Veterans for Common Sense
Endorses MRFF's Lawsuit
May 30, 2008
"Veterans for Common Sense, a non-profit veteran advocacy organization with more than 12,000 members based in Washington, DC, strongly endorses the lawsuit filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation against the Department of Defense. We believe strongly in our Constitution, especially the essential separation of church and state that has helped our Nation avoid the disastrous religious persecution and religious wars that plagued Europe before and after our Revolutionary War. We support the rights of our service members to exercise their religious beliefs as well as to hold no religious preference at all. We believe our soldiers should free from intimidation and proselytizing, because our Constitution clearly states that there shall be no religious test for government employment. VCS demands and end to the current military policy of ignoring efforts by outside groups to proselytize within our military.
"Regarding the Bible Pathway Ministries effort to provide materials so our service members in Iraq may "minister to the local residents," VCS condemns the current military practice of turning a blind eye toward the illegal proselytizing of Iraqi citizens by our service members. This must stop immediately, before it further inflames an already extremely violent war within Iraq, especially after the incident where a U.S. service member used a Koran for rifle target practice.
"VCS worked recently with the MRFF to expose the proselytizing by a top government official responsible for processing disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs. In February 2008, former Under Secretary for Benefits Daniel Cooper was forced to resign two years early under an ethics cloud after he participated in a religious fundraising and proselytizing video using his name and official government title."
Veterans for Common Sense
U.S. Soldiers Launch Campaign to Convert Iraqis to Christianity
By Jason Leopold
May 29, 2008
Some U.S. military personnel appear to have launched a major initiative to convert thousands of Iraqi citizens to Christianity by distributing Bibles and other fundamentalist Christian literature translated into Arabic to Iraqi Muslims.
A recent article published on the website of Mission Network News reported that Bible Pathway Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization, has provided thousands of a special military edition of its Daily Devotional Bible study book to members of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, currently stationed in Iraq, the project "came into being when a chaplain in Iraq (who has since finished his tour) requested some books from Bible Pathway Ministries (BPM).”
“The resulting product is a 6"x9" 496-page illustrated book with embossed cover containing 366 daily devotional commentaries, maps, charts, and additional helpful information," the Mission Network News report says.
Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne told Mission Network News, “the soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they're using it to minister to the local residents.”
"Our division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers," Llanos said. “We need to pray for protection for our soldiers as they patrol and pray that God would continue to open doors. The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They're continuing to spread the Word.”
Karen Hawkins, a BPM official, said military chaplains "were trying to encourage [soldiers] to be in the Word everyday because they're in a very dangerous situation, and they need that protection."
That would appear to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibiting government officials, including military personnel, from using the machinery of the state to promote any form of religion. The book’s cover includes the logos of the five branches of the armed forces giving the impression that it’s a publication sanctioned by the Pentagon.
The distribution of the Bibles and Christian literature comes on the heels of a report published Wednesday by McClatchy Newspapers stating that U.S. Marines guarding the entrance to the city of Fallujah have been handing out “witnessing coins” to Sunni Muslims entering the city that read in Arabic on one side: "Where will you spend eternity?” and "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16" on the other.
A Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of the issue involving the distribution of coins and Bibles and declined to comment.
The issue comes at a particularly sensitive time for Sunnis who recently clashed with U.S. military in an area west of Baghdad week after an American soldier was found to have used a Koran, the Islamic holy book, for target practice. Following a daylong protest by Iraqis that threatened to turn violent, Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond issued a public apology to Sunnis in the area.
"I come before you here seeking your forgiveness," Hammond said. "In the most humble manner I look in your eyes today and I say please forgive me and my soldiers."
The soldier who shot up the Koran was disciplined and removed from duty in Iraq.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the government watchdog agency The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), said the religious intolerance among U.S. military personnel calls for a federal investigation.
