US Military Attempted to Influence Pastor over anti-Islam Film

Update: Terry Jones has indicated his response to General Dempsey was to ask, “How long do we appease Islam?  How far do we back down?”  He also said he is considering not showing the film, as the public reaction has demonstrated that Islam is “not a religion of peace.  It is a very dangerous religion.”

By now, most are probably aware of the murders of American embassy officials and the anti-Islam movie (as well as possible al Qaeda links) that is associated with it.

The Pentagon announced that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, called Pastor Terry Jones (of Koran-burning infamy), who had supported the film, to “express his concerns:”

“In the brief call, Gen Dempsey expressed his concerns over the nature of the film, the tensions it will inflame and the violence it will cause. He asked Mr. Jones to consider withdrawing his support for the film,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said.

Apparently, General Dempsey told Jones the film was “pornographic,” which is causing Jones to re-evaluate his support for it — meaning he apparently endorsed a film he hasn’t seen.

Meanwhile, US military leadership has received scathing criticism for its decision to engage an American civilian over an issue of American liberties: 

Some First Amendment experts believe the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff crossed a line by asking a Florida pastor to withdraw his support for an anti-Islam film…

Clay Calvert is director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, which is a non-partisan program of the University of Florida.  He said:

“The fact that a very, very powerful government official is reaching down to a pastor in Florida asking him to censor his own speech – in the greater good – supposedly preventing further violence upon American officials abroad” is an issue…

The Liberty Institute’s Hiram Sasser said

Here we have the third most powerful person in the Armed Forces calling a citizen and asking them to take an action in regards to squelching their free speech…That’s pretty drastic and extreme. I would interpret that as something more than a ‘polite ask from my neighbor.’

This is not the first time the US military has “condemned” private American citizens acting within their legal and Constitutionally-protected liberties.  While there is certainly some legitimate military concern over the topic, the critics question whether the US military should be engaging private citizens exercising their protected liberties — merely because religiously-motivated adversaries might be offended.

After all, has the US military ever considered banning Jews or homosexuals from military service simply because religious extremists use those groups as proof of the evils of the Western world? Has a member of the US military leadership condemned or called Bill Maher or the writers of South Park?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was one of the few who highlighted what has often been said here:  America’s response to others’ offense can be a teaching moment in which the US explains and demonstrates the value of freedom:

Gingrich…said that after the attacks, “We had an opportunity to stand up and say, ‘You know, it is true – some people in the United States might make a film that is totally whacked out.’”

“Sooner or later, we in the modern world have to say to those who are living in a different way, ‘Look, we stand for freedom,’” he said.

This teaching moment has apparently been lost, as even al Arabiya is carrying the story of the US military’s attempt to influence an American pastor.

Not to fear, surely the vocal critics of US military leaders using their positions of authority to influence individual’s religious freedom will be consistent and defend the right of Jones to partake in his speech.

In fact, one group — atheists — have come out in a virtual defense of Jones — even if somewhat reluctantly or implicitly.

On the other hand, religious freedom critic Michael Weinstein went full tinfoil hat, excoriating the film and citing implications the movie (produced by a self-described Israeli Jew in California) was really made by secretive Christians trying to start a world war:

The film is a mocking and inciting depiction of the life of the Prophet Mohammad that torturously, deceptively, and ignominiously attempts to tie the origins of Islam to themes of homosexuality and pedophilia, and a call to arms for Christian-Zionist proponents of an apocalyptic “Clash of Civilizations.” Some have even suggested  that the film was produced by a shady circle of exclusively evangelical Christians, hell-bent on intentionally feeding the flames of sectarian madness in the region.

(Weinstein also calls the film “hate speech,” while ignoring the fact he has frequently criticized Christianity in a “mocking and inciting” fashion.  But so long as its Christianity — and not Islam — such vitriol is apparently acceptable to Weinstein.)  Weinstein then uses his normal hyperbolic language to claim this, like virtually everything else with which he disagrees, is a “national security threat:”

We at MRFF absolutely condemn this provocation by Bacile and Jones… All Americans should condemn the fully-fledged national security threat that this vile strain of Islamophobic stupidity represents.

But listen carefully to why Weinstein feels that way [emphasis added]:

Radical, fundamentalist Islam is a clear and present danger that must be fought and defeated in the name of basic human rights. However, its adherents are a distinct minority within the broader mosaic that constitutes Islam. It is of the utmost importance that we…examine our nation’s own actions vis-a-vis the venerable Muslim faith and its nearly 2 billion followers as a means to ensure that we are notcreating and amplifying the Frankenstein’s monsters who are assailing us.

Weinstein seems to think that non-“radical” Muslims will be ‘turned’ by “our nation’s own actions.”  In other words, Weinstein is proposing that conduct offensive to Muslims not only “emboldens our enemies” (enemies he seems to think the US created), but also turns Islam’s “2 billion” otherwise moderate followers into holy warriors.

The logical conclusion, of course:  Restrict liberty in America to avoid offending Muslims.

Precisely what you’d expect to hear from a religious freedom charity, right?

In case you’re curious, Michael Weinstein once said he would “give [his] last drop of blood” and would commend his children to give “their last drop of blood” to support individual’s rights to hold and express religious beliefs — even those they found offensive — “because that’s your right as an American to believe that.”

It seems Weinstein has changed his mind, and thinks “believing that” is now a national security threat justifying government intervention.

There was once a nation that thought a similar thing as Weinstein — that a certain people group, which shared a religious faith, posed a grave threat to the nation.  Ultimately, they attempted to purge their country of those people.

The Allies defeated that country in World War II.