was putting me in the high risk suicide category — with nothing written below to show any indication of steps to be taken to prevent suicide — and this just days before my separation.

I hope the peace and tranquility your children are experiencing, in terms of religion within the military, is true and faithful to the Constitution. Beware, though, that anti-semitism and religious exclusionism, both of which have been around for centuries or longer, have taken the newer, more politically correct, harder to prove and defend against, modus operandi of bait and switch, trap setting, and behind the scenes black listing. Those who are targeted find a tower of notes written against them, used against them, and if they look farther, might even find that the writers of those notes, themselves, had no idea why they were asked to write them or what they were being used for. That was my experience.

I loved being in the military, serving our nation, and keeping my honor and my oath to protect and defend the Constitution. I’d do it, again, too, if I could. MRFF didn’t exist until shortly after I left, but if it had, I’d have notified them of every single possible infraction against the separation of church and state. I would have donated all I could, too. It would have been, to me, a further act on behalf of my oath to support and defend the Constitution, hoping that defense would be there to help me, too, should I ever need it.

(Former USAF Officer’s and Orthopedic Surgeon’s name and location withheld)


From: “Jackie Jacobs”
To: “Detractor”
Subject: Re: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein

June 6, 2011

Dear sir:

The military must never deviate from a position of religious neutrality and it must respect the diversity of all religious beliefs.
Rabbi Hillel, one of the most influential scholars in Jewish history, posed three questions that have guided the Columbus Jewish Foundation in its support of the above-referenced mission statement of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
Over 23,000 active duty members of the United States Armed Forces have been MRFF clients, reporting instances of religious discrimination, harassment and aggressive proselytizing.

Were such misdeeds directed only to Jews, we as Jews would be compelled to support them: If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?

But 96% of those who have sought MRFF’s help are Christians. We are obliged to defend their rights as well: If I am only for myself, then what am I?

Not every member of the United States Armed Forces suffers any violation of their religious freedoms. But until all members of the Armed Forces enjoy their First Amendment guarantees, the Columbus Jewish Foundation stands with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation: If not now, when?

As the country’s first Jewish organization to provide financial support to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I close by paraphrasing Clarence Darrow: “We can only protect our liberties by protecting the freedoms of others. You can only be free if I am free.”

Jackie Jacobs,
Executive Director
Columbus Jewish Foundation


Subject: RE: A Jewish Parent’s Response to Mikey Weinstein
To: “Detractor”
From: The Parent of a USAFA Cadet

Dear sir,

I too am a parent of a Cadet who recently graduated from the United States Air Force Academy. Your two Cadets are very fortunate to have not overtly experienced the religious discrimination and overt evangelical proselytizing that is rampant at USAFA. You really need to thank Mikey Weinstein and MRFF, for having brought pressure and lawsuits that allowed your two Cadets to be free form the overt anti-Semitism that has existed for many years. I only hope that you do indeed send Mikey a sincere a note of appreciation and thanks.

Unfortunately, your testimonial is the rare exception and all too uncommon. You see my son saw and experienced first hand from the very beginning, the systemic culture that only accepted born again Christians., During his four years, he had to step in and protect other Cadets, some of whom were not Jewish, from unwanted and overtly evangelical pressure.

The problem is deep and pervasive. Your family was very fortunate. But I suggest that you read more and understand how big a problem exists and how fortunate you and your children were to be spared the embarrassment and consequences of being Jewish at the Academy.

Sincerely,

The parent of a USAFA Cadet.


From: Akiva David MIller
To: ”Detractor”
Subject: Regarding your correspondence with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dear sir,

My name is Akiva David Miller; I am the Veterans Liaison for the
Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I’m a disabled U.S. Navy
veteran, and I’m a fellow Jew. I’ve read your initial correspondence
with Mr. Weinstein; he sent it to me and asked me to write you a note.
Obviously I couldn’t get to you right away because for some reason you
sent your initial e-mail to the Foundation right before Shabbos came
in on Friday, and as a religious Jew I was not in a position to deal
with it over Shabbos. I have to confess that since you assert that
you’re Jewish, I was a bit surprised that you would essentially wait
to send such a note until right before Shabbos. On the other hand I
understand full well that these days many Jews are ignorant of
traditional Jewish practices. That being said I hope you understand
why I couldn’t write to you until after Shabbos, and truthfully, I
spent yesterday trying to put form to my thoughts – taking my time to
respond so as not to be rash, but to reply to you in a measured
manner.

