Former JAGs: MRFF Wrong Historically, Legally
Michael “Mikey” Weinstein relies heavily on his credentials as a “former Air Force JAG.” Presumably, people outside the military ascribe to a JAG a particular expertise on military regulations and the law, and Weinstein seeks to benefit from that connotation.
When Weinstein recently demanded that the US Air Force Academy prohibit cadets from praying, it was notable that not one but two former JAGs spoke up in defense of the military religious freedom Weinstein’s “Military Religious Freedom Foundation” sought to ban.
The Alliance Defending Freedom’s Daniel Briggs wrote a letter (PDF) that became the “opposing viewpoint” that required USAFA to be “prudent and deliberate” in its review of Weinstein’s complaint. Briggs said [emphasis added]
Cadet-led prayer does not violate any purported ‘separation of church and state.’ Courts have long recognized that this term is a misrepresented and tiresome platitude found nowhere within the Constitution. The First Amendment does not demand that all things religious be purged from the military…
Permitting religious expression does not violate the First Amendment, regardless of potential misinterpretation by some spectators.
Like Weinstein, Briggs is a former Air Force JAG.
The Liberty Institute’s Mike Berry wrote a guest column in the Colorado Springs Gazette, local to the US Air Force Academy, in which he said
The MRFF’s attack on Air Force cadets is not just reprehensible, it is wrong – historically and legally.
Berry pointed out that the Constitution and the law — including laws just recently passed by Congress — protect religious liberty, including the religious liberty of US troops:
Since before the founding of our nation, our military commanders have gone to great lengths to ensure that our service members are able to practice their faith freely…Similarly, federal courts have repeatedly emphasized that service members do not forfeit their religious freedom upon joining the military. And Congress recently enacted several important laws that protect religious freedom in the military. Those laws are now reflected in military regulations.
Berry is also a former JAG, he from the US Marine Corps.
While Briggs’ and Berry’s credentials grant them some expertise on the topic of religious liberty in the US military, it is most notable that they and their organizations are strongly defending military religious freedom at all.
A few years ago, Weinstein would have been the only (and loudest) voice in the room, and it is possible USAFA may have surrendered to him just to try to make him go away, as the military has sometimes done in the past. With “opposing viewpoints,” however, particularly ones from positions of legitimacy and with legal and public relations teams to back them up, the US military is less likely to roll over in appeasement to Weinstein’s heckler’s veto.
As a result, religious freedom prevails.
There is one other notable highlight from this “scandal.” By his own admission, Mikey Weinstein was explicitly trying to get the US government to prohibit USAFA cadets from publicly praying — while simultaneously claiming he’s fighting for “religious freedom.”
As twisted and tortured as that is, US troops are fortunate to now have organizations represented by Briggs and Berry who truly defend their religious liberties — the real foundations for military religious freedom.