"The shocking actions revealed just last week of American soldiers in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan callously using the Koran for automatic weapons "target practice" is absolutely connected to the same issues of national security breach wrought by our United States armed forces proselytizing the local populations via the distribution to them of fundamentalist Christian coins, bibles, tracts, comics and related religious materials written in Arabic," Weistein said.
"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been acutely aware of such astonishing unconstitutional and illicit proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan for over three years now and knows how massively pervasive it really is. These proselytizing transgressions are all blatant violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and MRFF is now demanding that any and all responsible military personnel be immediately prosecuted under Article 92 of the UCMJ: Failure to Obey an Order or Regulation," Weinstein added.
Members of the U.S. military first started actively proselytizing Iraqi Muslims soon after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.
In a newsletter published in 2004 by the fundamentalist group International Ministerial Fellowship (IMF), Capt. Steve Mickel, an Army chaplain, claimed that Iraqis were eager to be converted to Christianity and that he personally tried to convert dozens of Iraqis, which is also an apparent constitutional violation.
"I am able to give them tracts on how to be saved, printed in Arabic," Mickel said, according to a copy of the IMF newsletter. "I wish I had enough Arabic Bibles to give them as well. The issue of mailing Arabic Bibles into Iraq from the U.S. is difficult (given the current postal regulations prohibiting all religious materials contrary to Islam except for personal use of the soldiers). But the hunger for the Word of God in Iraq is very great, as I have witnessed first-hand."
Mickel evangelized Iraqis while delivering leftover food to local residents from his unit's mess hall. He handed out Bibles translated into Arabic in the village of Ad Dawr, a predominantly Sunni territory where Saddam Hussein was captured.
"Such fundamentalist Christian proselytizing DIRECTLY violates General Order 1A, Part 2, Section J issued by General Tommy Franks on behalf of the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) back in December of 2000 which strictly prohibits "proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice," said Weinstein, a former Reagan administration White House counsel, former general counsel to presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, and former Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG).
In addition to coins and Bibles, there have been reports of the distribution to Iraqi children of Christian comic books published by companies such as Chick Publications. These inflammatory comic books, published in English and Arabic, not only depict Mohammed, but show both Mohammed and Muslims burning in hell because they did not accept Jesus as their savior before they died.
Chick Publications states on its website that its literature "is desperately needed by Muslims, but getting it to them without endangering our soldiers or enflaming the Muslim leadership will not be easy."
Postal regulations prohibit sending bulk religious materials contrary to Islam into Iraq, but allow religious materials to be sent to an individual soldier for their personal use.
Sending more of these materials than would be necessary for an individual's personal use, but not a large enough quantity to risk being flagged by the postal service, is one way that these materials are making their way into Iraq. Chick Publications advises those wanting to send their literature to military personnel to first find out "just what tracts would be most useful and how many they can effectively use," and "to find out whether the tracts can be drop shipped from Chick Publications or if they should be sent as personal mail from the soldiers' families."
A spokesman for Chick refused to comment for this story about the comics handed out to Iraqis.
Meanwhile, members of the 101st Airborne stationed in Iraq will continue their work evangelizing Iraqis unless it is told otherwise.
Llanos, the division's chief warrant officer, said about 2,000 copies of the military edition of the Bible provided to the 101st Airborne will soon be distributed to Iraqis.
However, reports on the Bible Pathway Ministries website up to 30,000 of the Christian books have been distributed to military personnel, some of which will presumably end up in the hands of Iraqis.
Iraqis say Marines handed
out Christian coins
Friday May 30 2008
By KIM GAMEL
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD (AP) - A U.S. Marine handed out coins promoting Christianity to Muslims in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, outraged Sunni officials said Friday. The U.S. military responded quickly, removing a trooper from duty pending an investigation.
It was the second perceived insult to Islam by American service members this month. A U.S. sniper was sent out of the country after using a Quran, Islam's holy book, for target practice.
Photographs of the coins, which were inscribed with phrases in Arabic, were widely distributed via cell phones in Fallujah and were seen by an Associated Press employee.
One side asked: ``Where will you spend eternity?''
