'Constantine's Sword' Cuts
A New Documentary Draws the Ire of Catholic Groups
for Its Take on Anti-Semitism
By LUCHINA FISHER
April 20, 2008
Call it coincidence or providence. A new documentary about Christian anti-Semitism that has drawn the ire of some Catholic groups premiered Friday in New York -- the same day Pope Benedict XVI visited a synagogue on the city's Upper East Side.
The film, "Constantine's Sword," in which former Roman Catholic priest and author James Carroll traces the violent history of the Christian faith, takes Pope Benedict XVI to task for not fully acknowledging the Catholic Church's and Christianity's role in the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust.
"It wasn't planned," the film's Oscar-nominated director Oren Jacoby says of the film's opening during the papal visit. "But it gives us an opportunity to present the story of Jim, the remarkable story of an American Catholic whose faith was fractured by people hijacking religion."
Pope Benedict even makes an appearance in the film, when he visits a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, shortly after his installation as pope. There he condemns the Nazi genocide but characterizes it as an outgrowth of neo-paganism.
Carroll says Benedict did not go far enough. In the film, he addresses the camera, saying "that hatred had two parents," the other being Christian fanaticism. "This film is about reckoning with Christianity's role," he says.
That reckoning has some Catholic groups upset. The filmmakers say "Catholic New York," the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, refused earlier this week to run ads promoting the film. After contacting the newspaper, ABCNEWS.com was told that no one was available to comment on the matter.
The Catholic League, which dubs itself the nation's largest civil rights organization for Catholics, launched a protest against "Constantine's Sword" two weeks ago and blocked clips from being shown at a panel discussion on terrorism at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The league objected to cadets being required to watch something they "might find offensive," Kiera McCaffrey, the league's director of communication, told ABCNEWS.com.
McCaffrey says the group has not seen the film but is familiar with the book that Carroll wrote, "Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History," that the 95-minute documentary is distilled from.
"Carroll argues that anti-Semitism is inherent in Christian theology, that it is central to Christianity," McCaffrey says. "That is absolutely bigoted and untrue. He has a grudge against the church. He's a former priest who grew angry, and instead of picking up and leaving, he tries to attack the church."
Jacoby defends Carroll as someone who is holding true to his faith while daring to challenge it. They say "Constantine's Sword" goes beyond criticizing the Catholic Church's role in Jewish persecution to examining how religious abuses occur when the church is aligned with the state.
The film begins with a story of religious infiltration of the military at the Air Force Academy. Mikey Weinstein describes the harassment of his son, Casey, a Jewish cadet, by evangelical Christians who blanket the cafeteria with fliers promoting the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ," and refer to Jews as "Christ killers." He sued the Air Force, but the case never made it to trial.
Johnny Whitaker, the Academy's director of communications, told ABCNEWS.com, that the Academy was aware of issues of "religious insensitivity" back in March 2004 and brought in a team from Washington to investigate. The result since the filming of the documentary has been the creation of several special programs including an interfaith council where cadets can go to their peers with complaints. Whitaker adds that there have been no formal complaints of religious intolerance in the past two years.
Ted Haggard, the former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., also makes an appearance in the film, arguing for the right of evangelicals to proselytize the Air Force Academy cadets. The documentary filmed him before his fall from grace during a scandal involving a former male prostitute.
Jacoby worries that such incidents are affecting U.S. foreign policy. Adds Mikey Weinstein, who formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as a result of the film and what happened to his son: "We don't have a Pentagon. We have a Pentecostal-gon. The Constitution doesn't guide them, but the book of Revelations and the New Testament."
Jacoby and Carroll say their film is especially relevant today in light of the war on terror and President Bush's use of words like "crusade" to describe the Iraq War. Carroll warns that "we're on the cusp of a religious war that could destroy the 21st century," if we give in to fundamentalism.
From anti-Semitic hotbed to healing: St. Cloud area students
to perform oratorio at Nazi death camps
By Michael Anthony
Friday, April 25, 2008
"Flash-forward to today (Friday) and audiences in Los Angeles will be attending the premiere of Oren Jacoby's documentary, "Constantine's Sword," a look at the history of Christian anti-Semitism based on James Carroll's recent book by the same name. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, Philip Bosco, Natasha Richardson and Eli Wallach, the movie begins its story in Colorado Springs where Mikey Weinstein, an alumnus of the U.S. Air Force Academy, describes the harassing of his son, Casey, a Jewish cadet, by evangelical Christians who blanket the student cafeteria with fliers advertising "The Passion of the Christ." Casey sued the Air Force, but the case never made it to trial."
Atheist soldier gains attention
Fort Riley specialist to be subject of upcoming CBS News story
By Barbara Hollingsworth
Published Friday, April 25, 2008
A Fort Riley soldier who has served in Iraq is becoming the national face of one organization's push for religious freedom in the military
The story of Spc. Jeremy Hall has appeared in media outlets nationwide and soon will be the subject of a story on CBS News' "Sunday Morning."
"What we've discovered is that within the U.S. military those who do not agree with the very specific religious views of a significant number of high-ranking officers are treated unequally," said Pedro Irigonegaray, one of Hall's attorneys. "This is an effort to bring about equal treatment under the law to all soldiers, to protect all soldiers' right to their individual faith and to ensure that the U.S. military does not endorse a particular religion."
Irigonegaray has been interviewed by "Sunday Morning" and expects the segment will air this Sunday or next.
Hall, an atheist, has sued, saying that Christian religion was pushed on soldiers while attempts to discuss his atheist views were met with threats to his military career by a superior officer. His initial suit, filed last year, was dropped. It was refiled last month with new allegations that he was passed over for leadership positions because of his beliefs and the opinion that they would be "a constraint on Army morale and would limit plaintiff Hall's ability to bond with his troops."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is among the defendants.
Fort Riley officials haven't responded specifically to the litigation. However, they have responded with a statement declaring support of religious accommodation.
"The Army places a high value on the rights of its soldiers to observe tenets of their respective religious faiths or to practice no religion at all," it says. "The Army policy is to accommodate religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on unit readiness, individual readiness, unit cohesion, morale, discipline, safety and/or health."
Irigonegaray got involved in religious freedom in the military while speaking in Albuquerque, N.M., a few years ago. He had gone there to speak at a Darwin days celebration at the University of New Mexico.
During the trip, he spoke to a progressive alliance and met another speaker, Mikey Weinstein.
Weinstein, a former White House attorney under Ronald Reagan's administration, had been in a battle with the Air Force Academy over the way Jewish cadets, including his son, were being treated. Weinstein sued. The case later was dismissed.
From that encounter, Irigonegaray joined the board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. And along with his law partners — Robert Eye and Elizabeth Herbert — he took on Hall's case.
"What began as an effort to resolve the discriminatory practice at the Air Force Academy led us to a better understanding of just how endemic the problem was in the U.S. military," he said.
The effort, Irigonegaray says, isn't about taking religion out of the military. But he said the military shouldn't dictate issues of faith or force a soldier to endure required formations in which issues of faith are pushed.
Barbara Hollingsworth can be reached at (785) 295-1285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.