Again, I don’t wish to belabor the point about the timing of your
original e-mail, but as Mikey often says, this isn’t our first rodeo.
Typically we get these things dropped on us right before the weekend
because someone has an agenda; sometimes they try to hide their
agenda, and sometimes they’re very open about it. As you might imagine
we receive the crudest sort of hate mail and death threats daily, some
serious enough that we have a permanent contact person at the FBI (one
learns quickly not to play around with death threats). You would have
us believe that you don’t have a hidden agenda – okay, but you have to
understand that we’ve heard that song and dance before and our
instincts have been honed the hard way.

To begin with, I want to make clear that I’m not an Academy Cadet,
nor have I ever been; in fact, I’ve never set foot on the Air Force
Academy campus. However, I have corresponded with and spoken to Air
Force Academy cadets; still, my knowledge is purely second hand.
Still, I know enough about the military academies to at least have a
rudimentary understanding of the pressures that all cadets face. There
is immense pressure within all three U.S. Military Academies to just
go along to get along; rocking the boat, as a cadet or even a family
member of a cadet, can certainly pose some very real dangers. Despite
the protestations of those who clearly have guilty consciences in this
matter, we know as a matter of record that some cadets have been
bullied, threatened and even physically assaulted when they failed to
conform to the mainstream religious views of the majority. It is not
without reason that the term “tyranny of the majority” has come down
to us. Of course, having had friends who graduated from the Naval
Academy once upon a time, I am also very aware of the greatest
pressure of all – the pressure to graduate; while too often
overlooked, the danger of not graduating, in the words of a former
midshipman friend of mine, “hangs over our heads like the weighted
blade of a guillotine.” If a Navy Midshipman fails to graduate and
flushes out of the system he/she may be sent to the fleet as a junior
enlistee, or worse yet, he/she may be other than honorably discharged
and saddled with an enormous debt to repay for their education. So, I
think I understand some of the basic pressures of those students
within the U.S. Military Academy system, though of course the majority
of the day to day routines are not within my purview.

In regards to the Air Force Academy specifically, and the pressures
faced daily by many cadets who do not fit within the mainstream of
Fundamentalist Christianity, they can essentially be divided into two
groups: those who go along to get along and remain silent, and those
who speak up, acknowledging what is happing in front of them. As I
said, I know the pressure to conform or to remain silent is great, and
I also know the dangers of speaking up are real. Again, we have well
documented history to demonstrate both these pressures and the very
real threats to those who refuse to surrender their honor by remaining
silent. However, I also know that no officer without the strength of
character to speak truth to power deserves to wear the uniform. As an
NCO in the U.S. Navy I was called upon more than once to speak truth
to power; once, when openly threatened by a superior officer (an O5)
to keep my mouth shut, I risked my career to speak truth to power and
in the end was vindicated. It was a fearful experience to witness a
superior officer dressed down in my presence by my Commanding Officer
(I tried to excuse myself, but my CO found the officer’s conduct so
shameful that he insisted on shaming him in my presence. I risked
everything to stand up to that officer; but, that is no surprise:
integrity, after all, does not come cheaply; one must earn it with
very real courage, with sweat and too often with blood.

Moving on…..Having read your invitation to others to join you for a
Shabbos dinner with the Academy’s Jewish Chaplain, let me save you the
trouble of inviting me; I live in Portland, Oregon, and I keep kosher,
so such a dinner would be impossible for me. Having got that out of
the way, let me get to the point and explain to you why I have decided
to accept Mr. Weinstein’s suggestion that I write to you.

Mr. Weinstein – Mikey – is a dear friend of mine, and I of course know
his sons. I know their stories from the Academy and I know them to all
be honorable men – this I have direct first hand knowledge of, and
therefore my testimony in this regard cannot be construed as hearsay.
Knowing Mikey as I do (and I will go into some detail about that
shortly), I was confounded as to your interaction with him. I would
imagine that Mikey felt your original note, and the ones that
followed, came a bit out of left field. One is left to wonder if you
have an agenda here that you’ve seen fit to keep to yourself.
Obviously I don’t know if that’s the case; but honestly, your
correspondence gives me that feeling. But of course I may be wrong.
Perhaps the problem is that you don’t have any real perspective
regarding who Mikey is, and why he has so selflessly dedicated himself
to the work of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. So, rather
than trying to argue with you, rather than wasting my time beating a
dead horse, if you will, let me just tell you my story as briefly as I
can, and in doing so maybe I can provide you with a clearer picture of
who Mikey Weinstein is, and how the work of the MRFF impacts the lives
of real people. And when I am done telling you my story, I hope you
will be patient enough with me to allow me to make just one point.

