By Mikey Weinstein
founder and president, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
The Constitution won a battle last week, and Lady Liberty is smiling. But will that duo be able to fully triumph in the war against other threats to U.S. security – the war that’s every bit as critically important as the one against Al Qaeda and the Taliban? That “other war,” heretofore rarely seen in the mainstream media, is against the unbridled fundamentalist Christianity that has nefariously infected the U.S. armed forces.
The most recent flashpoint is the revelation that military contractor Trijicon has been imprinting references to New Testament biblical verses on rifle sights it sold to the military for use in combat operations and in training Iraqi and Afghan troops. These weapons sales were an unconstitutional disgrace of the highest magnitude by our military leadership and an unconscionable action that clearly gave immeasurable incentive to recruiters for our nation’s enemies. Tragically, it is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF) discovery of this violation of the Constitution ultimately led to the company’s expeditious discontinuation of the unlawful practice. Trijicon will also be providing free kits to the Department of Defense to remove the lettering on current weapons.
Founded to be a voice for those religiously discriminated against in the military, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation exposed this violation. The Bible-inscribed guns were featured on ABC News, but only because the Foundation’s multiple attempts to get the Pentagon to take timely action repeatedly fell on deaf ears. Thus, our Foundation selected ABC News to be the vehicle for its efforts to correct The Pentagon’s “hearing problem.” And it worked.
Notwithstanding this victory, an internal Pentagon investigation will never be able to solve the problem. The minds of those who got us into this Constitutional disgrace are not the same minds who can investigate and eradicate it. Therefore, Congress must step in and fast.
When President Dwight Eisenhower left the presidency he warned of the noxious dangers of the “military-industrial complex.” But our military has been taken over by something even worse. We call it a “fundamentalist Christian, parachurch-military-corporate-proselytizing complex” that has a pernicious and pervasive pattern of threatening the religious rights of anyone in the military who doesn’t follow its tyrannical lead.
As Benjamin Busch, a U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, told NPR, “By branding weapons with Christian messages, there is a deep and ugly blending of religion, politics and bloodshed, and it has unwittingly painted our government and military with the embarrassing language of ‘crusade.'” There is nothing that could possibly be more of a propaganda bonanza to the Islamic extremists we must fight and defeat than to frame us as “Christian Crusaders.”
And this is not an isolated incident. It is just one small example in a list of thousands of incidents confirmed by MRFF of incontrovertible, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing at military bases around the world, and something every American should be absolutely furious about.
Let me make one thing clear: Our problem is not with evangelical Christians whose beliefs say they must witness to as many people as possible but respect the law and the Constitution. Indeed not. Our problem is with what is called “dominionists/fundamentalists,” who think they can do whatever they want to, irrespective of time, place and manner, in the name of their personal Christian faith, including heinously violating the First Amendment while serving in uniform. In the eyes of American law, their weaponized gospel of Christianity has absolutely no favored position of special recognition superior to the myriad of the other existing faith groups or even to the many no faith groups. The Constitution grants level playing field status for all to comprehensively celebrate their faith, or no faith, without the fear of “favored status” to only one. Believing otherwise is patently absurd. And as Voltaire said, “He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity.”
Despite much wonderful national and international support, my family and I and MRFF still have been repeatedly and viciously attacked by the ultra-conservative religious right and called names like “Satan” and “traitor” just for pointing out this bedrock Constitutional principle. But our charitable organization is growing rapidly. We now have almost 16,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen as MRFF clients, 96 percent of whom are practicing Christians who believe that their “Christian rights” do not supersede every American’s civil rights.
Our organization fights tooth and nail for the Constitutional rights of American armed forces personnel both in the courtroom and out in the media trenches, as the Department of Defense continues to ignore, or worse, actually encourages these horrid violations of our liberties. This represents a true national security threat of the highest magnitude to America internally every bit as much as what this nation faces externally from a resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda.
But bringing these horrors to the public spotlight is not enough. Our military leadership must not only see the light, but must also feel the heat.
In the wake of the eye-opening Trijicon scandal, we need immediate and aggressive Congressional oversight hearings on the military to discover the full magnitude of damage this kind of “free range” proselytization has inflicted. Likewise, we need an immediate protective order issued to ensure that any evidence dealing with these issues within the armed forces doesn’t suddenly and mysteriously disappear. And we need to do it right now.
As a father, I have tried to teach my children that regardless of whether you get caught, what is wrong is wrong, what is immoral is immoral and what is unethical is unethical. This maxim is especial true for our armed forces. When we send our precious young men and women to fight overseas, we must hold them to only the highest standards of Constitutional responsibility and duty. Likewise, the Pentagon and its contractors must be held precisely to this very same standard of excellence. Quite simply, we can no longer allow them to wait until they are caught red-handed to change long-standing policies that both viciously violate the First Amendment and savage national security.
Our honorable armed forces don’t swear an oath to serve the Torah, the Qur’an, the New Testament or any other religious book. They swear to protect and defend the Constitution and the United States of America. Period.
Mikey Weinstein is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, former legal counsel in the Reagan White House, former general counsel to two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot and an honor graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.