By Mikey Weinstein
President and Founder, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Let’s just face it: Franklin Graham is an Islamophobe, an anti-Muslim bigot and an international representative of the scourge of fundamentalist Christian supremacy and exceptionalism. As a result, he fails in the worst way as a role model for Constitutional American citizenship. How can Graham or anyone prejudge/brand all members of a specific culture, religion and/or ethnicity? Such prejudice and racist cretinism is nothing new. It’s as old as our species and has been the direct cause of the brutal end of untold multitudes of our species.
Graham has a history of describing the whole of the Islamic faith, and thus the whole of its Muslim practitioners, as “evil”, violent”, “false” and “wicked”. I often wonder how painful it must be for U.S. citizens of the Muslim faith to hear Graham’s universal, Father Coughlin-esque condemnations of Islam? Indeed, and how much worse still for the grieving families of recently fallen American servicemen of the Islamic faith like U.S. Army Corp. Kareem Khan, U.S. Army Spec. Rasheed Sahib, U.S. Army Maj. James Ahearn and U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan?
Islamic fundamentalists must cherish Graham as a propaganda tool. For terrorists, jihadists and insurrectionists, Franklin Graham is the gift that keeps on giving. His rejection of Islam can be likened to having an acute case of fundamentalist Christian Tourette’s syndrome; the only good Muslim is a Christian-converted Muslim.
Graham’s profession of “love for the Muslim people” is transparently disingenuous and totally predicated on their “flexibility-cum-willingness” to dump their own fatally flawed faith and convert to Graham’s own version of the Gospel. There can be no doubt that his “all Islam is all evil all the time” bigotry has buttressed the direct and indirect efforts of Islamic extremists to maim, kill and otherwise spill the precious blood of our honorable young men and women in uniform and in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This was bad enough even before the Pentagon unilaterally crowned Graham as the de facto King Proselytizer-For-a-Day for its upcoming National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF) event scheduled for Thursday, May 6, 2010. Those of us at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit civil rights organization I founded several years ago to directly confront religious fundamentalism in the United States military, felt Graham’s appearance had to be canceled swiftly and publicly by the Pentagon. MRFF sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates demanding the immediate rescinding of Graham’s NDPTF speaking invitation, copying all three military service secretaries, all five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President Obama. We wrote on behalf of our brand new MRFF clients; a courageous community of Islamic U.S. armed forces members directly and indirectly assigned to the Pentagon.
Our MRFF clients were understandably outraged that Graham had been invited to preach. They asked MRFF to intervene on their collective behalf. This was not our first rodeo. Speaking such truth to power is not only very hard, it is very dangerous. Which is why over 17,000 active duty U.S. sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines have come to MRFF. Why, yet again? As one MRFF soldier client put it, “to be the voice I am not allowed to speak with”. Amazingly, 96 percent of our members are Christians often denigrated by their superiors for being “not Christian enough”. Think about it. In MRFF’s letter to Gates, we laid out irrefutable arguments as to why the invitation to Graham was a scandalous outrage not only because of his anti-Islamic bigotry, but also because the invitation would cause the Pentagon to blatantly violate at least two of its own most important internal regulations and directives.
The first prohibits the endorsement of a non-federal entity like Focus on the Family’s spinoff, the National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF), and the second prohibits the Pentagon from providing a “selective benefit” or preferential treatment to any organization like the NDPTF. We also forcefully pointed out the breathtaking unconstitutionality of the Pentagon’s tryst with an entity like the NDPTF, which, now get this, actually requires all of its event participants to ascribe via written assurance to a classic, fundamentalist Christian, sectarian “Statement of Belief” so narrow in scope it would exclude many devout Christians themselves. But it doesn’t stop there.
Perhaps even more shockingly, all NDPTF event coordinators are required to restrict its staff production participants to Christians only. Now, if done privately, without Pentagon or related government complicity, these activities would be just fine. But as it stood, such actions were glaringly unethical, unlawful and unconstitutional. Period.
But, of course, we knew that our firebrand missive alone would not be enough. So we retained aggressive trial lawyers and gave them the green light to prepare to go into federal court to seek a temporary restraining order to stop this NDPTF event. Our timing was greatly aided by the propitious and superb decision U.S. Dist. Court Judge Barbara Crabb handed down in Wisconsin only a few days prior to our letter, declaring that the National Day of Prayer itself was unconstitutional. We told the Pentagon that we would withdraw our planned litigation if and only if they withdrew the prestigious invitation to Graham.
The calculus of our MRFF victory went something like the following; clearly the combination of our demand letter and our imminent litigation promise carried the day to provide the requisite “heat” to quickly “educate” the Pentagon about the multi-dimensional domestic and foreign “catastrophe” which would swiftly ensue if it did not timely withdraw Graham’s invitation. The Pentagon withdrew Graham’s ill-conceived speaking honor, with MRFF’s lawyers on the federal courthouse steps, just 48 hours after we launched our demand letter. At least on that fine day, Lady Liberty smiled.
Graham’s fellow fundamentalists don’t seem to be taking the defeat too well. MRFF has been literally flooded with thousands of threatening and vile hate e-mails and ugly phone calls distorting the civil rights of Muslim Americans and evincing an egregiously biased hatred and tortured ignorance of Constitutional law and American history. One boastfully proclaims that “Islam is evil and anyone who practices Islam deserves to be shot on the spot.”
Behold, the product of Franklin Graham’s “Christian love.”
Mikey Weinstein is President and Founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.