War against soldiers of Christ
By John Colson
March 23, 2008
Mikey Weinstein recently was invited by a Kansas pastor to speak in the town where the pastor lives and the pastor’s church caught fire within hours after Weinstein’s appearance. He has no proof the fire was connected to his appearance, but he finds it suspicious.
ASPEN — Mikey Weinstein is not likely to get an invitation to attend services at a fundamentalist religious “megachurch” any time soon.
But, he said during a recent visit to Aspen, he has been invited to debate the pros and cons of religious tolerance, or the lack of it, in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The event next will take place month at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which also happens to the be home town of dozens of evangelical Christian organizations and churches.
At the event, Weinstein, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson (husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame) and Reza Aslan, internationally acclaimed scholar of religions will refute claims made earlier this year by three supposed former Muslim terrorists who have converted to fundamentalist Christianity. Critics have said the three “terrorists” are frauds brought to the Academy to evangelize the cadets.
Weinstein is an attorney, a Jewish Republican and a 1977 Honor Graduate of the Air Force Academy, as well as father of three children in the military. He has created an organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that has been locked in mortal combat with Fundamentalist Christians for about three years.
The most immediate, specific issue, Weinstein says, is a takeover of the U.S. armed forces by the religious right, at bases throughout the U.S. and other parts of the world as well as in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. In general, he said, growing intolerance in the military for “minority religions” is seen as a threat to freedom of and from religion, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The foundation’s mission, according to a prepared background statement issued to journalists by the MRFF, is “to restore the obliterated wall separating church and state in the most technologically lethal organization ever created ...; the United States Armed Forces.” One of the MRFF’s fights is to eliminate the decades-old practice of “dipping” the U.S. and Navy flags during religious services, which Weinstein says is a violation of military codes and U.S. law.
In the courts
The foundation’s latest salvo in its campaign is a lawsuit filed on March 5, in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, over allegations of improper pressure on a soldier, Spec. 4 Jeremy Hall, to participate in prayer vigils and other religious activities while on active military duty in Iraq.
Hall, an atheist, argues that the pressure to convert, and the denial of a promised promotion when he declined, is a violation of his rights and an example of the intolerance that pervades the military.
This intolerance, which Weinstein said goes hand in hand with intensive “evangelizing” of what Christian Fundamentalists call “the unchurched,” which means anyone professing belief in any form of religion other than Fundamentalist Christianity.
As a result of his campaign to expose and reverse these trends, he said in an interview this week in Aspen, he has received numerous death threats and has been vilified with nicknames and hate speech.
Recently, Weinstein said, when he was invited by a Kansas pastor to speak in the town where the pastor lives, the pastor’s church caught fire within hours after Weinstein’s appearance. He has no proof the fire was connected to his appearance, but he finds it suspicious.
The MRFF’s website this week announced that the FBI has arrested a man believed to have called in a bomb threat to a Beverly Hills home where Weinstein was invited to speak.
Weinstein was in Aspen to meet with a small local foundation to discuss a potential grant for the MRFF. The man who invited him here asked that he be permitted to remain anonymous, to avoid any violent retaliatory action from Weinstein’s enemies. Weinstein said he received telephone threats while on his way here.
While here, he was interviewed by GrassRoots Television, Aspen’s community access station, and the interview will be cablecast repeatedly in the coming weeks.
Evangelicals say he’s wrong
Spokespersons for the religious right have refuted Weinstein’s claims and accusations, saying they are doing nothing wrong and are merely encouraging military installations and officials to make accommodations for the religious leanings of military personnel.
The MRFF’s campaign has made national news, both in print and broadcast media. It also is featured in a documentary film set for release next month, entitled “Constantine’s Sword,” based on a book of the same title by former Catholic priest James Carroll. And the foundation’s work will be the subject of major news stories in The New York Times and a nationally distributed magazine that Weinstein declined to identify.
Pastor Ted Haggard, founder of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, is quoted in the documentary as claiming that Weinstein is the one who is interfering with peoples’ rights to worship as they wish.
Also quoted is former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, who says of the influence of evangelical fundamentalists in the military, “This is bordering on theocracy.”
In a two-hour conversation with The Aspen Times, Weinstein listed a number of examples of incidents in which, according to his view, the military is trying to force a certain type of religion on its personnel, including the chaplains who are expected to provide faith-based counseling to people with diverse religious backgrounds.