The other contained a verse from the New Testament: ``For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16.''
Such actions by American service members threaten to alienate Sunni Arabs who have become key allies in the fight against insurgents, a movement that started in Anbar province, which includes Fallujah.
Distribution of the coins in Fallujah was particularly sensitive because the city, 40 miles west of Baghdad, is known for its large number of mosques. It was the center of the Sunni-led insurgency before a massive U.S. offensive in November 2004.
Sheik Abdul-Rahman al-Zubaie, an influential tribal leader in the city, spoke of his outrage over perceived proselytizing by American forces and warned patience was running thin.
``This event did not happen by chance, but it was planned and done intentionally,'' al-Zubaie said. ``The Sunni population cannot accept and endure such a thing. I might not be able to control people's reactions if such incidents keep happening.''
Sunni officials and residents said a Marine distributed about 10 coins at a checkpoint controlling access to the city, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the war.
Al-Zubaie said a man brought one of the coins to a mosque on Wednesday to show it to him and other Sunni leaders.
He accused the Marines of trying to do missionary work in Fallujah and said Sunni leaders had met with U.S. military officials and demanded ``the harshest punishment'' for those responsible to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Mohammed Hassan Abdullah said he witnessed the coins being handed out on Tuesday as he was waiting at the Halabsa checkpoint, although he didn't receive one himself.
The U.S. military - still smarting from the Quran shooting - said an American service member was removed from duty Friday ``amid concerns from Fallujah's citizens regarding reports of inappropriate conduct.''
A statement, which did not identify the service member or the branch of service, said the reports about the coin's distribution were being investigated. The U.S. promised ``appropriate action'' if the allegations are confirmed.
``Regulations prohibit members of the coalition force from proselytizing any religion, faith or practices,'' military spokesman Col. Bill Buckner said, stressing the troops are trained on the guidelines before being deployed.
Col. James L. Welsh, chief of staff for American forces in western Iraq, also said the matter has their ``full attention.''
Al-Zubaie said U.S. military officials met with tribal leaders on Thursday and expressed ``astonishment about (the) behavior of this Marine, saying that they have already settled the matter of the violation of the Quran and suddenly a new problem has emerged.''
Dr. Muhsin al-Jumaili, a professor of law and religious studies in Fallujah, said the act was especially provocative in Fallujah and risked alienating residents who recently have joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq.
``As Muslims, we cannot accept this,'' he told The Associated Press. ``The Americans should concentrate on maintaining security and not doing missionary work.''
``Such deeds will not make Muslims not trust American troops any more and might create a feeling of hatred among Muslims and Christians'' at a time when they're finally living in peace, he added.
The revelation that an American sniper had used a Quran for target practice earlier this month prompted similar outrage and drew apologies from President Bush and senior U.S. commanders.
The alliances between Sunni tribes and U.S. forces have been key to a steep decline in violence over the past year. But tensions have risen over a series of incidents, including the accidental killings of U.S.-allied fighters, that have raised concerns about the fragility of the support for the American forces.
U.S. troops also have struggled to overcome the perception that they are insensitive to Islamic traditions after several missteps in the early stages of the war in Iraq.
Associated Press staff in Fallujah contributed to this report.
On the Attack
By Rich Tosches
May 29, 2008
Wayne Laugesen got a kick out of smashing old glass windows with a sledgehammer at a Boulder historic-district home in 2004.
Wayne Laugesen is the editorial page editor of our village's daily newspaper. His Gazette job is important, calling for him to sound the call for the Libertarian philosophy, a social movement that remains today as insignificant as at its founding more than a half-century ago.
Anyway, Laugesen is a funny guy. Not ha-ha funny. More like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh actually using one of Laugesen's wacky, Libertarian, anti-government, Soldier of Fortune magazine articles to justify the fertilizer-in-the-truck thing. (In response to a 2001 FOX TV request to "describe his motivations" for the deadly bombing of the federal building, McVeigh sent the network a copy of Laugesen's 1999 government-is-out-to-get-us story, "When Cops and Soldiers are One-and-the-Same.")
