Weinstein Targets Travis AFB Nativity, Menorah

[Update: In a brilliant move, Travis AFB is inviting the local press to come see the “holiday” display today.  Officials also indicated the issue was being elevated, since, as noted below, Travis is far from the only military facility to have religious displays during Hanukkah and Christmas.]

Michael Weinstein, the single paid officer of his personally-founded charitable “foundation,” has threatened Travis Air Force Base with legal action.

Because they put up a nativity scene and a Menorah.

In case you hadn’t noticed, it is approaching Christmas and Hanukkah.  It is traditional during this time of year for military bases around the world to light Christmas trees, have visits from Santa (he arrives by plane), erect nativities and Menorahs, and sponsor what is often known as a “holiday card lane.”  This confluence of events is an acknowledgement of the celebrations in which a vast majority of military members — and American citizens — partake.

The issue of “holiday” trees has already been discussed.  Though the legal letter fails to mention it, the nativity and Menorah at issue are part of the Holiday Card Lane at Travis AFB.  Traditionally, Air Force bases allow units, individuals, and organizations to create “holiday cards,” often out of 4×8 sheets of plywood.  There may or may not be other criteria in place, like whether or not the cards can have lights or need to be fastened down to the ground. These cards are lined up along an avenue of the base.  Sometimes, they are judged in contests or inaugurated simultaneously with the tree-lighting (as were the ones at Travis).

The only thing Weinstein takes issue with, however, is the nativity and Menorah. Why?  The letter from Jones Day, written by attorney Katherine Ritchey, interestingly never mentions Weinstein by name.  It says 

I understand that you recently erected, on public grounds, a large religious display featuring a Nativity scene and a Menorah, both of which are clearly accessible to a main road in the town of Fairfield, California.

This conspicuous display of ritual objects is a clear endorsement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and must either be removed from the premises or moved to a more appropriate location on the Air Force Base to ensure compliance with the United States Constitution.

While Weinstein likes to put “prestigious” in front “Jones Day,” next time he might want to spend a little more money on a non-“prestigious” lawyer who is actually going to look at what she’s writing about.  To wit:

The display contains…a large Nativity scene featuring figures of the baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the wise men of Nazareth…

Ignoring the reference to Nazareth, which has nothing to do with the Christmas story, it seems Ms. Ritchey didn’t even look at the pictures her client provided.  The pictures of Travis AFB, reprinted on FoxNews, clearly show seven figurines:  Joseph, Mary, Jesus, two lambs/sheep, a donkey, and cow.  So unless Ritchey is trying to say the “wise men” walked on all fours and said “baa,” its pretty clear she’s complaining out of reflex, or she’s complaining about something other than the Travis AFB nativity.  It’s almost as if she had a form letter for complaining about nativities and didn’t pause long enough to see this one was different.


Travis AFB’s display includes, to our knowledge, only one secular object, a single “Happy Holidays” sign containing an image of Santa Claus.

Again, looking at the photos her client provided, there are clearly at least 13 additional displays.  Comments on other websites from Travis AFB personnel indicate there may be as many as 25 total displays along the lane.

It seems Jones Day finally read the internet comments and sent another letter to Travis AFB wing commander Col Dwight C. Sones a few days later.  One problem, though:  After such a thorough (though erroneous) criticism, how could they maintain their claim without losing face?  Apparently, this way:

We erroneously stated that there are Wise Men in the Nativity Scene installation. We have also learned that there may be other displays on the base.

We do not believe that either of these two additional pieces of information changes our analysis that using the Nativity Scene and Menorah, or other religious symbols, as the prominent element of the display on the main thoroughfare violates the First Amendment.

How convenient.  If that’s the case, why use that logic to begin with?  Not content to surrender quite yet, they ask the Air Force to help them build their case…against the Air Force:

We would, however, appreciate if you would provide us with further information regarding all installations, including their size, content, and proximity to the Nativity scene and Menorah.

The lawyer’s original letter demanded the removal of the nativity and Menorah:

we request that the Travis AFB immediately either remove the religious display from its premises, or move it to a more appropriate location on the base.