I am a disabled U.S. Navy Veteran. About seven years ago I moved back
to Iowa City, Iowa, where I am originally from. I’ve lived most of my
life in Oregon, but had decided to move back to Iowa to be closer to
my extended family. While in Iowa I relied on the Iowa City V.A.
Medical Center for all of my medical care. From the first day I
attended orientation at the Medical Center I experienced religious
discrimination and witnessed so many violations of V.A. policies and
procedures, as well as my civil liberties, that ultimately the
National Headquarters for the Department of Veterans Affairs had to
send in an internationally recognized medical ethicist to investigate
and recommend changes. In the end not only were all of my allegations
substantiated, but the investigator found patently Anti-Semitic notes
in my medical chart.

To save time I will just list some of what I experienced at the Iowa
City V.A. Medical Center in the nearly four years I lived in Iowa
City; however, I want to first note that my V.A. records were and are
clear that I am an Orthodox Jew. Here is my short list:

1. During two hospitalizations for chest pains, while I was sedated
and wired to a heart monitor, against my expressed, written wishes,
the hospital staff sent an Assembly of God chaplain into my room, and
despite my protestations, he stood over my bed and proceeded to try to
convert me, telling me that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of the Jews,
that I was very ill and could die, and that if I didn’t accept Jesus
as my personal Savior I was going to go to hell. In both instances,
despite my protestations, the Chaplain remained at my bedside for not
less than 20 minutes, preaching at me, telling me I needed Jesus, and
trying to convert me.
2. During my medical appointments I was repeatedly subjected to
questions from staff, asking me why I didn’t believe in Jesus.
3. When I first moved to Iowa City and checked in at the Iowa City
V.A. Medical Center I was told I couldn’t receive care at the facility
until I underwent orientation. When I showed up for the next scheduled
orientation I was informed that it was held in the chapel – a chapel
permanently decorated with a giant crucifix and the Stations of the
Cross. When I refused to enter the chapel I was threatened that unless
I did I would be denied care at the facility. Finally, when it became
clear that I wasn’t going to compromise, the instructor threw the
syllabus at me and told me to go to hell.
4. During hospitalizations I was refused kosher food and the staff
refused to contact my local Rabbi or any other Rabbi.
5. During every one of my hospitalizations, despite my explicit,
written instructions to the contrary, I was visited by a Christian
chaplain, and each time they insisted on leaving a Christian religious
tract on my table.
6. The Medical Center frequently invited or allowed Christian singing
groups to sing Christian sacred music in the waiting room areas; so, I
was frequently subjected to their Christian music against my will
while waiting for appointments, between appointments, and waiting to
get prescriptions filled.
7. Finally, when I had enough, I set up a meeting with representatives
from the Chaplains Office and the Patient Advocates Office, and I took
my Rabbi with me to the meeting. During the meeting I was informed
that everything that had happened had been my fault because, according
to them, I had failed to protest more vigorously.
8. About the same time I had the meeting with representatives from the
Medical Center, I came down with SEVEN kidney stones (I have a
service-connected disability for kidney stones). After a visit to the
emergency room I had a follow up appointment with my primary care
physician – this was the first time I had seen him since my meeting at
the Medical Center. The first thing he said to me after escorting me
into his office was, “We’re discontinuing your care.” I was
flabbergasted. When I asked him what I was supposed to do about my
kidney stones (at that very time he was examining the CT scan of my
kidney stones on his computer) he said to me, “You’re a religious Jew;
why don’t you try prayer or meditation.”
9. In their final act of hostility, the Iowa City V.A. Medical Center
blacklisted me. No other doctor in town or in the vicinity would see
me, even if I would have had the money to pay them.

