Mikey Weinstein. Courtesy of Alternet.
I’ve never thought of myself as much of a performer, but this week I responded to an invitation to take part in a circus. While the clowns did their routine in formal business attire and the “big top” was an imposing construction of marble, granite, concrete, and steel, I can still only describe the spectacle I participated in as a circus… a sad and pitiful circus, controlled and manipulated by fundamentalist Christian monsters, which calls itself the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in the United States Congress.
Let me explain.
As the President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), for nearly eleven years I’ve devoted my life to fortifying the once sturdy (now rapidly disintegrating) wall separating church and state in the U.S. armed forces. As such, I’ve been privy to the ordeals of nearly 40,000 servicemember victims (about 96% of them Christians themselves) of unconstitutional religious tyranny and oppression: the hazing, bullying, and proselytizing, the mandatory sectarian Christian prayer services, the subtly (and not-so-subtly) embedded religious references in training material, the massive imbalance and evangelical overrepresentation in the denominational breakdown of the chaplaincy, et al. While we at MRFF have spared no effort trying to rally the American people around the noble cause of safeguarding the religious liberty rights of the servicemembers who defend our nation, we’ve facedbitter opposition from the entrenched, extremist Christian Religious Right. Indeed, far, far more than merely just a few elected officials have ceaselessly covered the flanks of those bestial Christian fundamentalist forces that are actively commandeering our U.S. military.
Thus, it was with cautious enthusiasm and guarded optimism that I accepted a formal invitation from the House Armed Services Committee to testify live before a Congressional hearing on Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 (rescheduled from an original date in September).
“Finally!” I thought. “Perhaps I may be able to shine a heretofore-unseen light on this seething national security crisis of divisive religiosity and sectarian proselytizing that’s tearing asunder military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, morale and discipline within the ranks of the armed forces.” Yes, I’m well aware of the dismally derelict culture of Christian Talibanesque “lawmakers” such as Congressmen John Fleming (R-LA), Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Walter Jones (R-NC), to name just a few, in regards to Constitutional, church-state separation matters of dire import. Nonetheless, I was trying mightily to remain somewhat hopeful as I headed into the largest hearing room of the Rayburn House Office Building, not realizing the abhorrent faux-legislative mummery that was in store not only for me, but also for every American who cherishes their freedom of (or from) religion. The seating gallery was standing room only and the press bay was flush with electronic and print reporters and journalists abuzz with expectations of what might transpire.
In my introduction, I was blunt. I noted the abject fecklessness and Christian supremacy and exceptionalism of the present regime of religious oppression in the armed forces. I highlighted the one, and only one, U.S. Supreme Court case, Parker vs. Levy, which is directly dispositive of the spectrum of Constitutional legalities being questioned at the hearing and my trademark phrase “tsunami of confusion” resonated in the headlines of both Military.com and The Christian Post’s coverage of the hearing. That phrase isn’t hyperbole. As I stated to the assembled Congressional representatives, the supposed ‘confusion’ of the legions of fundamentalist Christian predators in our military’s chains of command is wickedly willful, purposeful and quite intentional. Indeed, it is the product of a carefully cultivated pretense of a plea of feigned ignorance disingenuously designed to circumvent long-standing Department of Defense directives, instructions, and regulations. However, one doesn’t need to be a lawyer to understand that ignorance, especially “pretend” ignorance, is no defense.
Rather than concerning themselves with the voluminous data, servicemember testimonials, and compelling Constitutional arguments that I provided, what I was treated to instead was patently ridiculous and transparent McCarthy-esque questioning by Rep. Randy Forbes about whether public statements I made on the record were, in fact, made by me. In the deliberately delimited amount of time that I was provided, I proudly acknowledged that I did in fact make these statements, and also decried his absurdly immaterial line of questioning. Prior to fielding Forbes’ idiotic queries, Rep. Walter Jones asked me for a one word answer of either “fair or unfair’ to yet another interrogatory of inept ignorance prefaced on the stupefyingly bizarre statement that “the end of the world” is a possible result of the upholding of Constitutional protections from undue sectarian proselytizing. As Jones tried to talk over me (he failed), I forcefully reminded him and his fellow Christian triumphalist outlaws sitting in front of, next to and behind me in the enormous and elaborate hearing chamber that, in the United States military, there can be both mandatory formations and religious formations but NOT “mandatory religious formations.” After getting my answer, Jones shot up out of his chair and abruptly departed, seemingly in a fit of spite and huff prior to the called recess by Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC).
However, when it was the turn of the representatives of the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian organizations to speak, the tone from the assembled subcommittee quickly became stunningly deferential, if not nauseatingly fawning. By the end of the hearing it became exceedingly clear that the entire spectacle was inconsequential, and the lawmakers’ heads remained firmly lodged deep in the sands of injustice and unconstitutional infamy (if not likewise lodged in some dark crevice of their respective anatomies).
Yes, I took part in a circus. The impresarios of this revolting and shameful spectacle were having a joke at America’s expense, sure, but I find it hard to believe that anyone was laughing. I also can’t think of a clearer sign that the wall separating church and state in America’s armed forces has long since collapsed into a pile of dust and rubble. Lady Liberty is weeping inconsolably over the pitiful and dangerous state of religious affairs in the U.S. military.
However, it’s not too late to rebuild the wall barring unlawful religious extremism in our armed forces. The only caveat? It won’t be easy. Defeating monsters of this magnitude of influence never is a walk in the park.
Nor is it, my friends, a day at the circus.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein is president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy. He previously served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corp. He is the author of the recently released book, “No Snowflake in an Avalanche: The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Its Battle to Defend the Constitution and One Family’s Courageous War Against Religious Extremism in High Places” (2012, Vireo).