Mikey Weinstein Demands Air Force Remove Chaplain Video. Because Jesus.
Last month, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein claimed he had made an “important achievement” in “rebuilding the shattered wall separating church and state!” because, according to him, the Commanding Officer of the Air Force Recruiting Service promised to remove a chaplain recruiting video Weinstein found “inappropriate.” According to Weinstein, MajGen Garrett Harencak
responded within a few hours that all Chaplain [sic] videos are being removed pursuant to an overhaul of ‘AirForce.com’ and that he would see to it that the removal of this particular video is accelerated.
Air Force Headquarters at the Pentagon told Military.com it does not see a problem with [the video]…
“Chaplains being available to airmen for spiritual support, and sharing these experiences in their official capacity, does not violate the establishment clause or Air Force regulations.”
There are three important issues here:
- The video itself
- The Air Force’s initial response
- The Air Force’s new response
The Chaplain Recruiting Video
The Air Force chaplain recruiting video can be seen below. It’s actually a very well done 2+30 minute video about the appropriately-named then-US Air Force Chaplain (Capt) Christian Williams. The “objectionable” part starts just before the 2 minute mark, when Chaplain Williams says of a female Airman [emphasis added]:
Before we left Iraq, she told me that “As a result of the example that I saw you set, not just when you were on that plane, but when you walked around this installation, I have accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”
You can’t put a price tag on that.
Bryant Jordan of Military.com inaccurately characterized that statement as “Williams…celebrating successfully bringing a female airman to Jesus.” Mikey Weinstein said it broke the law:
Weinstein claims the anecdote violates the establishment clause of the US Constitution and also the letter of Air Force Instruction 1-1.
Any reasonable observer would conclude Weinstein’s accusation is asinine, and, fortunately, the Air Force agreed. (As an aside, Weinstein is a former Air Force JAG, and in an interesting twist, Chaplain Williams is married to an Air Force JAG.) Weinstein’s offense over the extraordinarily benign anecdote about an Airman coming to Christ reveals he is motivated by a hypersensitive bigotry to anything even remotely mentioning Jesus Christ. Not only is there clearly nothing wrong with what Chaplain Williams said or the story he related, but they are also excellent examples of the very core of religious liberty the military is obligated to protect, as Mike Berry of the First Liberty Institute explained.
The story also wasn’t unique. There are a bevy of articles on US troops converting to other faiths, including to and from Catholicism and Islam (here, here, here, and here, for example), over the past few years.
That Weinstein would object to this story about a US service member exercising their human right to become a Christian says more about his feelings about Christianity than it does anything else.
MajGen Garrett Harencak’s Response
According to Mikey Weinstein, MajGen Harencak responded quickly and positively to his email, and Weinstein provided Military.com a copy of the email to prove it.
This is the precise situation the Air Force has been trying for years to avoid. In 2010, the JAG Corps issued “Weinstein Guidance” in its legal cliff notes for commanders, and the Air Force reiterated that as official guidance to commanders as recently as last year.
It said, in short, stop responding to Mikey Weinstein. The proper channel for communications between private citizens and the US Air Force is Public Affairs. There is no reason any “senior officer” should be responding to Mikey Weinstein at all, much less in rapid fashion. Some commanders still haven’t gotten the memo, and its unclear why MajGen Harencak responded to Weinstein — except, it turns out Mikey Weinstein once claimed to have a “close personal…relationship” with Gen Harencak, back when Gen Harencak was the commander of the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Kirtland AFB, in Weinstein’s hometown. Chris Rodda even went so far as to say General Harencak was a “family friend” of the Weinsteins. That may explain why Weinstein was able to go directly to the General and even get a response. Still, it seems Gen Harnecak didn’t follow up or through with his initial “promise”, much to Weinstein’s chagrin. Now that Weinstein has burned the General in public, he might have fallen off the Weinstein family Christmas card list.
The Air Force’s New Response
With regard to MajGen Harencak’s response to Mikey Weinstein, the Air Force now says he
did not make any specific commitments to Mr. Weinstein regarding the video and did not address the substance of Mr. Weinstein’s complaint.
That clearly seems a purposeful wording to deflate Weinstein’s grandstanding about Air Force acquiescence to his demands. Weinstein says he is “shocked” in the changed statement — though Weinstein had his own inconsistent statements:
[Weinstein] said he had agreed not to go public about the video if the general removed it.
On the contrary, Weinstein “went public” about the video when he first complained more than a month ago, and he clearly stated the General had bowed to his demands about the “inappropriate” video. He either never made that “agreement” he now says he did, or he immediately broke it, neither of which says much for his integrity.
More impressive, and more reassuring, is the Air Force’s new defense of the chaplain and the story of religious faith. It would have been “easy” to acquiesce and still have plausible deniability, since the website is being reworked and the video will come down anyway. In fact, the military has sometimes done exactly that: bowed to Weinstein’s demands, but said it wasn’t, but was rather doing something it had always intended to do anyway.
Not this time.
Despite Mikey Weinstein’s understanding of MajGen Harencak’s initial response, someone in Air Force leadership decided to defend the chaplain and his anecdote of faith. That assertive stance not only puts Weinstein on his heels, but it also gives confidence to Air Force chaplains and Airmen of faith — both the confidence to practice their faith, and also the confidence that if someone attacks them for their faith, the Air Force will defend them, not just sacrifice them on the altar of expediency. And that encourages a culture of military religious freedom — consistent with the US Constitution and AFI 1-1.
After suffering several stinging — and embarrassing — defeats, Mikey Weinstein has almost taken an insurgent stance in his attacks on military religious freedom. He has recently tried to publish “stories” only after he’s obtained a “victory,” and even then with so few details as to be virtually unverifiable. He’s done this to try to fall below the radar of groups that defend military religious freedom, like the First Liberty Institute and the Alliance Defending Freedom — the groups that caused those ego-bruising public setbacks when they followed up on his premature victory dances. (One problem, though, is this “subtle” approach to advocacy runs counter to Mikey Weinstein’s ego — and his ability to raise money.)
That’s the stance he took here: Quietly announcing in January the General had bowed to his demands and the “separation of church and state” had been restored by censoring a Christian chaplain — all thanks to Mikey Weinstein, of course. In this case, though, even Weinstein’s “subtle” attack on religious liberty could not withstand the truth.
Mikey Weinstein, perpetually offended by anything Christian, demanded the US Air Force remove a video because Jesus.
The Air Force refused.
And religious liberty prevailed.