So it was that I first encountered Mikey Weinstein. I was alone. My
pain medication and all treatment had been discontinued. I was in more
pain than I can adequately describe. I was passing blood. And I was
essentially living, if you can call it that, curled up in a ball in
the middle of my living room floor. But I was fortunate. My best
friend happened to call from Portland, Oregon, and when he found out
what was going on he told me about an organization he’d heard about –
the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He quickly looked up
Mikey’s phone number and told me to call him, which I did. And that
was the moment my life changed. To make a long story just a little bit
less long, let me just quickly wrap the rest of the story up for you.
I called and Mikey answered the phone himself. Within a couple of
days, Mikey flew out to Iowa; but before he did that he managed to get
me in to see a Jewish doctor in Northern Iowa and my Rabbi drove me to
see him. All he had to do was look at my CT scan and he prescribed me
pain medication – enough to get me by until I got to Dallas, Texas.
You see, thanks to Mikey’s efforts, he not only raised the money, but
made arrangements for me to be treated at the Dallas, Texas V.A.
Medical Center. Also, Mikey put Ross Perot in touch with me, and Mr.
Perot put me up in a hotel near the Dallas V.A. while I was there
being treated. Not only that, but Mr. Perot called me every morning to
make sure I was being taken care of. So, within a couple of weeks of
contacting Mikey I had been flown to Dallas, Texas, treated and rid of
my kidney stones and flown back to Iowa City. After my return to Iowa
City, thanks to Mikey’s efforts, the Department of Veterans Affairs
sent an investigator – a medical ethicist – to investigate my claims.
In the end significant changes were made at the Iowa City V.A. Medical
Center, changes that will make it much less likely that what happened
to me will happen to someone else.

The reality of the situation is that the days before I first spoke to
Mikey on the phone, when I was in agony beyond belief, curled up in a
ball on the living room floor, in too much pain to eat or sleep, all I
could think of was how to end my life. The pain was so all
encompassing that I could think of nothing else. I firmly believe that
if not for Mikey, I would have ended my own life. The truth is: Mikey
very literally saved my life.

In the end I had to borrow money to finance a move back to Oregon.
Even with the changes at the Iowa City V.A. Medical Center there were
too many staff there who hated my guts for rocking the boat. My
Primary Care Physician had faced some consequences and none of the
other doctors were eager to treat me. It was bad enough that the Iowa
City V.A. Medical Center literally picked up the tab for me to see a
private doctor. Additionally my story had been all over the local news
and in the local papers, and there were a whole lot of fine
Fundamentalist Christians who hated my guts, whose idea of a good time
was to drive by my house, stop to yell threats and throw rocks,
bottles and other things at my front door. I was accosted nearly every
time I went out in public. I was routinely called a “fucking Jew,” I
was even blamed for the horrible flooding in the Spring of 2008; I had
people stopping me at the grocery store and telling me it was “godless
Jews like me who caused the flooding.” So, I moved back to Portland,
Oregon in June of 2008. And now I volunteer as the Veterans Liaison
for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. I’ve had the honor of
representing a number of veterans who face religious discrimination at
their V.A. facilities. Like the Foundation generally, the majority of
those I represent are actually Christians who are being told they’re
not Christian enough. Not long ago I represented a Catholic and an
agnostic who were denied access to PTSD groups at their local V.A.
because the “therapist” who ran the group only permitted “born again”
veterans into the group; thankfully, since I have now quite a
reputation within the Department of Veterans Affairs, it only took me
one call to fix that problem.

