[Note: This is the first in an occasional series examining and assessing potential threats to religious liberty in America and around the world.]
The Situation: According to the Associated Press, a group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is urging the Pentagon to court martial officers whose subordinates feel they're being proselytized. MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein says even a Christian bumper sticker on an officer's car or a Bible on an officer's desk can amount to "pushing this fundamentalist version of Christianity on helpless subordinates." Weinstein and other leaders of his foundation met with top officials at the Pentagon last week.
The Backstory: Weinstein and his group met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23. He told Fox News that U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished to stave off what he called a "tidal wave of fundamentalists." "Someone needs to be punished for this," Weinstein told Fox News. "Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior."
"If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted," he said. "We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution."
"[Proselytizing] is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators," Weinstein told Fox News.
The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations. "Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.
Threat Level: Unclear. Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, who served as White House Counsel in the Reagan administration and general counsel to H.Ross Perot, is an anti-religion extremist who is not taken seriously by anyone that is not on the secular political left. But if Pentagon officials become convinced that his peculiar anti-evangelism perspective is indeed within the bounds of military regulations, it could mean that members of the military could be prosecuted from sharing their faith—or even having a faith-based bumper sticker on their car.
Why It Matters: In a recent article for The Huffington Post, Weinstein provides an example of his bizarre hatred of Christianity,
I founded the civil rights fighting organization the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to do one thing: fight those monsters who would tear down the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal entity ever created by humankind, the U.S. military.
Today, we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation's armed forces.
And as with most threats to religious freedom, at the core is the incompatibility between Christianity and normalization of homosexuality:
We should as a nation effusively applaud Lt. Col. Rich for his absolutely correct characterization of anti-gay religious extremist organizations as "hate groups" with no place in today's U.S. military. But we are compelled to venture even further. We MUST vigorously support the continuing efforts to expose pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators for what they are: die-hard enemies of the United States Constitution. Monsters, one and all. To do any less would be to roll out a red carpet to those who would usher in a blood-drenched, draconian era of persecutions, nationalistic militarism, and superstitious theocracy. Human history is all too festooned and replete with countless examples of such bleak and forlorn tragedies.
If these fundamentalist Christian monsters of human degradation, marginalization, humiliation and tyranny cannot broker or barter your acceptance of their putrid theology, then they crave for your universal silence in the face of their rapacious reign of theocratic terror. Indeed, they ceaselessly lust, ache, and pine for you to do absolutely nothing to thwart their oppression. Comply, my friends, and you, too, become as monstrously savage as are they. I beg you, do not feed these hideous monsters with your stoic lethargy, callousness and neutrality. Do not lubricate the path of their racism, bigotry, and prejudice. Doing so directly threatens the national security of our beautiful nation.
There was a time—just a few years ago, in fact—when we could laugh off such views by extremists like Weinstein. But the political climate has become increasingly hostile to religious liberties and all threats must be watched more carefully.
The issue, of course, is not that Weinstein's views will be adopted wholesale by the military. The concern is that when the outer boundary of what is considered legitimate opinion expand, what is considered the "center" shifts away from commonsense and rationality. When folks like Weinsten are taken seriously when they call evangelicals "pathologically anti-gay, Islamophobic, and rabidly intolerant agitators" it makes it easier for the public to say, "That's going a bit far. Why not just call them bigots?"