When it comes to America's armed forces, there is much to worry about these days: multiple tours of duty, traumatic physical and psychological wounds swamping Veterans Administration medical facilities, lousy pay, a possible strike against Syria, al-Qaeda wannabes lurking in far too many shadows, bent on carnage.
But there's an internal threat to America's military that Mikey Weinstein thinks you should be aware of: Christian zealots who abhor religious pluralism.
As far as they are concerned, he said, "There is 'no time, no place, no manner in which we can be constrained from pushing our weaponized gospel of Jesus Christ on anyone. We have free reign to proselytize anywhere.'"
As Weinstein, an Air Force Academy honors graduate and former Air Force judge advocate general, notes, America's armed forces aren't like Starbucks where shift managers' power over their staff is limited. In the military, he said, superiors have "tremendous power" -- career-ending or career-promoting power -- over subordinates.
And what Weinstein's nearly decade-old organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has found is that religious zealots, known as Dominionists, all-too-often browbeat uniformed personnel into committing to a theology ripe with virulent homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny.
"It's a tortured, poisoned view of patriotism," said Weinstein. "It's a metastasizing threat to this country."
Weinstein will be the keynote speaker at the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance's annual Russell Bennett Award presentation at All Souls Unitarian Church, 2952 S. Peoria Ave., at 2:30pm on Sept. 21-- an appearance sure to stir up a far religious right that reviles him as "Satan's lawyer" and "Field General of the Godless Armies of Satan."
"We're a very aggressive and militant organization," Weinstein acknowledges, "but our militancy and aggression is in support of the Constitution.
"The Bill of Rights protects the minority from the expected tyranny of the majority. But in the military, if you try to stand up for your religious rights ... you see very quickly the tyranny of majority turns into the tantrum of the majority."
The timing of his Tulsa visit is significant, given that members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation -- particularly Tulsa Rep. Jim Bridenstine -- are busy cultivating the canard that a War on Christianity threatens America as we know it.
It's a fantasy conceived by an unholy alliance of conservatives in pursuit of political power and Dominionists whose agenda is to speed us toward Armageddon.
But that doesn't keep wingnuts in Congress from introducing spurious legislation like Louisiana Rep. John Fleming's so-called Religious Liberty Amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that supposedly would protect the First Amendment religious rights of those in uniform.
As the White House put it, Fleming's proposals actually would limit "the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units" and "have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment."
Of course, in zealot-land, the fact a "Kenyan-born," "Muslim," "socialist" president spoke against it is all the confirmation necessary to prove a War on Christianity exists.
As Weinstein notes, the opposite is actually true -- particularly when it involves the U.S. military. His group represents nearly 35,000 active-duty service members who have been targeted by religious zealots -- oft-times superior officers -- demanding they embrace a specific strain of Christianity.
Ninety-six percent of the foundation's clients are Protestant or Roman Catholic, including 21 varieties of Baptist alone. Only four percent of service members lodging complaints through Weinstein's group are atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, Wiccan, Native American Spiritualist or other.
Weinstein said his group is working to rebuild the wall separating church and state that all too often has been knocked down in the U.S. military, effectively depriving many armed forces members the freedom of -- and from -- religion.
It's particularly worrisome, he said, that Dominionists are asserting their apocalyptic worldviews in settings where they can mix "a fanatical religiosity ... with actual weapons of mass destruction."
Not surprisingly, Weinstein's support of religious freedom does not sit well with the likes of Bridenstine, who noted in a May 2013 blog entry that he "questioned the Department of Defense's recent interactions with anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein."
What Bridenstine and his ilk clearly fail to appreciate is how they would like it if the shoe were on the other foot. They wouldn't like it if other religious groups were given carte blanche to proselytize or -- as seems likely in a military setting -- the power to make one conform or face career-ending consequences.
It's as if they can't come to grips with the uniquely American concept that it's OK not to believe -- or to believe differently than Bridenstine and Co.
For them "to say we, Christians, are the persecuted, it is not only disingenuous, it is a goddamn lie -- and they know it," Weinstein said.
"This is like the playground bully -- after he's been pulled aside by every teacher or monitor on playground for beating little Jimmy into the ground -- showing his hand and saying, 'Look what little Jimmy's head did my knuckles -- they're all bruised.'"
It speaks to the strange political times in which we live that Weinstein would be so despised by the religious right.
He's a lifelong Republican who served as a White House legal counsel under President Reagan and as committee management officer of the Iran-Contra investigation. He was also named one of the 50 most influential Jews in America by the Jewish weekly Forward. He also was identified as one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense in 2012 by Gannett's Defense News. And his organization has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Weinstein clearly relishes his role as a provocateur, describing his foundation as the "demanders of the commanders" -- more like the radical animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) than the more mainstream Humane Society of the U.S.
"I'm very happy coming in and speaking truth to power," he said, quoting 19th-century African-American leader Frederick Douglass as saying "power concedes nothing without a demand."
"Give me 300 seconds -- one for each of the Spartans killed at the Battle of Thermopylae -- and I don't know how you can possibly be against what we're talking about."
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