Todd Starnes, saying “Anti-Nativity Group Declares War on Travis AFB,” described Weinstein’s MRFF as an “organization dedicated to cleansing the military of religious symbols.”  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called Weinstein’s legal threat “yet another flyby-attack on Christianity.”

“No one is forced to stand in front of the Nativity, and salute it, but people in this country should have the right to celebrate Christmas and what it means,” Perkins told Fox News & Commentary.

Unfortunately, the Air Force may have brought some of this on itself.  Michael Weinstein likes to throw mud against the wall and see what sticks.  A few years ago, for example, an IG investigation ignored his accusations of religious favoritism but did chastise officers for “endorsement of a non-Federal entity.”  As a result, that was the line of attack Weinstein and his group used for some time thereafter.  When Weinstein finds a weakness, he continues to pick, poke, and prod it at every opportunity.  When the military grimaces, he refines his attack based on their reaction.  Even if the action wasn’t favorable to him, it gives him information on how to attack the next time.

Thus, when the US Air Force Academy gave the public the inaccurate impression that “faith based” activities were restricted to the chaplaincy (in re: Operation Christmas Child), it gave Weinstein his latest blood in the water:  He’ll demand displays of faith be restricted to chaplains or the chapel grounds, a restriction for which there is no Constitutional or legal basis.

In truth, this isn’t the first controversy over a “holiday card lane,” but because the situation was previously reversed, it didn’t make the news:

At another Air Force base, the “holiday card lane” was adjacent to the chapel grounds, but was conspicuously missing the nativity and Menorah.  When wondering troops asked why, they were told the chapel displays were “too religious” and weren’t erected over concerns that someone would complain.  Only after a few assertive chaplains and troops pointed out the asinine logic — as well as questionable legality — of such a restriction were the displays allowed to be put up.

In the end, does Weinstein’s complaint matter?

Contrary to Ritchey’s poorly researched legal threat, a “reasonable person” doesn’t drive by a nativity and think the Air Force is endorsing Christianity, or endorsing Judaism by the Menorah next to it.  (Some probably realize that Judaism and the nativity are mutually exclusive, though that obviously escapes the critics.) A “reasonable person” drives past those displays and thinks it must be the season of Christmas/Hanukkah.

Some bases have large “holiday card lanes.”  Some have none.  Some have nativities and Menorahs on chapel grounds, some at other locations on the base.

Banning religious displays, one option the lawyer provides, is patently impermissible.  Otherwise, a military base can certainly choose to have its religious displays on the chapel grounds (though Weinstein would probably then complain the chapels were hostile toward the other faiths who might use them).  Creating a policy restricting the displays to chapel grounds, however, is problematic, because it is a restriction based purely on religious content — something Weinstein, a critic of the Constitutional protection of religious freedom, likely knows may be illegal.

The display of a nativity and Menorah on the Air Force Base is not unConstitutional.  It is absolutely a religious display, and unless it inhibits the mission, the Air Force should follow DoD policy and accommodate the display of both the nativity and Menorah.

To target religious displays for restriction based on their religious content would be an affront to the Constitution and may create the perception of an environment hostile to faith in the military, degrading the religious liberty of American troops.

Travis AFB indicated the letter was undergoing legal review.  This is the perfect opportunity for the JAGs to publicly show Weinstein the door.

Still, think this will end anytime soon?  Not likely.  In fact, maybe next year military atheists will join their civilian counterparts and demand the ability to denigrate Christianity in displays near the nativity and Menorah.


  • There is no “Christian Air Force” or Christian Army, Christian Navy, Christian Marine Corps, Christian Coast Guard Christian National Guard or Christian Reserves yet many extreme Christians serving in our military would have you believe that our armed forces are uniquely Christian in nature and follow Christian doctrine and Christian Biblical scripture.

    These extremists are known as “Dominion Christians” and are dedicated to the premise that an extreme Christian world view is the singular necessary view.

    Command centered and coercive Christian proselytizing has nearly turned the US Air Force Academy into a seminary and outbreaks of exclusive and dogmatic Christian displays, such as that which has been erected at Travis, dot military reservations world-wide.