He tells stories of soldiers in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and cadets and midshipmen at the Air Force and Naval academies at home, who are pressured to convert to evangelical Christianity and told that if they do not they face eternal damnation in the fires of Hell.
He speaks of a Rabbi who, after being accepted into the chaplaincy, one day was confronted with images of Naziism in a base common room.
Weinstein’s own son, who is Jewish and was an Air Force cadet, told his father in 2003 of being reviled as a “Christ-killer” and worse at the Academy, to the point where the son has promised to fight back physically the next time he is the victim of verbal taunts.
Weinstein’s complaints led to an official investigation, which found no overt discrimination in the ranks, but which did find, according to a 2005 story in The New York Times, that “officers and faculty members periodically used their positions to promote their Christian beliefs and failed to accommodate the religious needs of non-Christian cadets,” The Times quoted Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, saying, “We will not proselytize, but we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.”
Among the accusations that figure in the investigation are charges that cadets who declined to attend chapel after dinner were marched back to their dormitories in a procession called the "heathen flight;" that a history professor ordered students to pray before their final exam; that two weeks after a religious sensitivity program was announced, the football coach placed a banner in the locker room that said, "I am a member of Team Jesus Christ;" and that an atheist student who was forbidden to organize a club for ''Freethinkers.''
"This is the worst systemic series of religiously discriminatory acts I've ever seen in any federal government context," the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told reporter David Belden of The New Humanist magazine. Lynn called the situation at the Academy "a clear pattern of misconduct that was overlooked for years."
A subsequent lawsuit, filed by Weinstein, was dismissed “on a technicality,” he recalled, but he believes the new lawsuit will do better.
“This is not a case of Jew versus Christian, or right versus left,” he said. “It is a case of fundamentalist Christians versus the Constitution.”
He said that, while the fundamentalist community numbers around 38 million U.S. citizens, or about 12 percent of the population, Hitler had a far smaller percentage of the German population in the Nazi party prior to World War II.
He referred to fundamentalists as “homophobic, misogenistic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic,” who as a group have “a virulent desire to subordinate the Constitution ... to...the weaponized gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The situation at the Air Force Academy, he said, is “the first spot on the lung” of the U.S. body politic, and a sign that a cancer is spreading through the armed forces.
The country, he said, “is a two-inch Tiger Woods putt from being changed to the United Fundamentalist States of America.”
For more information on Weinstein’s foundation, go to the Web site at militaryreligiousfreedom.org
Paid Bigots Including Walid Shoebat Teaching Religious War At U.S. Air Force Academy
By Lawrence Swaim
March 27, 2008
The U.S. Air Force Academy just can’t seem to get it right. Six major cheating scandals in four decades. Endemic sexual harassment against female cadets. Christian evangelical officers proselytizing non-Christian cadets. But in February 2008, on the occasion of their fiftieth annual assembly, the Academy brass outdid themselves.
They presented three discredited Islamophobes who spewed religious bigotry and advocated religious war, in the process trampling on the First Amendment and exposing the Air Force to international ridicule.
Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem and Zachariah Anani all claim to be "reformed terrorists." The three men’s narratives "border on the fantastic," as a Feb. 7 New York Times story delicately put it, including their claims that they killed hundreds of people while still children. Even members of Shoebat’s own family apparently believe that his stories of terrorism are fabricated. Most experts have concluded that they are frauds.
"It’s like inviting O.J.Simpson impersonators to a conference on domestic violence," Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told InFocus. "They’re snake-oil salesmen, but unfortunately they’re not really funny, because they have the capacity to severely damage national security." (The three men collected $13,000 for the Colorado Springs caper, according to The New York Times.)
However ludicrous their claims may be, the trio provided Academy brass with yet another opportunity to push the bigoted worldview of the Religious Right, this time under the guise of educating about terrorism. According to Shoebat, Saleem and Anani, the reason why they quit the terrorism racket was because — wait for it — they converted from Islam to Christianity! While supposedly an investigation of terrorism, the appearance of the men was yet another pretext for rightwing elements at the Air Force Academy to promote their noxious brand of Christian fundamentalism at a publicly-funded institution.