So, why is it that I’m telling you all of this? My reason is simple: I
want you to know what I know. I want you to know just what sort of man
Mikey Weinstein is. He is a man of character. A man who answered my
call – not a secretary, not an assistant – he answered it himself. He
didn’t ask me for a donation first. He didn’t ask me what political
party I belonged to or who I voted for – he couldn’t have cared less.
All he saw was a veteran who was suffering, a veteran in need of help.
It was Mikey who immediately went to work to get me the medical care I
desperately needed, and once he had put that process in motion, he
picked up and flew out to Iowa – not some representative, he himself,
Mikey Weinstein. And then he worked the phones and raised the money to
fly me to Dallas, Texas. He called on an old family friend, Ross Perot
and solicited his help, his intervention. It was Ross Perot that got
me seen and treated at the Dallas V.A. Medical Center. It was Ross
Perot, at Mikey’s urging, who not only called me in person every
morning to check in on me, but who also called the Medical Director of
the Dallas V.A. Medical Center every day to make sure I was being
taken care of – I know that for a fact because ultimately the Medical
Director showed up just as I was going into surgery and asked me to
call Mr. Perot and tell him I was being taken care of because the
Medical Director felt he couldn’t handle being pestered so much. Mikey
arranged for everything. Mikey did all of that. He didn’t owe me
squat. Up until I called him he had never heard of me before. Why in
the hell should he care about me? Why in the hell does he care about
other veterans, other service members, other cadets at the Academy? He
cares because he loves this Country, he loves its Constitution and he
loves the men and women who serve her more than any person I’ve ever
met in my life. Mikey isn’t some rogue trouble-causer. He’s a man of
principle and conviction who already served our nation honorably as
both a JAG and in the Reagan White House. He didn’t owe anybody
anything more. But because he’s a man of honor and principle, when he
saw what was happening, he didn’t hesitate. Men of lesser principles
shrink from speaking truth to power; but not Mikey. Mikey’s not in
this for money or for his health; God knows how much he’s sacrificed
of both. The Mikey Weinstein I know, the one who saved my life, is not
the hot-headed empty shirt it seems you think him to be…and I’m not
accusing here. But I think you have the wrong idea about Mikey, and
about the Foundation and the work we do. And while you and I may never
agree about what is going on at the Air Force Academy and in the U.S.
Military these days, I hope you can take a second look and maybe begin
to see what I see – a Foundation established to help those who are
genuinely suffering and to help prevent future suffering, and a man –
Mikey Weinstein – who suffers death threats, violence, having the
windows of his home shot out during the High Holy Days, having a
swastika painted on his home and countless other insults and
indignities just because he has too much honor and integrity to stand
by in silence when he knows people are suffering. Personally, I can’t
imagine anyone being more of a mentsch than Mikey; and every morning
when I get up to daven I say a prayer of thanksgiving for Mikey, and
pray for his safety and the safety of his family. I hope that you may
find it in your heart to do the same.

Of course the reality may be that you do in fact have your own
unspoken agenda and so you’ll find it impossible to join me in
thanking God for Mikey and praying for his safety and the safety of
his family; in my experience this is more than likely the case (once
again, this isn’t my first rodeo). However, if you’re a mentsch, you
will find the strength within yourself to do the right thing; after
all, nothing speaks louder about the integrity of a man than his
ability to speak truth to power – those who serve our Nation honorably
in the U.S. Military know that better than anyone (this is a lesson
your children will inevitably learn by example, or learn the hard
way). As a father of four sons I can tell you that nothing speaks
louder than a father’s example. If I want my sons to be men of
integrity I can talk until the cows come home and it will mean very
little; but when they witness me standing up for what is right in the
face of pressure and even very real threats on my life – that is a
lesson they will never forget. So, if you want your children to be
persons of integrity, “Detractor”, maybe it’s time you stood up and
advocated for other Jewish men and women (as well as all the others
who are outside of the religious mainstream at the Academy) who are
daily facing very real discrimination at the Air Force Academy; it’s
just a friendly suggestion.

God bless you and your family, and please express my deep gratitude to
your children for their service.

Respectfully,

Akiva David Miller


(The following is a continuation of the previous exchange between Chris Livingston and “Detractor”)

From: “Detractor”
To: Chris Livingston
Subject: Re: good

Chris,

Let me answer you as forthright as possible. If you feel there are inconsistencies, then they probably either represent developing thought or incomplete logic. I will however provide you with some observations from my personal perspective that you will not like, or will not be said as diplomatically or positive as they could but here goes:

Let me start with your last question.

What is going on here?

To answer your question as directly and without regards to diplomacy – I believe that the frequent publicity is keeping Jewish kids from choosing to attend the Academy and I don’t think that is right.

I feel that the tactics being employed are cleansing the Air Force of a valuable ethnic group.

Furthermore, the positions being expressed in the press are inconsistent with two sources I trust.

Can I be any clearer than that?

Now, let me address the rest of your message.

What is your overall impression of the religious climate at the Air Force Academy now?

I think they are trying. I believe our institutions reflect our society, for better or worse, and the Academy is not exempt from such influences. I believe many of the people there come with strong religious beliefs and limited horizons relative to what they have been exposed to in their past.

My daughter has a friend there who is into Pagan worship. Last fall I heard they began a formal New Age, I don’t know what they actually call it, but essentially worship service. I just Googled it and found this link: http://nyt-i-natten-notat.blogspot.com/2011/05/earth-centered-religions-get-chapel-at.html . If you read the whole article, you’ll know more about it than me, but it sure looks like they are trying.

As far as Judaism, I think the Cadets are able to practice to a level they feel comfortable with in the context of their military duties – openly and freely – and without retribution.

