MRFF Opposes Troops’ Religious Freedom at Easter
Last September, Chris Rodda, a researcher for Michael Weinstein and his Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote an article enumerating her “Top Ten” list of Christian travesties in the US military, emphasizing acts which “convince the Muslims we’re on a crusade.” A less combative version of this same list was re-published in the US Air Force’s Attitudes Aren’t Free just a few weeks ago.
At number 8, Rodda lists this rather interesting way in which the US military is showing the Muslim world America is on a crusade:
8. Plant crosses in Muslim lands and make sure they’re big enough to be visible from really far away
She went on to say
But now, in Iraq and Afghanistan…[there is] a flaunting of Christianity in these Muslim lands by Christian troops and chaplains who feel that nothing comes before their right to exercise their religion, even if it means putting the safety of their fellow troops at risk. Numerous reports and photos received by MRFF, like the one below, as well as photos posted on official military websites, show conspicuously displayed Christian symbols, such as large crosses, being erected on and around our military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The picture to which she is referring is here:
She’s right, of course. Members of the US military have raised large crosses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now why on earth would they do that?
Take another look at Rodda’s ‘evidence of a crusade.’ Note the unique attributes of the picture. Not one cross, but three. A yellow cloth over the center cross, even the low sun angle…
The US Army Soldiers in the picture were celebrating Easter.
Over these next two weeks US military members around the world will celebrate both Jewish Passover and Christian Easter, each in accordance with their faith. As routinely repeated here, US military Chaplains take extraordinary steps to reach troops even in remote locations, though many small outposts will probably still not see a Jewish or Christian Chaplain even during these significant religious events. Still, as noted earlier, the US military has already taken the extra effort–and expense–to produce and ship resources for American troops to use in those celebrations, including specific Passover meals and even Palm fronds for the recent Palm Sunday.
With regard to Easter, those whose missions allow will likely have the opportunity to attend outdoor sunrise services, as many Christian denominations traditionally do. It is a distinct possibility that these Easter services will be held in the presence of large crosses, as the cross is one symbol inseparable from the significance of Easter to Christians. In some traditions, this cross is the same one previously displayed during Good Friday services, and its connection to those events is central to the Christian faith. In Catholic and some Protestant traditions, there may be many crosses in the remembrance of the Stations of the Cross.
Despite the significance of these religious events to US servicemembers, it is astonishing that a “religious freedom” organization, which claims it supports religious free exercise as protected by the US Constitution, actually objects to the free exercise of American troops…at least when they’re Christians. In 2009 Weinstein’s MRFF publicized a complaint about military Chaplains in Bahrain using temporary crosses to commemorate the Stations of the Cross during Easter. Now, Rodda and Weinstein object to military Christians using crosses in their celebrations of Easter itself.
Rodda is correct when she says there are “numerous” photos, even on official websites, of these Easter celebrations with crosses. That’s because the US military still supports religious freedom, even if she and Weinstein do not. Despite the hardships that men and women in the US military endure, Easter services–complete with crosses “big enough to be visible from really far away”–are held each year on US Navy ships, in US Army outposts, and on US Air Force bases around the world. When the mission allows, the US military goes out of its way to accommodate the religious exercise of its members, whether for Passover, Easter, Ramadan, or something else.
Despite Rodda’s inflammatory remarks to the contrary, there is no evidence the celebration of Easter by any American servicemember has put “the safety of…troops at risk.” Despite Rodda’s inaccurate insinuations, during this global war there has never been a single public accusation–from Muslims or anyone else–that the United States or its military has planted crosses as a means to acquire, conquer, occupy, or otherwise achieve its ends in any region or territory.
To date there is no evidence of objection by any Afghan or Iraqi official to the presence of non-Islamic faiths in the US military or their public celebration by American troops. In fact, the photo above reportedly came from Iraq, which still has a small population of Christians who also celebrate Easter, and the Iraqi government broadcasts Easter services on state television. (In addition, the crucifixion is a historically recognized event in Islam, if a slightly different version of it.)
Consistent with their common practice, neither Rodda nor Weinstein provide any verifiable evidence to support her accusations of endangerment or crusade.
If the US military believes the public presence of non-Islamic faiths is detrimental to the mission, it can legimately restrict public religious displays. (In a relevant comparison, consider the US decision not to fly the American flag prominently during its mission in Haiti.) However, in the nearly nine years of this global conflict it has never restricted such displays, nor in all that time has there been a single recorded incident of any kind related to the use of crosses during Easter celebrations by US military troops.
The complete lack of evidence to substantiate these accusations is of no consequence to either Weinstein or his researcher Chris Rodda. Instead, in an apparent loss of connection with reality they have fabricated offense and derided an entire faith group based on hypothetical events. With no evidence whatsoever they have unjustly accused Christians in the military of endangering American lives and damaging the reputation of their country.
The degree to which Weinstein and Rodda have manufactured outrage is made more evident by their singling out of the public expression of Christianity. If their concern for the welfare of American servicemembers due to public religious expression had been genuine, they would have made equivalently outlandish claims about the other faiths displayed by American forces, as well as public displays of other basic American freedoms (and the resulting perceptions of “Americanization” of Muslim lands).
Apparently Weinstein and Rodda have no problem with public 12-foot tall Jewish Menorahs, Sukkahs “big enough to be seen from really far away”, or public pagan bonfires on US military bases in Muslim lands around the world…just the public celebration of Christianity. (After all, everyone knows the “Muslim world” has no problem with Judaism or paganism, just Christianity.) From the perspective of religious freedom in the US military, however, each of these should be treated equally. Under the Constitutional protections of religious free exercise–something the MRFF claims to support–there is no basis for one religious tradition to be restricted while others are not.
Michael Weinstein and his “foundation” actually object to servicemembers’ religious free exercise in the celebration of an event fundamental to their faith. This is not the first time Weinstein has vilified Christianity in the military. Weinstein has not only consistently failed to protect troops’ legitimate religious freedom, he has also raised money at the expense of it.
Though purportedly created to defend the religious liberties of US servicemembers, Weinstein’s “religious freedom” organization is, in fact, a farce. As demonstrated here, Weinstein picks and chooses the religious freedoms he will support and oppose–irrespective of the Constitution–in order to support his own ends. Fortunately, as Weinstein’s extremism is more widely recognized and his conspiracy theories have failed to materialize, he has been largely relegated to the margins.