New Religious Lawsuit against the US Military

According to a press release, Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation has sued the military on behalf of an Army soldier.  According to the announcement, an officer harassed Army Specialist Jeremy Hall when he attempted to convene a meeting of atheists.  (The text of the suit is not yet available.)

Updated 20 September:  The text of the lawsuit is available hereSee the new post for latest commentary.

The lawsuit apparently names the Defense Secretary Robert Gates as defendant because the incident is evidence of “a pattern of military practices that discriminate against non-Christians in the military,” which he allegedly permitted in his role as Defense Secretary.

Much like his Academy lawsuit, it appears that Weinstein is attempting to aggrandize a discrete event into a larger opportunity.  A niche news article on the suit (which has yet to be seen in the mainstream media) indicated that the assertions meandered from the soldier to other unrelated issues, like alleged military support of civilian Christian organizations as well as the recent Pentagon IG report (previous commentary).  Weinstein himself has implied that this goes ‘beyond’ the two men, and said that 

[W]e are boldly stabbing back against the evil heart of unconstitutional darkness, a contagion of fundamentalist religious supremacy and triumphalism noxiously dominating the command and control of the…United States armed forces.

With such hyperbolic bravado, it is highly likely that Weinstein intends to make the case far larger than an argument between an officer and a Specialist.  It may be difficult for Weinstein to prove the expanded case (alleged “institutional bias” as a basis for including military leadership in the suit) when even the lawsuit asserts that the soldier advertised the atheist group with the permission of the military chaplain.  On the basis of the few facts published, the case appears to be limited to a disagreement between two individuals in a superior/subordinate relationship.

The suit was filed in US District Court in Kansas (the Specialist is said to be based at Ft. Riley, Kansas), which may explain a previous ad campaign (here) by Weinstein to attract ‘military religious complainants’ in the state.  (Weinstein may have been looking for additional plaintiffs.  Alternatively, he may have chosen the venue first and then sought out plaintiffs in order to select the jurisdiction in which he would be heard.  In any case, he felt the need to advertise for litigants.)

Given the timeline implied (the alleged offense occurred last month), it is highly unlikely the Specialist utilized the grievance systems in place in the military.  Such a fact may work against the soldier, as it appears he failed to allow the military to address the issue prior to suing.  It will increase the challenge of proving “institutional religious coercion” if it appears the institution itself was not given the opportunity to address the issue.

The case is unique because it seeks to have an injunction instated against a superior officer by a subordinate.  The lawsuit asks the court to issue an order that would prevent the officer in question from

further engaging in behavior “that has the effect of establishing compulsory religious practices.”

Such a vague order, were it to be enacted, would be virtually unenforceable without defining such behavior.  (Notably, the verbiage is in line with the injunction he requested against the Air Force last year.  That case was dismissed with prejudice, and Weinstein has yet to fulfill his promise to “expeditiously” renew it.)  With the unclear injunction, the court would have to define and direct military behavior, something the judiciary has been loathe to do in the past.

Over the last year, Weinstein has been promising an “expeditious” and comprehensive lawsuit against the US military.  Given the limited scope of the alleged incident (and the speed with which it was filed), it appears he was unsuccessful in getting the high visibility “landmark” case he desired.  In any case, it appears he may get the publicity he desires.