I have heard from a kid this weekend who says he is harassed and threatened because he is Jewish, and won’t give his name. I am not saying this isn’t happening, but come on, my son goes to worship on Fridays with other Jewish kids, runs a Friday Night Shabbat dinner, organizes a lecture event and arranges for a Holocaust Survivor to speak to the student population – no problems.

You were there, so you explain the inconsistencies to me.

Do you think there were any problems before?

It sure sounds like it.

Now let me ask you a question, can things change?

Or do you think things were always peachy out there?

Again, it doesn’t sound like it. (BTW, peachy?)

Again, I do believe our institutions are a reflection of our society. When you were there, we had an administration in office that for what ever reasons, encouraged the evangelical movement in our country. Am I totally surprised that events and attitudes in any of our government institutions; military, justice, and legislative reflected this body politic? The answer is no. Do I feel comfortable with that? Again, the answer is no. Am I glad people like you took action to turn this around? Yes I am.

Clear enough?

What is your view of the MRFF?

Before this past Friday Night I never heard of MRFF. Two days later, any impressions I would give you right now would not be devoid of emotion, so I probably ought to save that assessment for now.

I will say however, I have heard of Mikey Weinstein before, through press accounts. In fact, quite often. I thought he was a one man band. That is why my response read, something to the effect of a USAFA Parent’s response to Mikey Weinstein, not a response to MRFF.

I would suggest that perhaps your organization is being over shadowed by your spokesperson who is aggressive with his opinions.

I also felt like there was only one side of the story being told. It seemed inconsistent with my observations.

I’ll say more about the way I shared this in coming questions, because it also impacts upon my view of some of the MRFF members I have heard from this weekend.

Do you think they have provided a valuable service by being an outlet for complaints that are ignored by the system?

It sounds like it. Again, I really don’t know that much about the organization. Mr. Weinstein has sent me some information for future study. But I will say he seems to dominate the headlines and that is what I have read. If the articles read Mikey Weinstein of MRFF then the MRFF part has never sunk in before, only what as become a familiar name – Mikey Weinstein.

He seems very zellous, but I must ask, is the messenger, and the style in which the information is presented, distracting from the message?

Or do you disagree with that statement?

So I don’t know enough about the system or the military to answer that question. If you were to ask me is their a role for watchdog groups over government operations in general, I would tell you yes.

Have I seen these groups or individuals go too far at times, again the answer is yes.

Now, let me respond to some of the statements you have made, if I may.

My take on your position is that you seem to think there is no problem and that the MRFF and its many supporters ‘have it all wrong’.

I don’t think I have ever said that. From my answers above you will see it is my opinion (and I maybe wrong) is that actions and attitudes flow into our military from our society. I believe Antisemitism is alive and well in American society, but not nearly to the degree it used to be. Maybe I am wrong, but I hope not. I have seen a recent transformation of our society’s views on homosexuals, and I believe society, the body politic, and people can and do change.

Is there a role for groups like yours to effect change? Clearly yes there is.

Have you effected change? I believe you have.

Are you willing to accept that?

Or do you want to hold on to the views you formed five or ten years ago?

Again, let me clarify a statement you made, relative to my personal challenge to you:

As I’ve said before, I’m a grad who the Academy not too long ago, so I lived amongst cadets, talking with them, and eating dinner with them every night for four years.

My suggestion was that you join a group of Jewish cadets, who gather and meet in the open together on Friday nights. Not every night.

Young men and women who give their names freely, not hiding behind anonymous e-mails, who are saying, I am an Air Force Cadet, I am Jewish and I belong.

Personally, I respect that.

So I have all the first hand experience a guy could need.

As I stated above, are you willing to be open to the possibility things have changed in six years? Are you open to listening to others.

Frankly sir, and I know this isn’t going to come across very diplomatically, but you have asked me to tell you what I think of MRFF, and one of my thoughts is that you guys come off like a group think that already has their minds made up and doesn’t wanted to be distracted by the facts, or at least up to date information or experiences.

I am sure you will tell me why this is wrong, but you are not the only one I have put this challenge in front of, and not all of the respondents live 2,000 miles away, and no one, not one single MRFF member has said, yes, I’ll do it.

What’s up with that?

So for me to eat dinner with you and a small, homogenous group of cadets and then write up the findings… you must know that this is preposterous. This would not have nearly the conclusive value of the “anonymous survey” whose damning results to cast aside so carelessly.