But the "X-Terrorists," as they melodramatically fashion themselves, also promoted the idea that a Christian crusade against Islam is the will of God. "Islam is the devil," Shoebat has said, along with many other defamations of Islam. If Air Force brass claims not to know of his bigotry — or that most experts believe the three men are frauds — they are criminally incompetent. If they did know but invited them anyway, they’re guilty of retailing hate speech and extremist ideology as reputable academic presentations.
Think about it. The cadet wing at the Academy represents the young Air Force officers of the future. Someday they’ll be in charge of nuclear weapons capable of killing millions. Do we really want our young officers being told that religious war is inevitable? Isn’t it a major crisis when hate-mongers have the political clout in the military to flaunt their murderous 14th century beliefs during a major event at the Air Force Academy, with no chance for Muslims or supporters of religious liberty to defend core American values?
I want young officers at our historic military institutions to hear all sides of every issue, so perhaps inviting clowns like Shoebat, Saleem and Anani could be interesting, if only to study the dynamics of fanaticism — if they weren’t proselytizing evangelical Christianity, and if their Islamophobic vitriol were balanced off by responsible Muslim speakers. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) offered to find Muslims in Colorado who could offer a balancing perspective and speak about ways that Christians and Muslims can support religious pluralism and work together to build better communities. The Academy’s response to this offer was a resounding silence.
Our young military officers desperately need more cultural literacy regarding the Muslim and Arabic-speaking worlds, if they are to properly represent America’s interests. Instead, the Air Force Academy gives them bootleg evangelicalism and religious bigotry. Both are unmistakable attacks on the U.S. Constitution that officers take an oath to defend. The deteriorating situation at the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs is a disgrace to all Americans and cries out for a Congressional investigation.
Addendum: Due to a national outcry against this mind-boggling attempt at political and religious indoctrination, the Air Force Academy has been compelled to allow three spokespersons with an opposing view to address cadets on April 9.
They are Joseph Wilson, former US ambassador and opponent of the Iraq War; Reza Aslan, a young scholar of Islam; and Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, himself an Academy graduate and a tireless opponent of forced religious indoctrination in the armed services.
By LAWRENCE SWAIM, In Focus.
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation. He taught for eight years at Pacific Union College, and his academic specialties are American Studies and American literature. His column addresses current affairs from an American Christian and Interfaith perspective.
Navy Chaplain Fired From
Teaching Job After Report
Exposed His Anti-Islamic Views
by Jason Leopold
March 27, 2008
A top Navy chaplain who wrote a book several years ago attacking Islam, calling the religion “evil,” and urging the United States to launch a “jihad” against the faith, has been fired from a prestigious theological institute after officials at the school recently became aware of the chaplain’s controversial book.
The chaplain’s dismissal comes nine days after an investigative story I wrote (click here) exposed his stance on Islam as well as the chaplain’s numerous degrees and training which were obtained through discredited diploma mills, one of which was the subject of a criminal investigation.
Waite first came under scrutiny last year after a senior researcher for the government watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org, an organization that seeks to enforce the separation of church and state in the US military, discovered that Waite appeared in uniform on a website for a fundamentalist Christian group. Waite used his position as a Navy chaplain to promote the fundamentalist organization in what appears to be a violation of long-standing military rules.
In an email I obtained, John Morgan, president of the Graduate Theological Foundation (GTF) in South Bend, Indiana, wrote to members of his faculty March 20 that Lieutenant Commander Brian K. Waite was “dismissed” from the school’s faculty and “is NO LONGER affiliated with the Foundation in any capacity” because of offending material in Waite’s book, “Islam Uncovered.” The book, which was first discovered by MRFF last year, was not included in Waite’s lengthy bio that was once posted on the foundation’s website.
In the book, Waite writes that the Islamic faith itself was culpable for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"Undoubtedly our world will experience additional terrorist attempts or strikes all in the name of Allah. Some of these attacks may occur within the borders of our own nation by the remaining cell groups interspersed and hiding among the Muslim population of the United States. My words may make a number of Muslims in this country and abroad very uncomfortable. To them I would say, 'Deal with it!' The suspicion that you encounter is merely a consequence to your own belief system. ..." Waite's book says. "...Should Islam be immune from attack because it calls itself a religion? If Adolf Hitler called Nazism a religion, would we be speaking German today? Evil is evil, no matter what nomenclature it hides under."
