USAFA Defends Cadets against Mikey Weinstein…Sort of
Update 2: This story is now updated here.
Update: Many USAFA cadets are now openly taunting Mikey Weinstein by posting verses (and commentary) to their message boards:
Michael “Mikey” Weinstein recently erupted when he found out a cadet wrote a Bible verse on his message board in a USAFA hallway:
The text is Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
The labels indicate the room belongs to a 2° (junior) in Cadet Squadron 21.
Weinstein was livid that a cadet would dare write a Bible verse on his whiteboard:
It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at USAFA.
Weinstein demanded to know why the Academy chain of command was so bad that no one reported it to them, rather than to him. The retort is obvious: No one needed to report anything at all. To their credit, USAFA Public Affairs officer Maj Brus Vidal gently made this point as well [emphasis added]:
We don’t see misconduct here but the division between your personal room and the hallway is a gray area. The whiteboards are for both official and personal use, but when a concern was raised we addressed it and the comment was taken down.
USAFA recognized that no one had done anything wrong — or, so they said. They “addressed it” anyway, though it apparently didn’t need to be addressed, and someone opted to take the Bible verse down.
Though the Academy said no one was being punished, Weinstein demanded heads on pikes [emphasis added]:
Weinstein…said the cadet must be punished…
“This is absolute misconduct,” he said. “Not only should the cadet be punished but (also) his/her responsible USAFA cadet and officer chain of command who ignored this blatant and egregious violation of Air Force regulation 1-1 and the United States Constitution.”
Unfortunately for Weinstein, it turns out the US Constitution is silent on the topic of dry erase message boards at the US Air Force Academy. As to AFI 1-1, not only does it not apply, it actually undermines his case — since it specifically encourages Airmen to practice their religion “confidently.” FoxNews cites USAFA saying the verse did not violate any Air Force instruction. In fact, because the message boards are in the hallways, they don’t even know who wrote it — not that it matters, since there was nothing wrong with it to begin with.
To be a little fair to USAFA, it is such an unusual thing to complain about that there probably aren’t any “policies” on cadet message boards. (Seriously, do there need to be?) Also, consider that cadets live and work in those dormitories. The combined nature of their lifestyle sometimes gives nuance to what is considered “official” and what is “personal.”
Pop quiz: Can a cadet announce a Bible study on his whiteboard?
Weinstein provided some perspective for his demands:
Had it been in his room – not a problem. It’s not about the belief. It’s about the time, the place and the manner.
That’s generally consistent with Weinstein’s belief that one’s religious freedom extends only to the walls of one’s home or church. Weinstein is free to have that belief, but it has no basis in law or policy.
In the end, Weinstein still spins the Academy response as a victory, taking pains to quote the 3rd Group Commander characterizing the act as “wrong” and celebrating the now-blank whiteboard:
Weinstein told me the Air Force Academy did a good job in fixing the problem and credited Lt. Col. Denise Cooper.
“She immediately said this is wrong and will use it as a teachable moment,” he said…
Therein lies the fine line when the military reacts to external critics over acceptable conduct. Thousands of other cadets may now have the perception that putting a Bible verse on the whiteboard next to their dorm room is impermissible, even though its not.
Because one of their own took a picture with their phone and provided it to Weinstein, thousands of cadets may also feel if they put Bible verses on their whiteboard they’ll draw the attention of Weinstein’s acolytes — hidden among their peers — and thus draw unwanted attention to USAFA. Thus, they may “self-censor” to avoid making waves. USAFA can honestly reply to media requests that cadets are allowed to “confidently practice their faith” in accordance with AFI 1-1. But cadets themselves may not practice their faiths because of Weinstein’s efforts and USAFA’s somewhat tepid (public) defense of their conduct.
Hopefully, the internal reaction at USAFA took this into account and cadets were reassured that USAFA valued — and would defend — their religious liberty. It would have been helpful had the external reaction more forcefully defended the cadets’ conduct; USAFA could have even omitted whether the verse was removed or not, simply because the outcome was irrelevant and none of Weinstein’s business.
Of course, to Weinstein — who claims he values religious freedom while simultaneously attacking it — a scribbled Bible verse on a cadet’s whiteboard is his business. He is probably overjoyed that he’s further stigmatizing the public expression of faith at USAFA.
Christians in the military not experiencing religious freedom?
That’s just how Mikey Weinstein likes it.
Now that the potentially negative perception is out, maybe the cadets should go “Chick-fil-A day” on Weinstein. Can you imagine how he’d react if thousands of verses of religious text appeared on whiteboards throughout Sijan and Vandy? USAFA cadets haven’t had kind words for Weinstein so far:
If that whiteboard is threatening your beliefs, I’d say you have a pretty weak belief system.
That’s ridiculous. Weinstein needs to find a hobby….or get laid. “Punish the cadet” give me a break
Great… Just what the academy needs… more Weinstein… not
And one particularly astute comment:
Weinstein really needs to find something better to do with his life. And I highly doubt that 29 cadets and four faculty/staff members called to complain.
Weinstein has found a very lucrative career path, so its unlikely he’ll change it anytime soon. The critique of numbers is likely accurate: Those complaints were probably generated by the MRFF, not spontaneously to the MRFF.
Retired General Jerry Boykin accurately noted that if any personal messages are allowed, then USAFA cannot restrict religious messages. Mike Berry offered the services of the Liberty Institute to any cadet whose religious rights are violated. But as stated, USAFA can easily say it allows the cadets to write such messages; whether they choose to do so or not is up to them…technically.
If a military officer wants to have a Bible (or other religious text) on his desk, he can — even if Weinstein doesn’t like it.
If a cadet wants to put a Bible verse on his personal whiteboard, he can — even if Weinstein doesn’t like it.
Though he might try to make military religious freedom as unpalatable as possible, Mikey Weinstein doesn’t make military policy.
Some things a Christian does for his own faith. Some things he does for others’.
Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Paul, writing in Philippians 3:17 (ESV)
Photo via the Colorado Springs Independent.