The good fight.
In his fight against British imperialism, Mahatma Gandhi described the life cycle of successful civil disobedience: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mikey Weinstein, the 55-year-old founder of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), likes to quote it, knowing full well he's crossed the line into a bloody-knuckle brawl. Over the past year, Weinstein and his organization have recorded a tremendous string of victories in the fight against Christian supremacists inside the armed forces.
In January, the MRFF broke the story on the Pentagon's Jesus Rifles, where rifle scopes used in Afghanistan and Iraq were embossed with New Testament verses. In April, he got the military to rescind its invitation to the Reverend Franklin Graham to speak at May's National Prayer Day because of Islamophobic remarks. Most shockingly, MRFF received its second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in late October. These high-profile victories have earned him the enmity of the hardcore Christian Right and the mentally unstable. And the crazies are getting crazier. Weinstein and his family are bombarded with hate mail, from the grammatically incorrect and easy to dismiss - "I hope all your kids turn out gay as hell, take it in the ass, and get aids and die!!!!" - to the kind of threats that immediately make you leap out of your chair and double-check that the doors and windows are locked. (MRFF has referred multiple death threats on Mikey, his family, and MRFF employees to the FBI.)
It's a very interesting article, if perhaps slanted a bit too much in the MRFF's favor,* and manages to explain quite succinctly why religious freedom in the military is imperiled, and why it is important:
Case in point: On May 25, the 5th floor of the Dallas County Courthouse was cleared so Mikey's lawyer, Randy Mathis, could take the deposition of Rev. Jim Ammerman while six deputy sheriffs stood guard, rotating in and out of the jury room. In his 30 years of practicing law, Mathis never saw this type of security for a deposition unless the person being deposed was already a prisoner of the state. Spokeswoman Kim Leach for the Dallas County Sheriff's Department confirmed extra security was provided, but could not provide details except to say the judge had requested it because of a "security issue." One possible reason for the extra security is that Ammerman is batshit crazy, a man who holds so many wild and dangerous beliefs he can be seen as the grandfather of the craziest fringes of the Tea Party movement. To be clear, Ammerman, who will turn 85 in late July, is not the threat. It's those who listen to his conspiratorial screeds, according to Mikey and Bonnie.
A former Navy pilot, Green Beret, and Army chaplain who rose to the rank of full colonel, Ammerman is an early purveyor of the One World Government ideology that believes foreign troops are knowingly stationed in U.S. national parks, and that former President Bill Clinton and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are members of the Illuminati - a secret society determined to install a one-world government. As he stated in his deposition, he also believes there are 125 FEMA-built concentration camps inside the United States with more in construction right now.
What's striking about all this is that Ammerman's organization is currently one of the U.S. military's largest ecclesiastical endorsing agencies for chaplains. As President and Director of the Chaplaincy of the Full Gospel Churches, he currently endorses 270 Pentecostal chaplains across all branches of the military. Ammerman's tinfoil-hat beliefs, however, have brought scrutiny before - from the Pentagon, itself. In September 1997, Lt. Gen. Normand G. Lezy of the USAF ordered an investigation of Ammerman and his endorsing organization for using military chaplains "as agents to collect and convey military intelligence information for Mr. Ammerman's political purposes." The two other reasons Lezy gave for opening an investigation were no less inflammatory: Rev. Ammerman's encouragement of groups with "supremacist viewpoints" and his repeated suggestions that a military coup of the United States was imminent.
MRFF receives multitudes of thank you's from veterans and service members serving across the globe. One thank you came from a U.S. Navy veteran, a self described "religious Jew," who described extreme religious coercion during hospital stays at the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2007. "During two hospitalizations, despite my written and verbal instructions to the contrary, the hospital staff was not content to just refuse to contact my rabbi," wrote Akiva David Miller, now the director veterans affairs for MRFF, "they sent a proselytizing Protestant chaplain in to see me - while I was bedridden and wired to a heart monitor - to tell me that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews too, and that my only hope was salvation through Jesus Christ." Miller and his rabbi protested and the medical center retaliated by discontinuing Miller's care. When they cut of his pain medication, Miller asked his doctor why. His response: "You're a religious Jew. Why don't you try prayer or meditation?" Miller contacted MRFF. Mikey flew out to Des Moines and held a press conference that launched a full investigation that confirmed Miller's discrimination. And with the help of his old boss Ross Perot, Mikey got Miller care at the Dallas V.A. Medical Center.
It's lengthy, but well worth your time.
* Keeping in mind, of course, that I am completely on the MRFF's side but, when the first sentence begins a comparison between a modern figure and Ghandi... yeah, there just might be a slant.