Weinstein Sues Chaplain over Prayers

According to a court filing, Michael Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and his wife Bonnie are suing Jim Ammerman and Gordon James Klingenschmitt.  Ammerman is the head of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, which is also named in the suit.  The CFGC was one of Klingenschmitt’s endorsing agencies.  Klingenschmitt is a former US Navy Chaplain who was court-martialed and discharged after he disobeyed orders not to appear in uniform at a protest event.

Weinstein filed the suit due to the allegedly threatening remarks from the defendants.  The accusations against Ammerman in the lawsuit are somewhat vague:

[Ammerman] made speeches and statements attacking Mikey and his family and containing virulent anti-Semitic comments.  He described Mikey as a madman…and said other hurtful and despicable things.

Weinstein seems to say that Ammerman’s comments were offensive, but does not say that they were threatening.  In response to Ammerman’s speeches, Weinstein said he was “undeterred.”  His main concern was that Klingenschmitt was “Ammerman’s…henchman.”

Klingenschmitt publicized an “imprecatory prayer” quoting the Psalms asking God to, among other things, make Weinstein’s “days be few:”

Let us pray. Almighty God, today we pray imprecatory prayers from Psalm 109 against the enemies of religious liberty, including Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein, who issued press releases this week attacking me personally. God, do not remain silent, for wicked men surround us and tell lies about us. We bless them, but they curse us. Therefore find them guilty, not me. Let their days be few, and replace them with Godly people. Plunder their fields, and seize their assets. Cut off their descendants, and remember their sins, in Jesus’ name. Amen. (emphasis added)

Weinstein asserts that this was a call to violence:

Klingenschmitt, on behalf of Ammerman and the CFGC, issued a “fatwah” against Mikey…[calling] upon his followers to commit violence against, or even kill, Michael Weinstein and even his family…

[Klingenschmitt] is appealing to [his] followers, using Biblical quotes as a code, urging [them] to acts of imminent violence…Plaintiffs justifiably live in fear of imminent violence against their person and their family.

Weinstein’s choice of the phrase “imminent violence” is important.  The Supreme Court has previously ruled that offensive, and even violent, speech is protected under the Constitution, unless there is the spectre of imminent lawless action.  See, for example, Brandenburg v Ohio (1969):

Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle Weinstein has to overcome in order to prevail in this lawsuit is…himself.  While he hasn’t engaged in public prayers, he is guilty of many of his own accusations.  Weinstein’s own

conduct [has been] intentional and reckless…extreme and outrageous

which is how he describes the defendants’.  His colorful and vitriolic language over the past few years is littered with violence and threats.

Weinstein has said he is “engaged in…a bloody battle that only ends with the last person standing.”  He has expressed a desire to leave “sucking chest wounds” in those who oppose him.  He “challenged” now-disgraced Pastor Ted Haggard to a fight “behind the junior high school,” expressed a desire to box Rush Limbaugh, and with respect to Klingenschmitt specifically, Weinstein has said:

I would like to beat the [expletive] out of him in a boxing ring or in an alley behind a Safeway.

It would seem Weinstein has his own history of making violent threats.

Weinstein must also overcome his own contradictions.  In May, Weinstein felt so imminently threatened by these prayers that he chose to further publicize them himself.  He distributed what he now calls a “terroristic threat” as a fundraising push on his website.  Also, just three months ago, Weinstein said of these same imprecatory prayers:

Weinstein has had graffiti sprayed on his house, dead animals left on his doorstep, and bullets shot through his windows. A little prayer, he said, doesn’t bother him. (emphasis added)

(The most recent of the acts of vandalism cited occurred in 2008.)  What was once a badge of honor for Weinstein (and a source of fundraising) is now, months later, a source of imminent violence.

Ironically, Weinstein even used “hurtful and despicable” speech–something he decried in the filing–in the very court filing itself.  He misuses the politically-charged and religiously-sensitive Arabic term fatwa, despite the fact that his own researcher faced significant criticism when she used the same term to describe Klingenschmitt’s prayers earlier this year.  (In Islam, a fatwa is a religious opinion, not a “call to commit violence…or even kill,” as Weinstein says it is.)  It is a prejudicial and insensitive use of a term that advances a negative stereotype of the Islamic faith–something Weinstein says he fights against.

At best, Weinstein’s lawsuit may be a case of a pot calling the kettle black.  At worst, it is another example of Weinstein demanding that others conduct themselves to a standard he himself is unwilling to uphold.

Ultimately, this legal action is little different than any of Weinstein’s previous lawsuits.  His other lawsuits (this is his fourth in four years) have all included laundry lists of accusations unrelated to the primary complaint.  His apparent intent was to use his co-plaintiff as a vehicle to achieve his other objectives.

In this lawsuit, he acknowledges his prior objections to Ammerman and his own campaign to eliminate the CFGC.  He has reportedly said he wants to “cripple” the CFGC.  He cites no specifics against them, except the unsubstantiated accusation that Klingenschmitt was acting on their behalf.  By including them in the lawsuit, however, he may be able to achieve his aim of shutting the CFGC down; he also gains access to their finances for his monetary gain (he is suing for monetary damages), which would ostensibly be more than that of a former military Chaplain.

For his part, Klingenschmitt has denied praying for violence, and called Weinstein a

paranoid megalomaniac who has a history of anti-Christian persecution

Weinstein will gain publicity (and notoriety), but there is a low likelihood he will prevail.  It is unlikely he will make the case for imminent violence, as his assertion is inconsistent with Weinstein’s own words to date (and, interestingly, with the fact that Barry Lynn isn’t suing).

If he were to prevail, it would have an interesting impact on people who have publicly admitted praying imprecatory prayers against the President–at least one of whom has reportedly been interviewed by the Secret Service without charges being filed.

The entire episode between Weinstein and Klingenschmitt is worthy of a grade school playground.  If Weinstein had had his way, that’s probably where it would have been settled.