Another impression of MRFF in my mind seems to be that many like to hide behind the word “anonymous”. I give you credit for signing your name to your e-mail, which is why I am taking the time to write to you late tonight.

I personally respect someone who is willing to stand up and be counted, and take his or her lumps.

The three or four paragraph response I wrote was on a Huffington Post blog. It posted with some anonymous user id. So I copied and pasted my response into an e-mail and sent to Mr Weinstein directly, Signed with my name. Out in the open taking full responsibility for what my thoughts.

It would have been easy to hide behind the Anonymous, but I didn’t. I believe those opinions are worth more. Clearly we have a difference of opinion on this point, and hopefully we can agree to disagree.

And the fact that you make this request gives me some doubts about your intentions, I’m sorry to say. It looks as though you are angling for a good PR hit, by trying to rush to a conclusion that all is well at USAFA.

First of all, I am not saying all is well or all is peachy at the Academy. But I am saying don’t believe me, ask some of the people who are there directly.

And I am challenging you to tell the story publicly. Truthfully and honestly as I believe you will.

Honestly, I haven’t done this myself, so I don’t know for sure what you will find. I offered to help you write it up to show investment on my part as time is very precious to me.

Actually, I thought it was a pretty good idea, and as far as good PR goes, it seems to me that you guys are pretty good at PR.

As far as the rest of your e-mail is concerned, well I’m out of energy. And Walid Shoebat, I don’t even know who that is. But I am sure it is meaningful. And why do Cadets keep coming to you for help, I’m not sure of the answer to that and I’m out of gas.

Finally, I will leave you with the thought, are my statements not good news for you and your organization? Shouldn’t you be happy that Jews can attend the Air Force Academy and not be harassed and not be intimidated, when they openly identify themselves as Jews? Doesn’t that tell you that we have made progress?

Is change so hard to accept? Might it be worthwhile to consider other data points?

Good night sir.

I wish you the best in the future.

Sincerely,

“Detractor”


From: Chris Livingston
Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2011 2:21 AM
To: “Detractor”
Subject: RE: good

Dear “Detractor”,
Sorry it took me awhile to write you back. I am busy out here, and I hope you understand that I barely have the time to write these things, let alone travel to Colorado Springs.
I’m going to address some of the points you made in no particular order.

I am not actually on the staff of the MRFF. I am just a USAFA graduate and a proud supporter. Mikey Weinstein is the founder and head of the MRFF. Any and all good the MRFF has accomplished at the Academy and elsewhere in the military was done through the leadership and work of Mikey Weinstein. You seem to understand that there was once a problem. You even admit that an administration was in place that actively encouraged Evangelical Christianity. And you say you were glad the MRFF was there for those cadets who needed them. Well that is an outstanding step forward in this dialogue. You have admitted the good that Mikey Weinstein has done for cadets through the MRFF. The only thing I have seen you take issue with in regards to Mr. Weinstein is what you have decided is too “aggressive” a style. Well sir, that is a tactical disagreement. Given your recognition that the MRFF has done good work and improved the climate at the AF Academy I should think your way of dealing with this would be as follows: to write Mikey a nice email, thanking him for all the time and energy he’s sunk into this movement, risking his safety in the process (I have seen the hate mail, and I don’t exaggerate when I say it is frightening). And then raise your concerns about the image of the Academy conveyed to Jews. Well, perhaps there could have been a constructive dialogue that had a chance at accomplishing the thing you are after. But that is not what you did at all—the actions you took will do nothing to secure the result you say you are after.

But it’s important to make another note about what you think of as Mikey’s “aggressive” stance. This is a common criticism made of activist groups who are trying to call attention to an issue. But it’s not Mikey Weinstein’s job to make the Air Force Academy look like a palatial utopia to attract Jewish cadets, any more than it was Martin Luther King’s job to make Alabama look like a great place for a summer vacation. He runs a small, nonprofit, watchdog organization—he’s not the Associated Press. The Air Force Academy has far more resources than the MRFF to devote towards their image, and they do just fine. One of the things they could do to help their image in the press is cooperate with the MRFF, and not do silly things like try to suppress the results of their climate surveys. That just looks bad……

I found it really odd that you brought up the fact that you’d recently heard from a Jewish cadet who was being harassed and didn’t want to give his name (by the way, aren’t you worried about him??) Then you said that your son is very open with his faith and he has no problem. Can I explain the inconsistency? Easily. There is no inconsistency. One cadet is being harassed and fearful of retribution. Your son is not. Case closed. As I said before, the Academy is a big place. Each of the squadrons has their own culture, and there are different subcultures within each of those. It’s very easy to have pockets of tolerance and intolerance that never touch each other. It was like that when I was there, and sure to be like that right now.