He's that kind of funny.
Or this kind of funny: In 2004, as a Boulder Weekly columnist, Laugesen learned a homeowner in a Boulder historic district was being pressured by the preservation committee to reinstall original old windows that had been replaced by modern windows. The whole thing was still being negotiated, but Laugesen the journalist decided the old windows could break more easily and therefore were a danger to the homeowner's child. So, with a photographer in tow, Laugesen went to the house, found the old historic windows and smashed them with a sledgehammer. Then he hired a bulldozer to run over the shattered glass. And he wrote about it, calling it "my own Boston Tea Party."
"Every broken window was a score for fatherhood, husbandry and God-given liberty," Laugesen added. Denver's Westword called the episode a "commando mission."
The window tirade happened, Laugesen said, because journalists have to do more than write. Sometimes they have to get involved in a more direct way. He equated the glass-smashing outburst with a journalist who sees a child on the train tracks as a train approaches; you stop being a reporter and you rescue the child.
On the attack
Another story doesn't involve children or trains — or windows or bulldozers — but I'm going to share it. In an e-mail sent from his gazette.com address a few weeks ago, Laugesen, a loud and frequent defender of the evangelical Christian movement, wrote: "The Christian haters who've written me seem to believe some conspiracy theory that has Christians conspiring against everyone including the Jews. So who has combined government and religion? Is it the Christians or the Jews? Clearly Jews have done this and Christians have not. Jews overtly control the government of a western nuclear superpower. Christians do not."
That got the attention of Mikey Weinstein, who made headlines a few years ago when he took on the Air Force Academy and the entire U.S. military over what he called religious discrimination. Weinstein graduated with honors from the AFA in 1977 and worked for a decade as a military lawyer. He also served more than three years as legal counsel to President Ronald Reagan. But several years ago, he chucked it all and began talking about how the evangelical Christian surge had infiltrated the armed forces.
The Independent was among the first to put his story and beliefs into print in 2005. He said academy officials told him that Dr. Seuss, Jack Benny, Albert Einstein and Anne Frank are "all burning in hell because they were Jewish."
Earlier in May, Weinstein read Laugesen's note about Jews controlling a Western superpower. Confronted later by others, Laugesen said he was referring to Israel. Weinstein isn't buying it.
"He most clearly meant the United States," Weinstein says. "Have you ever heard anyone refer to Israel as a Western superpower? I haven't. Last time I checked, it was in the Middle East. He meant the U.S., and he let it slip and he got called on it, and then he backed off and said he meant something else."
Weinstein now leads the fast-growing Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which claims to represent nearly 8,000 active-duty military. The movement works to restore "the obliterated wall separating church and state in the most technologically lethal organization ever created by humankind: the United States armed forces."
The group's advisory board includes ex-Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm, former NORAD commander Gen. Robert Herres, AFA and Harvard grad and former Pentagon official Robert Dotson, ex-Denver Post and Los Angeles Times publishing executive Richard Schlosberg and respected Iranian-born political scholar Reza Aslan. And Weinstein is a marked man.
"Just this week, I received six phone calls saying I was going to get a head shot, that they were going to kill me, and that they were going to change my wife's hair color with her own blood and they were going to kill my children," Weinstein said last weekend from his Albuquerque, N.M., home. "I get it all the time. And what fosters it is the belief that I am anti-Christian. I am not."
His wife is Christian, as are many members of his immediate family. He says some 96 percent of his foundation's members are Christian.
"But I've been portrayed over and over by bigots as an anti-Christian," he says.
One of them, according to Weinstein, writes for the Gazette.
The issue surfaced when Laugesen recently exchanged e-mails with Rick Baker of Colorado Springs, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran — and an atheist — who is a friend of Weinstein. It culminated May 13 with this e-mail to Baker from firstname.lastname@example.org: "You do, in fact, comb thousands of years of history to find episodes in which atrocities were committed in the name of God and then stand there with a who farted look and point to the Christians. That's what you do, Rick. You and Mikey are on an all-out crusade to get the Christians."
