Weinstein v Ammerman, Continued

In September, Michael and Bonnie Weinstein filed a civil lawsuit against the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches and Gordon Klingenschmitt.  The primary issue seems to be Klingenschmitt’s “imprecatory prayer” against Weinstein and Barry Lynn, as was noted in a previous analysis.  (Weinstein has amended his lawsuit twice in the intervening months, but only the original is currently publicly available.)  This case will be interesting for religious freedom in general, not just in the military, since it may delineate what control–if any–the government is willing to place on public prayer.  Initial commentators, including allies of the Weinsteins, doubted they would succeed in their suit.  However, despite the initial furor, there has been little in the media since.

The case continues, however.  It appears one of the initial issues will be jurisdiction, which is a legitimate question in this case.  Weinstein is a resident of New Mexico, the CFGC is headquartered in Texas, and Klingenschmitt is presumed to be a resident of Colorado.  Weinstein is suing in Texas district court.  Since the CFGC is in Dallas, it would appear to make sense that Weinstein would sue the CFGC in Texas.

However, the CFGC’s connection to the complaint is tenuous.  As noted already, the precipitating action in this litigation appears to be a prayer by Klingenschmitt, not anything done or said by the CFGC or its head, Jim Ammerman.  The CFGC’s role in the prayer is nonexistent, except insomuch as Klingenschmitt is a Chaplain sponsored by the organization.

In the lawsuit, Weinstein connects the CFGC and Klingenschmitt by saying that Klingenschmitt is the CFGC’s “henchman” and “called upon his followers to commit violence, or even kill, Michael Weinstein…” on the CFGC’s behalf.

From a purely academic standpoint, it appears that Klingenschmitt is Weinstein’s conduit to the CFGC, rather than the other way around.  This is particularly true since Weinstein said he “was undeterred” by Ammerman’s actions, which seems to make Klingenschmitt’s prayer the impetus for the lawsuit.  Those conditions seem to make Klingenschmitt the primary plaintiff, not the CFGC.

Klingenschmitt, however, is not a resident of Texas.  If the justice system agrees that he is the “actual” defendant, rather than the CFGC, then a Texas court does not appear to be the proper venue for such litigation.

Why, then, would Weinstein sue a Colorado resident in Texas?  It is possible that, despite the fact he was the primary actor, Klingenschmitt isn’t the intended “target.” As Weinstein notes in the lawsuit (in statements quite irrelevant to the charge at hand), Weinstein’s MRFF has challenged the CFGC’s “right…to be an official “endorser” of Chaplains” in the US military.  Thus, Klingenschmitt’s prayer may have simply provided a vehicle (albeit not a good one) with which to go after the CFGC, which Weinstein has previously called a “filthy, bigoted…blight” and a “national security threat” as grave as Islamic terrorists.

Given that Weinstein is asking for “compensatory damages,” it would appear he may plan to go after the CFGC’s finances as a means to his end.  Since he is suing in his personal capacity, it would seem he–and not the MRFF–would personally benefit from a winning case.  Interestingly, shortly after this incident, the MRFF took pains to point out that Weinstein had been “exhausting [his] personal assets for the mission of [the] MRFF.”  That is no small feat for a man who traded in his yellow Viper in 2006 (which may have replaced the red one he had in 2004) for a Lotus, and who took home compensation of more than $250,000 from his non-profit organization in 2008.  Like many non-profits in the current economy, however, the MRFF has been making persistent pleas for cash and Weinstein may, in fact, be short on money (as, ironically enough, the CFGC may be as well).

The basis for involving the CFGC, according to the lawsuit, appears to be the supposition that Klingenschmitt was retaliating against the MRFF for its attacks on the CFGC’s endorsement authority.  Weinstein’s suit says:

those actions by [Weinstein] and the MRFF are what led to the Defendants to [sic] threaten [Weinstein’s] life and the lives of his loved ones.

Except…publicly available information disagrees.  In fact, the “co-victim” of Klingenschmitt’s prayer, Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, flatly recognized that the motivation for the prayer was the AU/MRFF letter to the Secretary of the Navy complaining that Klingenschmitt was still calling himself “Chaplain” and using pictures of himself in a Navy uniform.  (Within the prayer itself Klingenschmitt even references the “press releases this week attacking [him] personally.”)  Lynn said:

We wrote to Navy officials, arguing that Klingenschmitt was attempting to mislead people, as he is a former chaplain.

I guess we got Klingenschmitt’s attention because he has now placed a disclaimer on this Web site admitting he’s no longer in the military. Andover the weekend he called on supporters to launch “imprecatory” prayers against AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn and MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein. (italics original, underlining added)

The Religion News Service came to a similar conclusion.  Answering its own question about why Klingenschmitt offered the prayer:

The reason? Lynn and Weinstein had chided Klingenschmitt for not identifying himself as a former, not current, naval chaplain on his Web site.

(In the same article, which came out well before Weinstein’s legal action, Weinstein undermined his own future lawsuit when he said Klingenschmitt was free to pray:

A little prayer, [Weinstein] said, doesn’t bother him.

“They can keep doing it every hour of every day,” Weinstein said, “but it is hurtful, wrong, damaging, un-American, un-Jewish, un-Christian and, at the end of the day, un-human to be praying for harm and death.”)

Thus, it had nothing to do with the CFGC, and nothing to do with the MRFF’s actions against the endorsement powers of the CFGC.  Weinstein’s attempt to connect the CFGC to the “threats” in Klingenschmitt’s prayer may not stand.  If they do not, and he loses the CFGC as a defendant, it is possible that the court will not have jurisdiction over the remaining defendant, who does not appear to be a Texas resident.

The issue of jurisdiction has yet to be decided, and, predictably, Motions to Dismiss and Quash have already been filed.  Currently, a trial date is set for late 2010.