Weinstein Speaks, Cadets Listen…Impatiently
If ever Michael Weinstein needed proof that cadets could not be brainwashed by religious propaganda, it was his own presence at the Air Force Academy Wednesday afternoon that provided it.
Weinstein was invited to speak at the Academy after he complained about the speakers at February’s Academy Assembly, the topic of which was “Dismantling Terrorism.”
Unlike any of the previous speakers, however, Weinstein made no claim to have any authority on the ongoing war on terrorism. Instead, Weinstein has made a name for himself, and the “foundation” he created, by repeatedly suing the US military for its alleged support of Christianity. Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), formed just a few years ago, has sued the Air Force Academy for Christian favoritism (the suit was dismissed), more recently sued the Secretary of Defense on behalf of a Kansas soldier (notably, after running ads seeking plaintiffs), and even threatened to add the Academy Assembly incident to his current lawsuit.
Weinstein did not even suggest he would offer a “balancing” perspective on Islam or global terrorism, which is what other advocacy groups had called for. Instead, he said he wanted to “deprogram” the cadets from the content they heard in February. While the point of the Academy Assembly was terrorism, Weinstein very evidently made Christianity the topic of his MRFF symposium.
For years Weinstein said his issue (or “war”) was not with Christianity but with a “sect.” Now, however, he has dropped the adjectives and simply accuses all “fundamentalist Christians” of “treason.” He has routinely equated American Christians with the Taliban and the Nazis. The Aspen Times quoted Weinstein saying “fundamentalist Christians” were
homophobic, misogenistic (sic), anti-Semitic and Islamophobic [with] a virulent desire to subordinate the Constitution [to] the weaponized gospel of Jesus Christ.
Famous for his alliterative hyperbole, Weinstein planned to counter this “pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice” of Christians “raping” the Constitution by showing portions of a just-released film (in which he and his family play a role), which, according to its own website, focuses on
Christian anti-Semitism as the model for all religious hatred, exposing the cross as a symbol of a long history of violence against Jews and Moslems.
In short, he counters the alleged accusation that “Islam is the devil” with his own gentler, more tolerant perspective: “Christianity is the devil.”
As it turns out, a complaint by the Catholic League that claimed the film was anti-Catholic led the Academy to prohibit the showing of the film clip (which apparently led to a delay in the forum while Weinstein’s group was convinced of the decision). To the Superintendent’s credit, he realized he could be held responsible for the film’s content, and he had not yet screened it.
In response, the MRFF tried to defend the content of the film by pointing out that 96 percent of the 7,500 people who had contacted the MRFF were of a Christian faith, as though that somehow assuages the allegation that the film was anti-Catholic. While that statistic may be impressive, however, Weinstein has sued the military twice (not including his re-filing of the same suit or multiple motions) with six plaintiffs—zero percent of whom have been Christians.
In a subsequent press release, the president of the Catholic League thanked the Superintendent for canceling the video clip. In that release, the Superintendent was also quoted as saying that the forum was “not about religious intolerance;” it was about “the war on terror.” The mere presence of Michael Weinstein—a political activist with no connection to the war on terror—brings that statement into question.
Weinstein has no authority or legitimate reason for addressing cadets at the Academy on topics of Islam or terrorism. In fact, he has little credibility for speaking to cadets at all. While it is notable that the other two MRFF speakers do have some recognized credentials on the topics of Islam or global terrorism, both are members of Weinstein’s MRFF board and are on the record sharing his views. Weinstein himself already had a forum at which he expressed his views on religion to Academy cadets during his April 2007 debate with ACLJ lawyer Jay Sekulow.
In the end, however, it was the cadets who had the last laugh—almost literally. More than one cadet was quoted saying that some of the content was nothing more than “propaganda.” Cadets who challenged the speakers were roundly applauded by the crowd, and the local news reported that the cadets even chuckled at the speakers. While the news report also said the cadets were chided for “not listening,” cadets reported that Weinstein said “I can’t believe we’ve been at this for over an hour and you still don’t get it.” That is, it wasn’t that they weren’t listening; it was that they weren’t agreeing.
The basic premise of the MRFF forum was that because the US military is overtly supporting Christianity, it is “losing” the war on terror. The cadets appeared to generally disagree. As demonstrated by the comments and reactions, Air Force Academy cadets may not be the ‘malleable and ignorant children’ that Weinstein seems to think they are. Whether or not you agree with the topic, the cadets demonstrated critical thinking and a resistance to persuasion by emotional (and largely unsubstantiated) argument. They also recognized that just because three people sit in the front of the room and profess a worldview, it doesn’t make it so. This is true whether the three are “former Islamic terrorists” or members of the MRFF who have been “waging a war” against Christianity for “the past 50 months.”
Weinstein is a monied lawyer with a political agenda and an ongoing lawsuit against the military. While academic freedom and opposing viewpoints at the Academy are to be lauded, it is disappointing that the Air Force Academy added legitimacy to an otherwise academically inconsequential agitator. Regardless of the reception, though, Weinstein got the publicity and attention he desired.
Cadets can sometimes be a cynical bunch. They generally dislike feel-good focus groups, political correctness, and mandatory formations. They also abhor being treated like children. Weinstein has continuously insinuated that Air Force Academy cadets are incapable of strong, independent, or critical thought. If his reception Wednesday was any indication, they have certainly proven him wrong. Bravo for them.
A local news clip, which contains video of some of the forum, can be seen here.