Does the U.S. Air Force need the American Civil Liberties Union to protect its members from Christian fundamentalism? Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), thinks so. Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer, founded the MRFF in response to what he saw as a fanatically Christian culture that has developed in the Air Force. His children experienced this first-hand when they attended the Air Force Academy, he says. After the release of the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ—which some Christians see as an evangelistic tool—Weinstein says he “began to realize the kind of pressure on the kids at the Air Force.” They were “being deluged with pressure to see this movie,” he says. Later, his son Curtis told him he was verbally abused eight or nine times because he is Jewish. Ever since, he’s been fighting what he sees as violations of church-state separation in the military.
Weinstein managed to stop a company called, Trijicon the lead supplier of rifle scopes to the U.S. military, from inscribing coded references to biblical passages on its gunsights. And he forced an Air Force investigation that revealed invasive evangelicalism in the academy. Among other things, it found an incoming cadet class was taught the “J for Jesus” sign, and that 250 faculty members and senior officers signed a newspaper advertisement that proclaimed: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world.” Last month, Weinstein’s organization alerted the Pentagon to a training manual that encouraged officers to “attend chapel regularly.” And it threatened to bring a lawsuit over Bibles being sold in military stores with official military logos. Weinstein managed to get both policies reversed. Not everyone, however, sees a Christian conspiracy. Ron Crews, a former Army chaplain, complained that “every time Mikey Weinstein sends an email over to the Pentagon, they just cater to his every whim.”
There has been other pushback against Weinstein from those who feel he’s trying to erase religion from military life altogether. After the Air Force removed the line about chapel attendance, 66 Republican legislators sent a letter to the defence secretary expressing their concern that “the Air Force is developing a culture that is hostile to religion.” This, they wrote, “is not the environment for our military that our founding fathers envisioned.” Weinstein claims he’s had death threats: “Everyone in my family has to carry weapons. We’ve had the windows shot out of our house.”
But though Weinstein sometimes quotes Howard Zinn, the leftist historian, he says he’s no partisan left-winger, having worked for Ronald Reagan and Ross Perot. He argues his critics have tried to mischaracterize his fight as a war on religion. Though Weinstein has made headlines for defending Muslims and Jews against evangelical proselytizing, his foundation’s main cause is defending Christian soldiers who aren’t on board with the evangelical culture: “96 per cent of our members,” he claims, “are Protestants and Catholics who are being told they’re not Christian enough.”