An Interview with Mikey Weinstein — Founder & President, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF)
*This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.*
We are a civil rights organisation. We have one specific purpose; that is to protect the constitutionally protected separation between religion and state, or church and state, in the most lethal organisation (technologically speaking) ever created by our species, which is the US military. We represent in excess of 50,100 active duty members in the US military. These are sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen, as well as National Guard and reservists, and veterans, and we started in early December of 2005.
We are technically in our 12thyear now. 96% of our clients are actually practising Protestants or Roman Catholics themselves who are oppressed for not being “Christian enough.” We also represent veterans. Currently, 954 members of the LGBTQ community in the military are MRFF clients. We also represent about 18% of all Muslim-Americans in the US military.
As well, organisations such as Campus Crusade for Christ. They have a central message for evangelising the US military, which breaches separation of church and state. But they have, apparently, been very successful in their attempts. Are there underhanded methodologies that they use when they go about doing this?
Let’s be clear, we don’t really care about anyone’s religious belief or lack thereof. What we care about is the time, and the place, and the manner, Scott, in which they feel they must deploy their faith. Now, it is called Cru Military, Campus Crusade for Christ Military Ministry. We’ve been fighting them for a very long time because they completely and totally disregard — they and those associated with the military fail to recognise — any constraints that have come down from the US Supreme Court directly interpreting our Constitution.
By that, I mean the First Amendment separation of church and state as well as Clause 3 Article 6 in the body of the Constitution, which states we will never have a religious test. They often ignore the Constitution. They often ignore the federal and state caselaw of the Constitution and often wilfully ignore and flout the Department of Defense which has directives, instructions, and regulations directly on point. They are one of, probably, 3 dozen fundamentalist Christian ministries that run rampant through the US military with people turning a blind eye to others in command promoting their pernicious, fundamentalist Christian agenda of “join us or we will destroy you.”
I understand that there are some colleges that have actually banned them from showing up on campus, even in a civilian perspective, because they target freshman who are still very innocent and naive coming straight out of high school, so it’s another source. But that’s not what we focus on. We focus on things of tremendous financial heft, power, and prestige in the military as a force multiplier for their fundamentalist Christian doctrine that it is very much about one thing, which is “bend your knee and confess our version of Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Saviour, or you will not only be destroyed in this life. You will be set on fire and burn forever in hell after you die.”
So “our way or the highway.” If they wanted to preach their particular faith position in a time, place, and manner that supports the Constitution and the military regs, we’d have no issue with that, but, oftentimes, they do not and that’s why we get involved. I think we sent you a video we have of the Cru organisation from a number of years ago at the Air Force Academy showing the leader with that little look of superiority and arrogance on his face.
They made it clear that when cadets leave the Air Force Academy — which is, incidentally, my alma mater and the alma mater of four of my kids — that the government is paying for missionaries for Jesus Christ. Really? We don’t think so. That’s why we went to war with them and the other parachurch organisations out there.
Also, you did document in the text, With God on Our Side, the single-handed battle against Evangelicals’ “utter disregard for the separation of church and state.” So this has been an ongoing battle, which you have documented. You are, pretty much, the main starter of the fight against it. Who have been some of the best, and some of the unexpected, allies, in this fight?
Thank you for that position. My wife and I, when we started MRFF, we saw Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, or as we called it, The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre, or, Freddy versus Jesus.
When that came out on February 4, 2004, Scott, we knew that there was a problem when our kids who went to the Air Force Academy were essentially being forced and inundated from their officer and cadet command chains to go see that movie. For nearly 2 years, we thought about the foundation until we reached out to the Anti-Defamation League, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the ACLU.
These are all good organisations in their own way, but they don’t focus with laser-like precision where all of the weapons, and weapons of mass destruction, and the drones, and laser-guided weapons are, which is the US military. It is incredibly, culturally tribal, adversarial, communal, and ritualistic. It’s not their mission to do that. Our family has a very strong military background in it. So it kind of made sense for us to lead this fight.
Our allies have clearly been the Southern Poverty Law Center and, in a very major way, Americans United. In the last couple of weeks, the ACLU in San Diego. We’ve worked with the National Organization for Women. Again, all of these organisations are wonderful in their own way, but when it comes to protecting the civil rights of religious choice or no choice, in the US military, trying to tell your military superior, even if you’re being gently evangelised, Scott, “To get the hell out of my face sir or ma’am” is not an option for you, so they come to us at MRFF.
We are very militant and aggressive in the support we provide our clients, which is AARP: Anonymity, Action, Results, and Protection. If you’ve ever had a cat or a dog and ever cared about the rights of their animal rights, every town has a humane society. They do great things. The have bake sales and cookie sales. They’re on the far Left. They’re wonderful. Everyone loves them. On the far Right, you have PETA. We’re PETA.
That requires an aggressive and militant methodology and MO. You can get this job done. We get this job done a lot. We are proud of it. We have over 330 people who work here. Many of them are part-time or full-time volunteers, which is common for civil rights organisations. It is the only way we can fight back, like getting in the media such as we’re doing right now, or getting into federal or state court.
Also, you wrote No Snow Flake in an Avalanche. It is a deeper updated look at religious extremism — both in the military and in the US political infrastructure. So what were some of the main questions that went into writing that book as well as what came out of it — some of the answers?