    Rather than accept the fact that America is a secular, pluralistic nation in which all religions may flourish but none dominate, Dominionists use every opportunity to achieve domination in the public as well as religious squares.

    Exclusive religious displays are prohibited on military reservations and other government venues except in appropriate designated areas associated with that particular religion, such as Chapel grounds. Other than appropriate displays, Government cannot elevate, advance, recommend, prefer or proselytize any religion over another or religion over non-religion. The display of unique religious symbols in such a way as to expose them to considerable civilian view implies a government endorsement of that faith.

    To display these exclusive religious symbols is unconstitutional under several different US Supreme Court rulings such as (Lemon Vs. Kurzman 1971). Although these are serious violations many Dominionist Christians in the armed forces who are high in the chain of command either look the other way or actively participate in fostering them.

    Blatant disregard for the constitutional provisions designed to protect more moderate Christians and those in minority religions or non-religious belief is an act of Dominion Christian dominance and a grievous attack on our pluralistic system.

    The MRFF has stood alone in most cases of egregious Dominionist violation but recently other groups have begun to see and understand that MRFF is not seeking to diminish religion in the armed forces but rather seeks to provide religious freedom for all members. A notable example is a letter from California Church Impact, a 1.5 million member Christian organization to Travis Air Force Base Chain of Command that backs MRFF to the hilt. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is very active in these and civil government violations such as in public schools.

    The constitution is the one thing that stands between Christian Dominion hegemony in the armed forces and religious equity. It is that constitution, when backed by the strength of its true charter and adherents who have sworn to protect and support it that provides the relief so desperately needed by many of our young men and women in the armed forces who have found themselves in the grip of Dominionist commanders. MRFF is one such supporter and leads the effort to provide religious freedom for all service members and cadets.

  • @Richard
    Repeating the same tired arguments over and over again doesn’t suddenly give them veracity.

    It is asinine to assert the mere presence of a nativity or Menorah endorses religion (any more than the mere absence endorses atheism). Besides, didn’t you stop to think that its theologically impossible to “endorse” Christmas and Judaism simultaneously?

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  • @JD

    Well JD, your counterparts in Congress keep harping on the fact that America was founded on “JUDEO-CHRISTIAN’ principles. Unconstitutional displays of the Decalogue in government courtrooms and other venues are explained away as the foundation of “JUDEO-CHRISTIAN” law in America. That’s why I believe that Christian Dominionists could, in fact, endorse both religions in a clever attempt to sidestep the recourse for endorsing one.

  • @Richard
    Calm down and think for a second. The Ten Commandments are in both Christian and Jewish religious texts, because they use the same five books of the Bible. Thus, they (and the values from them) are often referred to as “Judeo-Christian.” That’s not at all the same as your assertion Christmas and Judaism are theologically compatible.

    Your statement that ‘dominionists’ would cleverly endorse mutually exclusive religions is just another indication of how far-fetched your tinfoil hat theories have become. You will let nothing, not even a Jewish soccer mom, undo your fantasies of Christians trying to take over the world.

    The Colorado Springs Gazette once had you down pretty well:

    Oh sure, there is often copious evidence to counter any popular conspiracy theory, but because these theories are vague, a true-believer can always come up with a way to either discount that particular piece of evidence or — even more cleverly — to show that the counter-evidence is in fact proof of an even wider conspiracy to cover up the truth — your basic “conspiracy wrapped in a deep-fried cover-up.”

    As noted at the time:

    MRFF board member Rick Baker fills the role of the clever “true believer” who can turn any refutation into further “proof” of a clandestine coup.

    No offense intended, but you really seem to be losing your grip on reality.

  • @JD

    Hi JD,

    My grip on reality is pretty firm. As it relates to Christian extremism, my grip on realty is confirmed by the thousands of instances of Christian misdeeds over the centuries and right up to present day as we witness Christian excesses in both civil and military venues.

    It is much like every perpetrator of criminal activity who says: “Who? Me? Our Dominonist friends are fey.

