MRFF’s Chris Rodda Advocates Military Religious Discrimination
It’s been long established that Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s awkwardly-named Military “Religious Freedom” Foundation actually fights against the religious freedom of Christians in the US military. Examples abound of cases in which a reasonable, principled religious liberty group should have stood up in defense of an Airman, Soldier, Marine, or Sailor, but Weinstein either refused to defend the troop because they were Christian or outright attacked their religious liberty instead.
Fortunately, genuine religious liberty groups have stood in the gap for such Christians — and have defended them even from Weinstein himself. One of the more notable groups is the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has a long history of, unlike Weinstein, consistent, principled defense of religious freedom regardless of a person’s particular religious belief.
(To wit, the Becket Fund has been fighting for the right of Sikhs to serve in the US military while still being able to practice their religious faith; Weinstein has so far refused to do so, tacitly acknowledging that a “win” for the Sikhs would ultimately be a win for other faiths — including Christians.)
More recently, Mikey Weinstein tried to attack the religious liberty of court-martialed US Marine Monifa Sterling. Unfortunately, despite paying himself a quarter of a million dollars a year from the donations his charity receives, Weinstein apparently doesn’t have a reliable calendar or scheduling system: He missed the deadline for filing a brief in her case. Even though his brief was denied — twice — the MRFF is still trying to be involved in Sterling’s case, at least in the press.
Weinstein’s research assistant, Chris Rodda, was recently quoted on a fairly obscure news site attempting to belittle the defense of Sterling’s religious liberty. Rodda astutely observed:
The Bible verse issue was only one of the charges against Sterling…and…it wasn’t even the most serious of the charges against her…even without that one issue she still would have been court-martialed for the other more serious charges and would presumably received the same sentence.
That’s a brilliant statement of the obvious. It is also completely irrelevant.
Sterling’s appeal petition does not ask the court to throw out the conviction. It does not ask the court to overturn her conviction on any “other more serious charges.” It only addresses one issue: the court’s interpretation and application (or lack thereof) of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with reference to Sterling’s display of Bible verses. This is a point First Liberty attorney Mike Berry repeated in the article, and Rodda completely missed.
A principled organization that stood for religious liberty would not only understand this, but would objectively assess the case and likely support the appeal even if it disagreed with the beliefs or the personality of the adherent. After all, this case has been described as “precedent-setting” — meaning the court’s ruling on the application of RFRA to the military may send ripples across the military with regard to religious liberty. That may be why Weinstein was so desperate to be involved.
Rodda’s ludicrous attempt to hand wave the appeal away indicates she fails to grasp the basic facts of the case.
But wait, there’s more.
Daniel Blomberg, a counsel for the Becket Fund, explained that the RFRA “clearly protect[ed] Sterling” [italics original, emphasis added]:
RFRA states…the military…can place a substantial burden on a person’s religious exercise only if the government has no other way to protect a very, very important interest. Here, Lance Corporal Sterling exercised her religion by putting a few small Bible verses in her personal workspace, and the military substantially burdened that exercise by court-martialing her for declining to take down the verses. And the military clearly doesn’t have a compelling interest in making her take down those signs since…it allowed other nearby Marines to put up personal signs in their workspace.
This is an extremely important point. The government cannot discriminate on the basis of religion, and it cannot infringe on a person’s religious liberty unless it has no other way to achieve a “compelling interest.”
Thus, it is inappropriate for the government — or the court — to treat signs with religious content differently than signs without.
Rodda, who is not a lawyer, disputed Blomberg’s legal assessment — and used some underhanded wording to try to make her point. Read carefully [emphasis added]:
Rodda said the different standards make sense. “You can’t apply the same standards to all personal symbols and statements because military regulations do not apply to all personal symbols and statements [sic].
There is no military regulation that would prohibit, for example, someone putting up a sign that says they like dogs in preference to cats.
There are, however, regulations prohibiting the endorsement or promotion of certain specific things, to include not just a religious preference but also a political or any other idealogical preference.”
Did you see the shift? Her first example is “merely” someone putting up a sign saying they like something. The second example is the government endorsing something. Why the transition from a random “someone” to a state actor? Because that’s the only way she can defend her position.
No reasonable person would see a cat poster on a Soldier’s desk and perceive that the US government was endorsing or promoting cats.
No reasonable person would see a Bible verse on a Soldier’s desk and perceive that the US government was endorsing or promoting religion.
But for Weinstein, Rodda, and their clamoring acolytes, the standard changes because of the religious content of the exercise.
Blomberg might agree that the standard changes — but the standard becomes higher because religious exercise is a protected right. As he said in the article [italics original],
service members’ religious speech is specially protected, not singled out for censorship
Mikey Weinstein and Chris Rodda aren’t trying to defend religious liberty. They’re trying to restrict the military religious freedom of Christians, nothing more. And in this case, they weren’t even subtle: Rodda actively advocated religious discrimination. How’s that religious liberty thing work again, Chris?
Granted, Rodda isn’t a lawyer, but her inept attempt to explain the MRFF position only revealed the lengths to which they will go — and the tortured interpretations they have to make — to attack Christians. Moving the goalposts based on religious content is just one of those methods.