The publisher of the book, HeartSpring Media, withdrew the book from bookstore shelves after they discovered that Waite had plagiarized much of the material and that the supporting blurbs on the back cover of the book from prominent members of the religious community had been fabricated. Waite is also the author "For God & Country: One Chaplain's Perspective of War and the Life Lessons Learned," published in 2005, also by HeartSpring Media.
In addition to relieving Waite of his teaching duties, Morgan, the GTF president, said the school has scrapped its Military Ministries program which Chaplain Waite presided over in an effort to “distance ourselves profoundly from his name and his ideas.”
“It has come to our attention that a "former" member of our faculty, Brian Waite, has written a book which is now withdrawn by the publisher attacking Islam!” says a copy of the email written by Morgan sent to Muslim faculty members. “Please know that we have dismissed him from our faculty and terminated our military ministries program... If anyone enquires of You regarding Brian Waite (a military chaplain serving in Iraq), please assure them that he was appointed to the faculty without our knowledge of his book or his feelings about Islam. Please know that the Foundation as an institution and myself as its President are deeply committed to our Islamic program, faculty, and students.”
Neither Waite, who is currently assigned to the U.S. Navy Operational Ministries Center in Norfolk, Virginia, nor a Pentagon spokesman responded to telephone and email queries seeking comment.
Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the MRFF, said Waite’s dismissal from GTF was welcome news.
"We at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation heartily commend the Graduate Theological Foundation for its expeditious action in removing Chaplain Waite from its faculty,” Weinstein said. “Sadly, the United States Navy has not only allowed this well recognized plagiarist into its Chaplains Corps, it has also taken absolutely no action whatsoever to rid this miserable disgrace from our nation's honorable armed forces."
GTF scrubbed its website removing all references to Waite and in an interview Thursday Morgan said the school is now referring all students interested in military ministries studies to Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.
“After it became know to us that Mr. Waite wrote this book we immediately terminated our relationship with him,” Morgan said in an interview. “We had no knowledge whatsoever about this publication. If we had he never would have been appointed to our faculty. We have Muslim students and faculty and our Islamic studies program is very well respected. Our Islamic faculty are practicing Imam’s. In fact, there are a wide range of religious studies at this school and there is simply no place here for a person like Mr. Waite whose views on Islam are not only offensive but conflict with our beliefs and practices.”
In the summer of 2005, GTF launched the Military Ministries program offering chaplains who are on active military duty doctorates in military ministries and philosophy in military ministries. Waite was appointed director of school’s military ministries program in July 2005 and taught chaplaincy classes at the school on a periodic basis.
Waite’s resume says he holds two doctorates, a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Georgia's Covington Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in Religious Studies from American Christian College and Seminary in Oklahoma.
But his credentials are a bit misleading since they were obtained through unaccredited institutions.
Indeed, Covington Theological Seminary is just one of the religious institutions that has been identified as a "diploma mill," and has been found to award degrees to students through "correspondence" studies. Covington had received its accreditation status by The International Accrediting Commission for Schools, Colleges and Theological Seminaries (IAC) of Missouri, which was caught up in a federal investigation more than a decade ago for accrediting more than 150 higher learning institutions that failed to meet the most basic standards under the US Department of Education, the Generally Accepted Accrediting Principles, and the Council on Higher Education (CHEA).
In 1989, Missouri's attorney general launched an investigation to determine the ease of which IAC awarded accreditation to schools, particularly Bible colleges, as long as the educational institutions had the cash. The attorney general set up a fictitious college, the East Missouri Business College, and rented a one-room office in St. Louis and issued a typewritten catalog with such school executives as "Peelsburi Doughboy" and "Wonarmmd Mann."
"Their marine biology text was The Little Green Book of Fishes. The school's motto, translated from Latin, was "Education is for the birds," according to Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning, written by John and Mariah Bear. "Nonetheless, Dr. George Reuter, Director of the IAC, visited the school, accepted their money, and duly accredited them. Soon after, the IAC was enjoined from operating and slapped with a substantial fine, and the good Dr. Reuter decided to retire."
Waite's other alma mater, American Christian College and Seminary, formerly American Bible College and Seminary, which itself was formerly the University of Biblical Studies & Seminary, permanently shut down in 2005 after losing their accreditation with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).
