“So Help Me God”: Weinstein Gets USAFA Poster Pulled in 68 Minutes
Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, outspoken critic of Christians in the US military, once bragged he’d called the Pentagon and had a poster pulled off the wall of an Air Force base chow hall in less than an hour. Last week, he tried again, and he did it in 68 minutes.
Pam Zubeck, a “journalist” with the Colorado Springs Independent — local to the US Air Force Academy — has long been an ally of Weinstein in his crusade against the Academy. Last week, she helped his cause when USAFA sent the CSIndy some photos of the USAFA Prep School, one of which was a photo of a poster hanging on a wall. The picture of the F-100F on static display in front of the Prep School contained the following quote [emphasis added]:
We will not lie, steal [or cheat,]* nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.
Zubeck was clearly concerned about “so help me God.” Her reaction [emphasis added]:
[It] featured…the academy’s famous honor code, with a second sentence we’d never seen before…
So we sent the photo to Mikey Weinstein…
According to Zubeck and Weinstein, the framed poster came down 68 minutes after Weinstein called the Superintendent’s office at USAFA.
The new USAFA superintendent, LtGen Michelle Johnson (USAFA ’81), wrote an email to Weinstein (USAFA ’77), that acknowledged Weinstein’s intervention and detailed the serious stance USAFA was taking [emphasis added]:
This Honor Oath is one of the new things since my graduation, evidently in about 1984. Col Miller was able to bring together the Prep School and other entities on base to put together a way ahead. We’ve already directed the Honor Review Committee to fix this next week when they meet. The Prep School poster has been taken down.
For her part, Zubeck was utterly confused by LtGen Johnson’s forthright reply:
We tried to find out more about what Johnson meant by “a way ahead,” and by the word “fix,” but she wasn’t available.
Weinstein, too, declared a premature victory [formatting original]:
AFA honor code: ‘So help me God’
MRFF Founder and President contacts U.S. Air Force Academy, and in SIXTY EIGHT MINUTES receives personal response from Superintendent assuring corrective action on TWENTY-NINE YEAR OLD religious violation at USAFA
Why was Zubeck confused? And why was Weinstein’s victory dance premature?
It turns out they’re both wrong, and they don’t even realize it.. It wasn’t the USAFA Honor Code. It was the USAFA Honor Oath, as LtGen Johnson explicitly stated in her email but they apparently missed. The sentence Zubeck had “never seen before” has been the USAFA Cadet Honor Oath for nearly 30 years. It is administered every year during the Acceptance Parade, in which the Basic Cadets are “accepted” into the USAFA Cadet Wing and become Cadets Fourth Class.
More importantly, LtGen Johnson seems to indicate USAFA will now review the Honor Oath, which, despite the poster’s demise, continues to exist. Weinstein was glad the poster was pulled, but it didn’t end a “twenty-nine year old religious violation” — by which Weinstein apparently meant the phrase “So help me God.” Rather, the oath is still the oath, as both USAFA’s own website and the Cadet Wing Honor Code Handbook (local) explain. In fact, LtGen Johnson’s own Superintendent website explicitly calls out the oath and justifies it:
The phrase, “so help me God,” is taken from the oath of office and affirms a higher standard of living. Cadets are expected to keep the spirit of the code in all endeavors.
(Interestingly, that appears to be an old version of this USAFA webpage, which is identical — except for all references to the Honor Oath.)
To be clear, then: A “reporter” sent a picture to an external critic of USAFA, who predictably complained — and USAFA reacted by pulling the poster. That appeased those critics, but USAFA went further, directing the Honor Committee to “fix” the 30-year old Honor Oath — something those same critics didn’t seem to realize existed.
No one reportedly complained. A reporter and a private critic caused USAFA to order a “fix” to its benign Honor Oath.
In the end, USAFA can have whatever Honor Oath it wants, or none at all. It is not beholden to simple tradition, as evidenced by the very creation of that oath in 1984 or the demise of the “Bring Me Men” ramp a few years later.
It is disappointing, though, that Weinstein retains — or has regained — such unnecessary control over USAFA. It is unnecessary because there is no reason to pull down the poster. It does not establish a religion, nor prefer one religion over another nor religion over none. It violates no policy or ethic. If nothing else, it is an accurate representation of the Honor Oath that has existed for 30 years. Ultimately, it should be little different than a photo of the Bring Me Men ramp pre-2003, which shouldn’t be pulled off the wall just because it retains an image of the words written by Samuel Foss.
Gen Johnson’s predecessor, General Mike Gould, initially tried to placate Weinstein, but Weinstein’s half-life with Air Force leadership is generally measured in months. Gen Gould ultimately and famously closed the door in Weinstein’s face. General Mark Welsh, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, seemingly had a similar experience, initially corresponding personally with Weinstein — but ultimately he, too, seems to have shown Weinstein the door. With the exception of a few people who have actively supported Weinstein’s crusade, most who have dealt with Weinstein have ultimately ignored him after discovering his personal crusade against US military Christians.
As in other cases, granting Weinstein special treatment — different than any other private citizen and well-funded critic — runs the risk of appearing to grant legitimacy to his cause (and raising the ire of Congress). Weinstein’s cause harms the environment of religious liberty at USAFA and in the Air Force.
When Weinstein finally has the epiphany about what LtGen Johnson meant — which will likely occur after Chris Rodda tells him about this article — he’ll be on his drum again, and another celebration will occur a few weeks or months from now, when the cadet wing announces a policy altering the Honor Oath.
Hopefully, common sense will prevail and USAFA will take the same approach to that oath as the rest of the US government does: “So help me God” is simply optional — which, shockingly enough, it has been for years. The oath is administered in a mass formation, so no one would even know if a cadet chose not to say those words:
The oath can remain, the poster can return to a proper place, and the Cadet Wing can learn an important lesson about religious tolerance — so there may yet be positive results. In an age where Weinstein has returned to sit in the Superintendent’s office from which he was once banned, though, anything can happen.
Speaking of Chris Rodda, by the way, it would seem she’s been upstaged by an unpaid outsider who is actually doing research for her employer.
In an interesting twist, the USAFA Prep School commander is Col Rodda.
*The typographical error in the poster — the omission of part of the oath — may be cause enough for it to be replaced regardless of any reference to religion. Then again, if it sat there for years and that error wasn’t noticed, it’s a stretch to say it was ‘imposing religion’ on anyone.