I know you trust your sons as sources. Without having met them I’ll even go as far as to say I trust them. But it is impossible for two people to give a full assessment of a culture as big, complicated, and splintered as the AF Academy. There are many groups there that keep to themselves, more so than in a regular university, for obvious reasons (class year differences, different squadrons, etc.) The best way to get a read of how the religious climate is at USAFA is to take a survey. Like the climate survey that was just taken. That survey has a lot more value than what any individual cadet, or you, or I alone have to say. I should add a note about anonymity in surveys, since I’ve seen you disparage it a few times. Anonymity is done in these kinds of surveys for a reason—to protect those who need it most. If someone is fearing for their safety, you will only ever know about it if you make the survey anonymous. This is a tried and true method of taking surveys of any culture, and has been for a long time. To think that people are “hiding behind anonymity” is more than a little foolish and indicates a very weak grasp of the social sciences on your part.

So when you say the MRFF is ignoring facts, what facts are you talking about? The most recent facts we have right now come from the climate survey (as far as I know—again, I’m not on the MRFF staff). But I haven’t seen you raising any other facts, other than the very limited perspective of your two sons. I raised other facts that you ignored—Walid Shoebat (who can be easily googled), and the complaints of cadets who reach out to MRFF. Your response to these things was that you don’t really know. And I think that about sums up my take on your knowledge of the situation. You don’t really know much of anything about this. All you know is what your two sons told you, and I’m truly happy that they have had a good experience, but that is anecdotal.

Moving on, your challenge to eat dinner really isn’t a challenge at all—except in regards to my calendar and my wallet. I’m sure that is why no one else has accepted this “challenge” either. I accept that the Academy could change over time, sure. Cultural change is slow, but it can happen. I don’t pretend to have a view of how things are at this very moment at the Academy. If you were to tell me to try and gauge it and figure out (I was a behavioral sciences major) I would turn first to the climate survey, because it was anonymous and administered to the entire Cadet Wing. I would also turn to Mr. Weinstein and ask him about his cadet clients, and try talking to them. And there would be a number of other things I would try, depending on the resources allotted to me. What I would not do is waste my time eating dinner with a small, homogenous group of cadets. I’m sure it would be a nice experience, but it doesn’t tell us much.

I’m going to wrap this up here. I think that no one has accepted your challenge for the reasons I stated above, and for another reason—if you were actually interested in accomplishing what you say you’re after, you would have gone about this differently. You would have initiated a private correspondence with Mr. Weinstein (who always responds to his emails) and thanked him for all his hard work (since you admit the MRFF has done good work), and then raised any tactical concerns that you may have. It makes it hard to take this all seriously when you aren’t following the easiest and most obvious path to your stated goals, and instead have sent out oddly desperate invitations to all of us to eat dinner with this small group and publish reports about it.

I think we’ve exhausted any use we could get out of this dialogue, but feel free to respond if you feel compelled.

Chris Livingston

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2 Comments

  1. USNA Ancient

    I think “detractor” gets off waaaay too easy in most of the responses … I wonder what his problem or agenda is ! … and I deeply resent both the actuality and the implications of his comments concerning Mikey. I sincerely hope his sons’ experience is as he believes it to be; however, I equally doubt that is as completely true as he would have us believe … either that or he is as ignorant as a rock or perhaps has the inclinations of a “Jew for Jesus” while clinging to the belief he is a Jew . One could go into chapter and verse of the 5th column of rabid, evangelical “amerikan taliban” not creeping into, but firmly established thanks to the concerted 8 year effort of the bush “misadministration”, not just our Academies, but in our military and the Federal government; however, any such reading would -I believe- be completely futile when it comes to “detractor”. Hopefully, his sons are much brighter than the parent … that shouldn’t be a stretch !

  2. Yochanan

    I am a practicing Jew. Both I and my father served in the US military. It is one thing to see that no one is compelled to participate in religious or non-religious practices outside of their beliefs, but it is an entirely different thing to tear down all visible historic or current symbols of religious faith. This is what ISIS does. Whether you so it with a hammer or using the court system ( bypassing congress ), it is of the same effect. Your hatred-fascist mind has blinded you.

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