Astounded, Baker forwarded the e-mails to an array of people on his mailing list. The message spread quickly to other sources, apparently on both sides. Within a week, Weinstein said, the death threats had reached new heights, such as one on his cell phone.
"It was the voice of a little girl or little boy; it was hard to tell," Weinstein says. "The child said: "Now we lay you in your grave, there was no way you could be saved. You hate our Lord and he can tell, which is why you burn in hell.' In the background were the voices of adults, a man and a woman, prodding the child, telling them the lines so the child could repeat them into the phone."
Last week, Weinstein's attorney, Pedro Irigonegaray, sent a letter to Gazette publisher Scott McKibben warning the paper and Laugesen to knock it off.
"My first reaction to the e-mails was disbelief," Irigonegaray said. "I couldn't imagine anyone being so reckless and so bigoted and so abusive. Being Jewish is not a crime."
Weinstein noted a 2004 episode in which the Gazette delivered copies of the Bible to all of its 91,000 subscribers (the paper's reported circulation then, though its home delivery now has reportedly fallen to around 70,000) — including Jews.
"I'm not at war with Christianity," he says. "I'm at war with a small subset of evangelical Christianity that believes it is their duty to transform everyone else, a group that seems to have flocked to Colorado Springs, people who say, "You get our version of Jesus Christ, whether you like it or not.'
"It appears the newspaper is part of that group. And I wonder, really, why anyone would still read a paper like that. How do they tolerate that? What does it take to make regular people say enough is enough?"
Death of Muslim Soldier's Son
Issue for Lawsuit
Friday May 30 2008
The death of a Muslim soldier's son in North Carolina has become a key issue for a group that is suing the military in Kansas.
Eight-month-old Lachlan Agee died May 3 at Fort Bragg, and officials suspect sudden infant death syndrome. His father, Pfc. Eli Agee, is stationed there. Mackenzie Agee says she tried repeatedly to get routine medical appointments for her baby over several months and couldn't. He was born premature in September 2007.
She believes the family was mistreated because it is Muslim. Post officials say they don't condone discrimination, and an inspector general is considering a complaint.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation says the case is relevant to its federal lawsuit in Kansas.
May 30, 2008
I served 30 complete years in the US Air Force and the only time I was ever talked to about religion was in basic training when the Flight Leader formed us up and marched us to the Base Chapel the first Sunday I was in the Air Force. After that, I was never asked to attend church, never discouraged from attending, nor was I asked except for records purposes what religion I practiced.
I think that people who are telling you that they are being persucuted for religious beliefs are bull-shitting you. I was a supervisor/superintendent for over 15 years in the Air Force and this was always a no-no to question people about their beliefs/non-beliefs.
I have known Pagans in the service and I have also known Bible Belt Thumpers and I did not know of any who were treated differently because of those beliefs.
I suspect that your foundation is only interested in the minimum of $25.00 pledges. Get a life and get a real job. Go into the military and see for yourself or are you just a little bit afraid to sign the contract of your life to the United States for whatever term you would sign up for. I did it for 30 years.
A.T., CMSgt, USAF, Retired
Thank you for your service. I appreciate the dedication that went into your career and rank attainment. In his 22 years my father had the same dedication reaching that stratospheric level of the enlisted.
Sir, I am confident that if he were alive today he would tell me his personal 22 year experience matched yours to a tee regarding religious disrespect.
You both had the fortunate experience of the vast majority.
Working closely with Mikey Weinstein as the head of the MRFF Promotional Agency, I am close to the nucleus of MRFF and read the emails from the religiously persecuted minority. However this minority is in the thousands to date. These are only the ones with courage to come forward so as not to face reprimand. Our cause is on their behalf. I hear there is crime in the society I've been in for over four decades. This just can't be so as I have gone unscathed and witnessed none personally. Our individual experiences don't always reflect reality.
Charles T. "Butch" Haley
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