Military Religious Freedom Foundations Defend Troops’ Liberty

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein recently demanded that Marine Corps Base Hawaii remove a sign that said “God bless our military, their families, and the civilians that work with them.” A few years ago, Weinstein’s shrill voice would have been the loudest in the room, and some military commanders would have bowed to him if only to try to make him go away — even if his demands might result in US troops’ religious liberties being restricted.

Now, however, many groups have banded together to defend military religious freedom against those, like Weinstein, who attack it. The Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition is made up of an astounding 26 different organizations dedicated to defending military religious freedom. Members of the group have had some significant successes — as when the Air Force re-published an article by Chaplain Kenneth Reyes that it had censored at Mikey Weinstein’s request.  (Weinstein subsequently blamed the reversal on “pernicious…Christian[s].”)

When Weinstein’s group demanded the Marine sign come down, Daniel Briggs of the Alliance Defending Freedom quietly emailed (PDF) the same Marine commander to reassure him and “debunk” Weinstein’s accusations. Briggs not only defended the sign as constitutional, but also noted that taking it down purely because of religious content (the word “God”) might actually be unconstitutional:

Removal of the sign would certainly be in violation of the Establishment Clause, showing preference for no religion over religion…[R]estrictions on speech must not treat speech differently based on content. We urge you to ensure the sign receives the same treatment as any other sign on base in accordance with applicable policies and regulations.

Briggs further noted that Weinstein has demonstrated the very hostility toward religious beliefs that the US Constitution forbids on the part of the government [emphasis added]:

The Establishment Clause “affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.” Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 669, 673 (1984). MRFF exhibits this hostility as it seeks to marginalize religion and to push it to the far corners of the military community.

How much — if at all — the ADF’s support played into Marine Col Sean Killeen’s decision to reject Mikey Weinstein’s demands is unknown. Still, it is reassuring to US troops of faith to see external groups speak up to rebut the other external groups demanding the military restrict religious freedom.

This coalition of 26 groups has spoken to defend the public expression of religion (or at least the word “God”) in general within the military, as with this sign, and they have defended individuals within the military when they have been targeted for their religious beliefs.

US service members who think they may have experienced institutional hostility or inappropriate treatment as a result of their faith should consider contacting these groups, even if only for advice and perspective.

Unlike Mikey Weinstein, this coalition forms a foundation that truly does defend military religious freedom.

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