Mikey Weinstein, General Jerry Boykin Agree. Hell Freezes Over.
A few weeks ago, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein praised a new Department of Veterans Affairs memorandum (PDF) regarding religious exercise and expression, saying the [emphasis added]
MRFF [was] validated by [the] Department of Veterans Affairs Memorandum! The VA finally gets it: POW/MIA Bible displays can’t favor one religion.
Yesterday, retired US Army General William “Jerry” Boykin commended the same Veterans Affairs memo [emphasis added]:
I am grateful that the VA finally made the right decision to allow religious items – including the Bible – in displays that honor the sacrifice of those who have suffered through captivity in wartime as well as those who have never been recovered and returned and are still missing…
“The VA rightly concluded that honoring our service members through table displays that include religious items does not violate the U.S. Constitution or any other law.
While the two praised the same document, they came to different conclusions. Hell remains uncomfortably warm, it seems.
One of the two gentlemen was a moron. Guess which one?
The VA memorandum was presented in a question/answer format. Mikey Weinstein cited question #7:
7. May a VA-sponsored display, such as a holiday display, include religious symbols in a public area of a VA facility?
The first sentence appears to say yes — if the display does not “favor” a religion and “conveys a…secular message” [emphasis added]:
Religious symbols may be included in a VA display in a public area of a VA facility provided the display does not favor one religion over another and conveys a primarily secular message.
The somewhat obtuse wording could, if read with a jaundiced eye, appear to bolster Weinstein’s cases against the POW/MIA displays that included Bibles — cases which he proudly cited in the announcement, including removal of Bibles from POW/MIA tables at the Akron and Youngstown, OH, Veterans Affairs buildings.
Except that sentence has nothing to do with those displays.
Look again at the first few words: “May a VA-sponsored display…”
The two displays at Akron and Youngstown weren’t VA-sponsored. News reports at the time cited the Akron display as “erected by volunteers” and the Youngstown display as having been set up by the local Disabled American Veterans. In both of those cases, however, the VA was directly involved in the decision to remove the Bible, either requiring or encouraging the groups who did sponsor the displays to remove them after Mikey Weinstein complained.
To determine the VA policy on that issue, Weinstein should have looked at question #6:
Does VA allow outside groups or individuals to set up displays with religious and secular items on VA property (under the charge and control of VA)?
Since the question deals with outside sponsors, that speaks to Weinstein’s prior “victories” over POW/MIA tables with Bibles set up by outside agencies at VA facilities. How did the VA answer that question? [emphasis added]
Once the director authorizes a display in a designated location, VA must remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group or individual generally (e.g., religious or secular) or as part of its display.
The VA even included an example — specifically about POW/MIA tables [emphasis added]:
If the [VA] approves a Veteran Service Organization’s request to set up a display recognizing Prisoners of War and Missing in Action (POW/MIA)…[the] VA must remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group, to include the use of any religious or secular items in the display.
Had that policy been in place earlier this year, the VA directors would not have been allowed to de-Bible the POW/MIA displays at Mikey Weinstein’s behest. In other words, had this policy been in place, Mikey Weinstein would not have had his “victories.”
In a feat of intellectual dishonesty, Weinstein tried to claim the VA memorandum supported his attacks against Bibles in POW/MIA displays. In reality, no interpretation is even required. It clearly says exactly the opposite thing.
In his defense, Mikey Weinstein isn’t normally a moron. Despite his bigotry, he has occasionally demonstrated savviness and shrewdness. It’s possible he was fed bad information, perhaps by his distracted research assistant, Chris Rodda. It may also be possible Weinstein thought no one would be smart enough to actually read the memo.
If anyone does read the memorandum, of course, they’ll quickly discover Mikey Weinstein is lying when he claims it “validate[s]” his positions on POW/MIA displays.
In fact, General Boykin is correct. The memorandum not only explicitly permits religious expression — including in cases of Christmas carols, another annual controversy — but it also repeatedly emphasizes that the VA cannot appear to disfavor or inhibit religious exercise, a somewhat uncommon refrain in a memo of this type. Clearly, the VA was responding to perceptions of hostility toward religious expression.
In his announcement “commending” the VA, General Boykin claimed the cause of the memo was “tens of thousands of petitions.” As previously noted, many members of Congress weighed in as well. Logically, it seems General Boykin’s interpretation is not only correct, but his assessment of the motivation behind the change is probably correct, too.
In other words, Weinstein’s initial “victories” against religious expression directly resulted in a governmental policy change to prevent him from having any more such victories.
Mikey Weinstein not only lost, he lost permanently.
In a futile attempt to salve his ego, however, Mikey Weinstein dishonestly tried to present his loss as a win.
Instead, religious liberty won.
The following groups were involved in making this policy change happen, resulting in the defense of military religious freedom:
- Family Research Council
- American Family Association
- First Liberty Institute
- Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty
- Center for Military Readiness
- Freedom Alliance
- Liberty Counsel
- Alliance Defending Freedom
- Freedom X
- Judicial Watch
- LION Associates
- Military-Veterans Advocacy
- Stand Up America US
- International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers
Those groups defended military religious freedom from Mikey Weinstein, and they have earned well-deserved praise for doing so.
Update: The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty — which is often at odds with the MRFF — similarly praised the new VA policy.