    But the Dominion Christian threat is all too real. Today’s Dominionist is little different from the Christian Dominionist of yore. Extremism remains extremism. And whether in crusade, pogrom, genocide or witch hunt, Dominionist Christians persist in one religion world rule.

    Dominionism is not far afield from Fascism ort Nazism. Totalitarianism is the order of the day.

    I will grant that, often, there are those who really don’t know they are involved in such heinoius activities. Perhaps even yourself. You simply have to ask the many thousands of Dominionists who have come to their senses and freed themselves of the millstone of horrific religiosity.

    You are invited to return to reality and join your fellow human beings in a celebration of sentient life. Until death, you belong to a thriving human poplation on Earth. What happens to you thereafter is your business. What you do on earth is society’s business.

  • @JD

    I forgot to mention thatn I was flattered that you are keeping records of my posting activity with other organs and their responses. This indicates that you think my correspondence is of interest to your audience. It also indicates a spirited defense against the evils of Non-Dominionism. LOL

  • @Richard
    Not sure what you’re talking about. Nothing here has anything to do with your posting activity or correspondence with other organizations.

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  • @JD

    JD, have you lost your bearings? You just pointed out how the Gazette had me “down pretty well.” You repeated a post they made concerining me.

    This indicates an interest above the norm for posts of my caliber and the single minded purpose of discrediting them.

    I forgive you.

  • @Richard
    Hate to break it to you, but the Gazette article wasn’t about you. It described the type of person you are to a T. (You apparently agree, since you think it was about you.)

    You don’t even bother to read the original sources linked in articles here that mention you. That probably explains why you’re so willing to believe wild conspiracy theories with no basis in fact.

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  • JD,

    I love you. Richard, I am sorry that something terrible happened to you…that obviously made you so hateful toward religion. YOU have the right to believe anything you want. What you don’t have the right to do is to tell others what to do. If someone did that to you, they were wrong. YOU should have told them where to go, instead of trying to “cover the world in carpet” by litigation that only serves to make you feel better about yourself. People have free will. Get over it. You can only litigate to a certain point…after that, people get tired of your crap and revolt. You cannot litigate a persons soul (or passion) away. And you certainly cannot convince a person not to believe. Get over it.

    As far as calling USAFA a “seminary” — absolute JOKE. I spent my time at USAFA and it’s just like any college…complete with just about every single moral infraction of any typical American college.

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  • Isn’t it funny how people scream freedom of religion when they are trying to knock everyone else from trying to celebrate their religion freely? If you don’t like Christmas cards, menorah or nativity scene being displayed, then just don’t look at them or ignore it. I am not a seriously religous person, I may go to church every now and again, but in my opinion, if someone wants to be faithful to their god, whatever it may be, that is THEIR freedom of religion. As is, if you look at the cards, they don’t say Merry Christmas, they say Happy Holidays, which clearly takes the christinanity out of it. One more thing…how many of these people who don’t believe in christian or Judism religions and speak out about it, took the holiday time off? I bet if you had to work, you would be upset that you didn’t get that time with your family, when it clearly shouldn’t matter since you don’t believe anyway. Why not just work? Nobody is asking you to believe in any religion and if anyone is, then just tell them your not interested. If they don’t back off, THEN make a complaint against THAT person. In turn, don’t try taking away everyone elses freedom to practice and express their religion to others that share the same values. Can’t you just look at the lights and think “wow, how pretty” and leave it at just that…Pretty lights? If you associate them with christmas, then that is your own problem for choosing to see them that way. If it makes you feel better, hang some of your own up during the middle of summer if you like. You can even make a card and put it out in front of your home wishing everyone a good day. They’re just lights and colorful pieces of wood man! Get over it and let people have THEIR freedom to practice THEIR religion. BTW, I once served with a guy who was an absolute devil worshiper. He was a pretty cool guy and I hung out with him quite often even though I didn’t personally like what he practiced or had up on his walls. The fact is, it was his perogative and his FREEDOM to believe what he wanted. It’s not mine or anyone elses business to take his freedom of belief away. Mind your business and let others mine theirs!