Michael Weinstein Interprets Religious Regulations for Air Force

Michael Weinstein was once jokingly referred to as the new Secretary of the Air Force after his apparent easy access to — and influence of — Air Force leaders was revealed.  It seems Weinstein himself is now trying to fulfill that “role.”

On 19 September Ms. Deborah Lee James, nominee for Secretary of the Air Force, testified at the Senate Armed Services Committee and was asked several questions about military religious freedom by Senator David Vitter (R-La).

As noted in the Air Force Times — not in their news, but in commentator Robert Dorr’s opinion column — Vitter brought up several “documented cases” of restrictions on religious liberty:

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., asked James if it’s acceptable for an airman to have a Bible on his desk or for a chaplain to end a prayer “in Jesus’ name.”…

James told Vitter: “Having a Bible on your desk, that doesn’t seem like it should be banned.”

James’ answer is consistent with what the Air Force has officially said to date.  In May of this year, Air Force spokeswoman LtCol Laura Tingley told blogger William Throckmorton, in response to that same allegation: 

I can tell you that military members are allowed to have religious materials on their desks.

Thus, the Air Force has decided its policies allow its Airmen to have religious texts on their desks.  That seems to undermine the accusation against the Air Force (which was Throckmorton’s point, claiming it was a unproven hyperbole).

But enter Michael Weinstein, who says the story of the punished Bible-possessing officer had better be accurate, because Weinstein has decided Air Force Secretary nominee James is wrong about Air Force regulations [emphasis added]:

“If she thinks it’s perfectly fine for a commander to have a Bible on his desk, she’s aligning herself with extremists,” Weinstein said. “She needs to read Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.11 about religion in the workplace.”

Weinstein said the Air Force instruction prohibits the scripture of any branch of religion, not just Christianity.

Vitter and James seemed to be talking about an everyday airman on duty, not about a commander. That doesn’t satisfy Weinstein.

“She is starting out on the wrong foot,” Weinstein said. “Her remark about the Bible is not a small thing.”

So the incoming leader of the US Air Force answers a question consistent with Air Force policy to date — and Weinstein, who spent but a couple of years in the Air Force in the early 80s, has the gall to tell her what he thinks Air Force Instructions say?  And having a Bible on a desk is the mark of an “extremist?”  Seems like Weinstein is revealing his conspiracy theories.  Again.

For the record, AFI 1-1 para 2.11 — which has been Weinstein’s “go to” regulation since the Air Force published it — says [unedited]

2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.

Nothing in there about Bibles on desks, but Weinstein should probably try reading the next paragraph — though he likely ignores it because he knows it wouldy undermine his crusade.

Also for the record, Dorr isn’t exactly objective on this topic himself, previously saying the US military should kick out officers who dare to let their religion be known.  Dorr declined to note that Weinstein once advertised Dorr’s books to MRFF supporters, coincidentally timed with Dorr’s favorable columns on his “charity.”

Dorr does admit he thinks “religion belongs at home or in the chapel,” though as a columnist his opinion on the topic carries little weight.

In a similar vein, Weinstein surely knew about the Air Force’s statement from May, as Throckmorton and MRFF research assistant Chris Rodda are veritable pen pals.  That he chose to ignore the Air Force’s own official position on its own regulations indicates both his arrogance and the authority he seems to think he wields.

In the end, Weinstein appears to be testing that authority over the Air Force.  A few months ago, Rodda bragged he got a chow hall poster pulled down in under an hour.

Today?  Don’t hold your breath for an Air Force press release confirming Weinstein’s interpretation of their rules.

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