TRACS is a recognized accrediting association that also approved accreditation for Liberty University, Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College. American Christian College and Seminary, however, apparently didn't meet TRACS's rigorous standards. At the association's April 2003 meeting officials refused to reaffirm the school's accreditation because it failed to comply with numerous educational standards.
On the website for St. John's church, a civilian Anglican church near the military station where Waite is stationed, he is listed as a Former Priest Associate and Chaplain-in-Residence. Waite's bio on the church's website contains additional information about his background that could not be verified with state officials. The bio states "Chaplain Waite is also recognized as one of the foremost traumatologists in the nation, holding certification as a Field Traumatologist with the International Traumatology Institute at the University of South Florida. He holds “Diplomat” [sic] status with the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, and has served as point person for Harvard University’s Crisis Response portion of the Kennedy School of Government’s National Securities Program."
"Field Traumatologist" appears to be the lowest level of certification issued by the University of South Florida's International Traumatology Institute. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress provides applicants with certification in traumatology by simply filling out an application for a fee of $375, according to its website.
Military chaplains have come under fire from civil rights groups over the past several years for allegedly force feeding soldiers a form of fundamentalist Christianity originating from highly controversial, apocalyptic "End Times" evangelists and their mega-churches. Evangelical Christians have become such a dominating presence in the military’s chaplain corps that the Air Force held a four-day Spiritual Fitness Conference at Hilton Hotel in Colorado Springs in 2005 for chaplains and their families.
The presence of evangelical Christian chaplains in the military is certainly nothing new, but it comes at what some believe are widespread constitutional violations with the full knowledge and support of Pentagon brass. Chaplains and their evangelist counterparts who lead mega churches across the country have been invited to US military installations throughout the world and have been openly proselytizing to military personnel, in violation of the basic tenets of the United States Constitution. Under federal law, chaplains are only authorized to offer “spiritual guidance” to soldiers. They are strictly prohibited from using government resources to proselytize or convert soldiers.
Last October, Waite appeared in an advertisement published in Time magazine using his Navy chaplaincy position to promote another Christian organization. That would be another violation of Military regulations. Weinstein excoriated Waite for exaggerating his educational background as well as Waite’s alleged constitutional violations conducted in the name of religion.
Waite, who was formerly the pastor of a 3,600 member mega-church in Oklahoma City, first came under scrutiny last year after MRFF senior research director Chris Rodda noticed Waite’s photograph on a website for Revival Fire Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization. Waite was photographed in his Navy uniform which is prominently displayed on the Revival Fires website and was featured in a brochure for a 2006 camp meeting that advertised Waite as having "distributed thousands of Bibles provided by Revival Fires" in Iraq. He believes the organization has played an integral part on the war on terror.
"I believe Revival Fires truly became a genuine hero in the war on terror," Waite says in a statement that appears under his photograph on Revival Fires’ website. "Not knowing where I was going to get a sufficient number of God's Word for my men, I began to inquire from others about the possibility of securing bibles. The immediate response I received was that Revival Fires had provided literally thousands of copies of the Word of God for the U.S. Military. Needless to say, I could not pass them out fast enough. In an article in Oklahoma’s Ponca City News last August, Waite said that the distribution of Bibles to US troops in 2003 resulted in several dozen troops asking to be baptized.
“I personally saw 60 men come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I baptized 44 of them at midnight (for security reasons) in the Tigris River on Easter Sunday, with another 16 following shortly thereafter," Waite said, according to the report in the Ponca City News. But Waite appeared to have exaggerated details of the baptism. However, photographs of the baptism, which were featured on the Baptist Press website http://baptistpress.net/bpnews.asp?id=16462 clearly show that the ceremony took place not at midnight, but in broad daylight. Moreover, Waite said that 20 members of the military who asked to be baptized were turned away because they “did not seem ready to make such a commitment.”
Jason Leopold is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit www.newsjunkiebook.com for a preview. He is also a two-time winner of the Project Censored award, most recently, in 2007, for an investigative story related to Halliburton's work in Iran. He was recently named the recipient of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's Thomas Jefferson Award for a series of stories he wrote that exposed how soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been pressured to accept fundamentalist Christianity. Leopold is working on a new nonprofit online publication, expected to launch soon.
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