I wrote two books. The first was With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military. It is no longer one man’s war, like I said. We’ve gotten pretty large. I probably should have been more precise because we have plenty of Evangelicals on staff. Evangelicals become bad, like any individual, when they become fundamentalists. As soon as we find a fundamentalist Atheist, Jewish, Agnostic, Native American spiritualist, Muslim or Hindu we will let everyone know, but, right now, it almost always comes from one source, which is Evangelical Christians who demand to follow the Great Commission, Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19, completely irrespective of time, place and manner restrictions as prescribed by law.
The Great Commission is one of the last things Jesus is supposed to have said to his disciples is ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’ If they believe they can do that with no restrictions, then they are constitutional outlaws and violating these civil rights. They’re rights. Everybody gets them. They aren’t just civil privileges. Even if you’re an asshole, you get civil rights. The second book I wrote was No Snow Flake in an Avalanche. The title for this book is taken from the phrase, “No snow flake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
To answer your question about my books, the purpose was to educate. There’s a great quote from HG Wells, Scott, it says that “civilisation is a constant race between education and catastrophe.” We’re trying to educate. The best way to do that is to be very upfront and to expose, both in the media and, if necessary, through litigation, what it is that needs to be accomplished to make sure we don’t create a Christian version of ISIS in our own military.
It is extraordinarily serious and rampant. It was terrible under Bush. It didn’t get much better under Obama. It is literally off the scale under the idiot Trump.
As well, Muslim-Americans, who are entering to train to become soldiers or who are already soldiers, will experience anti-Muslim prejudice, some or most, and, as well, they will hear anti-Muslim rhetoric. What have been some notable cases that come to mind for you? And what are some of the major concerns that arise for you?
If you go to our website, we have submitted Congressional testimony for our Muslim-American clients. Islamophobia is out of control in the US military. There’s no question about that. There are too many cases to discuss in the time here for the interview. Recently, there was a story about the 7th infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis McChord in the Tacoma/Seattle area that the new Head Chaplain will be an Imam, which is terrific. We tremendously support that. I have been in contact with this new Lieutenant Colonel Khallid Shabazz and he sounds terrific!
Unfortunately, many in the military who are a part of the Islamic community feel that they have to walk on eggshells. We understand that. We took some of our Islamic clients on the TV show Nightline. Also, a lot of what we do is behind the scenes. We don’t want to go to the media and have them threatened to go to court. We want to have people understand that in this country that we don’t judge the value of a human being — their honour, integrity, character, intelligence, honourability — based on what religious faith they have or lack thereof.
Now, if your faith tells you that you must force your faith on others irrespective of their rights, and irrespective of time, place, and manner constraints, then you are the problem. You are the enemy. If you are a member of the military or a member of the chaplaincy and believe being gay is a choice, that’s great. That’s fine. You have 3 choices. You can hold your tongue. You can change your attitude.
And if you can’t do either of those, you need to fold your uniform and get the hell out of the military. That’s where we are in the US military in the year 2017. We will not have people suffer the indignities of this Christian, fascistic tidal wave that is out there. So we have to fight and fight very hard. When you do that, you get a lot of support and concomitantly make a lot of enemies, which is why we have to live with a ton of security to include body guards and German shepherd, working dogs.
We carry a lot of weapons and utilize protective cameras et al. I’m not going to reveal all that we do for security obviously. I do a lot of speaking around the country, but it doesn’t always work out because it requires extremely specialised security for protection. Sometimes, it is exorbitant when they are asking me to speak, but I am not going to go somewhere unless we have the appropriate security intact.
Last question, how can people get involved? What is the single greatest concern for 2017 with regards to religious freedom in the military and separation of church and state?
First of all, I appreciate that. The best thing to do is to donate to us. We are a 501(c)3, IRS approved, charitable organisation. So any donation is a 100% tax deduction/write off. We already have the machine in place. So help us out, we don’t run on chocolate sauce. If you are in the military or have family or friends in the military, let them know we’re here, so they have a place to go if their religious rights are being trampled on, or their right to be non-religious.
The biggest issue was that we, very simply, have to prevent an unconstitutional alloy from forming between fundamentalist Christianity and our weapons of mass destruction — our nuclear arsenal. I am extremely concerned that this particular Commander-in-Chief on his best day appears to be an entitled, privileged, cretin and a megalomaniac. When you realise that the 3 most dangerous leaders in the world appear to be Duterte in the Philippines, Kim Jong-Un in North Korea, and this shameful sad sack that we’ve got in Washington, Trump, it is just totally terrifying. And which one of those 3 controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal?
It is terrifying that he is technically the Commander-in-Chief. While he himself is not a fundamentalist, he and his staff have brought so many in. They’ve littered the government. They’re everywhere. They are omnipresent and it’s wretchedly concerning. It is an absolute fact that you will see a marriage between our weapons of mass destruction and the extremely dangerous theology of fundamentalist, unbridled, Christianity, which is trying to end this world as fast as possible to get us to the End Times.
Where among other things, this fundamentalist or “Dominionist” version of Christianity promises its followers a 200-mile long river, 4.5 feet deep, filled with nothing but the human blood of those that they have crushed at the Battle of Armageddon. That is a pretty horrifying graphic there. That’s what we have to fight. As Machiavelli said, “When you aim at the prince, you better kill the prince.” Not half in, not three quarters in, this is a task that requires and demands being ALL in!
I think it was Frederick Douglass who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” So our job here at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is to be the demanders of the commanders. You can go to https://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/ and go from there.
Thank you for your time.
Originally published at conatusnews.com on March 13, 2017.