Christianity, the Military, and Congress: Onward Christian Soldiers

Separation of church and state?

Separation of church and state?

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 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).

4 thoughts on “Christianity, the Military, and Congress: Onward Christian Soldiers

  1. I was thinking earlier that many fundamentalist groups of any religion are often the most dangerous part of that religion. Moderates and liberals are usually much less problematic. The problem is when the fundamentalists get to write down the definitions of right or wrong are from their interpretation. They more power they get the worse the problems they present becomes. Somebody needs to teach them that it’s possible to have a different interpretation without it being automatically incorrect. Perhaps this is the reason why check and balances were built into our system? Without them our system will remain tilted in their favor. I’m really sorry that my fellow Christians put you through all that, we have a spectrum of beliefs and they don’t speak for all of us.

  2. This post served as my introduction to Mr. Weinstein and his hopeless (pardon my realism!) campaign for sane freedom of religion policies in the contemporary US military. Wait, I need to revise that statement–when I read the blurb about his background at the end of the piece my memory was jolted: White House Counsel under Reagan!! It was, of course, that administration that established the now mandatory practice of Republican presidents lending their “moral” authority to the movement to eradicate a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. This put the GOP right in bed with the most extremist “Christian” elements in the country, and there they remain to this day. The creep of this kind of ideology into the military may not have originated on Ronnie’s watch, but I’m sure it was accelerated, especially at the Air Force Academy (as a media expose revealed) from which Mikey graduated. Be that as it may, I recognize that people sometimes do “see the light” late in their careers and come over to the side of Truth. David Stockman, another graduate of the Reagan regime, though he spouts a lot of Libertarian nonsense has admitted that Reaganomics was–as George H.W. Bush said in his failed race for the GOP presidential nomination–“Voodoo Economics.” So welcome, fellow Quixote, to the Good Fight!

    When I was in the Army in 1967, the military pretended that God was on our side in Vietnam and everywhere else troops were on the ground. Coercion was employed to herd personnel to religious services on Sunday mornings. I’m speaking of enlisted personnel, of course, in training units where weekend passes were not yet being offered. (Interestingly, to accommodate the Army’s training schedule, even Jewish services were held on the Christian Sabbath!) [This is covered in my memoir-in-progress.] These were the choices: 1.) attend services; or 2.) engage in a massive Police Call. For you life-long civilians in the reading audience, be advised that Police Call consists of roving the grounds of the base, picking up cigarette butts and other revolting bits of trash. We were occasionally subjected to indoctrination sessions–I seem to recall they were called Spiritual Guidance or some such thing–which reminded us we were fighting to keep the world safe from godless Communism, upholding Mom, the flag, apple pie, etc. But during my four-plus years on active duty I never, ever encountered blatant religious proselytizing from military officialdom. Thus I find the notion raised by Mr. Weinstein of a “mandatory religious formation” at least as nauseating and outrageous as he himself does. Oh, you could say the coercion I experienced in 1967 bordered on such a policy–but we could always escape the services by opting for dear old Police Call, so the religious option wasn’t literally mandatory. And the services were “straight” Catholicism, Judaism, etc. (If there was a Muslim chaplain on any base I was stationed at it’s news to me.)

    The extent to which rabid “Christian” fundamentalism appears to have captured the military today would be a national scandal–and heads of high leadership would roll!–in a nation that respected notions like intellectual freedom and integrity. Unfortunately, that’s not the nation we live in today. The “wall separating church and state” is now a slab of Swiss cheese, and the holes get bigger all the time. “Bread and circuses” continue to divert the masses from the ever-increasing imperilment of their liberty. Government spying on the citizenry is headline news today; tomorrow, it’s the latest Kardashian affair. The President asserts the right to assassinate any of us, anywhere, anytime because he has “determined” that we are “terrorists”? Ho-hum, pass the nachos and another lite beer, please. Ask yourself: where in the world are US bombs, cruise missiles, killer drones and bullets destroying people and infrastructure? Can you name one society under attack that is NOT predominantly Muslim? Of course not! Now combine that fact with this infiltration of extremist “Christian” ideology in the US military establishment. Should it be any wonder that Muslims feel like a New Christian Crusade against them is in progress? Could there be a better recruiting tool to rally Islamic warriors? The USA is going to reap what it is sowing and it won’t be pretty. “The end of the world”? That’s what these “Christians” hunger for, so they can enjoy “The Rapture”!

    I respect and support any such campaign as that launched by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. I only wish it had a ghost of a chance to succeed! But by all means, let the Good Fight continue, and count me in the ranks.

    US Army, 1967-71

    • I’m in full agreement with Mr. Weinstein and grateful to him for the light he has shone on this particular form of Christian fanaticism in high places.

      I would also like to observe that chaplains should not themselves be members of the military since being so prevents them–I speak as a Catholic of Christian chaplains–from sharing with their parishioners some nine-tenths of the Gospel message (a conservative estimate). The Iraq fiasco, for example, was denounced by John Paul II and, in great detail, by Cardinal Ratzinger, his successor, but no word of this ever reached the young men and women sent off to kill and be killed, most of whom thought they were avenging September 11, not enriching Dick Cheney and his Big Oil cronies.

      In World War II, moreover, Catholic Air Force chaplains’ major concern was open flies on weekend passes rather than open bomb bay doors over Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the historic center of Japanese Catholicism) even though Catholic Just war theory forbids the direct assaults on civilians. (The pilot of Bock’s Car, the B-29 that destroyed Nagasaki was a Catholic, and there was a Gallagher, it pains me to say, among the crew members.)

      The fact is, of course, that if chaplains were civilians and free to speak freely, even if but a minority actually did, it would be difficult to wage an unjust war. (Even executing one or two by a firing squad would make for bad PR.) But would make waging unjust wars difficult be such a bad thing?

      Mike Gallagher, 187th Airborne RCT, Korea, 1953

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