An extraordinary organization arose to combat an extraordinary threat. Lawyer Mikey Weinstein was a graduate of the Air Force Academy, located in the religious Right territory of Colorado Springs, Colo. In 2004, his son Casey, a freshman at the Academy, told him he was receiving constant anti-Semitic threats from other cadets and that this behavior was encouraged by the fundamentalist Christian proselytizing as well as programs, films and lectures promoted by the officers. The religious Right had taken control of the Academy to mold future military and political leaders.
When Weinstein presented a thick file of evidence of this hostile religious climate to the officers in charge, to his surprise, it was ignored. A 19-page paper he wrote broke the scandalous story in the media. The Academy responded as it always would in the future, investigating itself, then issuing a bland statement that the events had been blown out of proportion. Nothing came of a Congressional hearing and a lawsuit.
In December 2005, Weinstein launched the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a civil rights organization “dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
The MRFF receives about a hundred requests for legal representation per week and has about six cases running simultaneously. In spite of religious Right propaganda that the MRFF is “anti-Christian,” 96% of their clients are Christians, although not deemed devout enough by fundamentalists. The organization also fights for atheists and members of minority religions. They promise their clients “Anonymity, Action, Results, and Protection” because, even for military people, it takes enormous courage to brave the threats to their lives and careers.
Weinstein also lectures extensively where he places each individual case in its larger context. MRFF maintains a website with news items and a research database.
MRFF has prevented religious Right speakers, who depict all forms of Islam as an evil force engaged in a cosmic battle with “good” fundamentalist Christianity, from lecturing to military audiences. The religious Right’s promotion of the war in the Middle East as a crusade against Islam is a serious national security risk which has only served as propaganda for fundamentalist Muslim terrorists. MRFF has exposed the military’s use of rifle scopes engraved with Bible verses. It has also exposed Bible references and the citation of a Nazi war criminal as a moral authority in the training material for nuclear launch officers at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The guiding philosophy of the religious Right is Dominionism, the plan to put fundamentalist Christians in control of the seven “mountains” of culture: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family, and religion (including mainstream Christian churches). Leah Burton, an expert on Dominionism and a member of MRFF’s Board of Directors, says the military could be considered an eighth “mountain.” What Weinstein and his multi-talented allies have done to protect the rank-and-file military, needs to be done to protect other aspects of society.
MRFF is a model of how to do this. The immense stress of death threats and financial hardship faced by Weinstein’s family and clients may be lessened when more people from all walks of life and with diverse talents organize using his strategies and develop his persistence and determination.