Mikey Weinstein Attacks Air Force Officer for Saying He’s Christian

kerstenIn an awkward attack letter worthy of the logically-challenged Chris Rodda, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein recently demanded the “public” punishment of a US Air Force commander for the high crime of saying he was a Christian.

Weeks ago, LtCol Michael Kersten was highlighted in an Incirlik Air Base news article following him taking command of the 39th Medical Support Squadron in July. In that Q & A style piece, Kersten responded by mentioning Christ [emphasis added]: 

Q: Is there a leader from your career that influenced you the most? If so, who, and how did they affect the way you lead?

A: There’s no ONE in particular. As a Christian, my example is to be like Christ. He is my guide and affects all of my decisions. He teaches to do all things as unto the Lord and I believe this is synonymous with integrity first and excellence in all we do.

In some respects, it took courage by Incirlik AB Public Affairs to even publish that portion of the interview. Some in the military know Mikey Weinstein scours their press releases for Christian references about which to complain, and some leaders have preemptively censored their units just to avoid the bother (a result about which Weinstein is giddy). Certainly, saying “Christ” in a non-profane way guarantees getting his attention.

Note, though, that Kersten’s answer is nothing more than a biographical, personal response to a question of inspiration. It would even be considered a mainstream Christian response. Further, it was only one question out of 10 in the article.

Still, Mikey Weinstein wasn’t having Jesus in an official Air Force article. In a publicized letter to Col John Walker, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik, Weinstein claimed to have been “retained” by “over 100” Incirlik personnel who were “extremely offended.”  Weinstein normally prides himself in filing complaints within minutes.  The delay in this case is likely evidence these personnel were so “offended” they didn’t even notice the article for almost a month.  They probably only found out about it after Weinstein told them — as Weinstein has previously even advertised for people to complain for him.

Weinstein railed against Kersten’s Christian faith, claiming he violated Air Force regulations:

Lt. Col. Kersten willfully and definitively violated AFI 1-1 with his sectarian Christian proselytizing statement…

We find Lt. Col. Kersten’s statement of Christian exceptionalism to be extremely egregious, defiant and violative of Constitutional, judicial and DoD regulatory mandates.

Weinstein — a former JAG — apparently needs a dictionary, as nothing in Kersten’s statement had anything to do with “proselytizing.” Either Mikey doesn’t know what that word means — or he’s intentionally (and dishonestly) misusing it for sensationalism. Which do you think?

As to what, precisely, Kersten “violated,” Weinstein veered into the illogical territory of Chris Rodda, who either fails to defend her positions at all or tries to support them with irrelevant information.

In Weinstein’s case, his logic went something like this: “1 + 1 = green.” After quoting AFI 1-1 as the authoritative source, Weinstein ranted:

He has proclaimed to the entire Incirlik Air Base community that ALL of his decisions are based upon his Christian faith.

That’s not exactly what Kersten said, but granting room for semantics — sure. Pretty much every follower of Christ would say Jesus “affects all of [their] decisions.” Guess what, Mikey? That doesn’t violate any regulations. There is no restriction on a statement or belief like that in AFI 1-1, the Constitution, or any DoD regulation or policy. In fact, such a statement is protected by those same sources.  Want to try again?

Weinstein continued:

Perhaps even more outrageously, he claims that his exclusivist Christian faith is synonymous with two of the three Air Force official core values.

Mikey Weinstein was once, long ago, an Air Force lawyer. Yet here he manages to say this statement is somehow illegal — despite no regulation, law or policy saying anything remotely of the kind. Weinstein is free to feel it is “outrageous,” but that does not make it illegal.  Despite citing AFI 1-1 multiple times, no where does that AFI — or any other source — say anything remotely related to restricting the content of Kersten’s statement. Apparently, Mikey wasn’t a very good lawyer (which might explain his record).

Now, it is noteworthy that Weinstein anticipated the defense that LtCol Kersten’s statement would be characterized as “personal.” He attempted to undermine this response by claiming it was no longer personal because people were offended:

While others might think that it was a simple “personal statement”, the enormous flood of complaints emanating from Incirlik Air Base to our office testifies to a VERY different reality.

The fact that someone complains does not change the character of the statement or the conduct. The complainants could just as easily have seen LtCol Kersten walk into an evangelical chapel service, or heard him listening to Newsboys, or seen a fish emblem on his car, or seen a Bible on his desk, or seen him in a Christian T-shirt at the Exchange.  Any of those could have caused a complaint that someone was “offended” by his faith — yet none of those activities is restricted, nor should they be.  Any number of things could have communicated the fact that he was a Christian — and that he lives his life by that faith.

Not only is such religious expression not prohibited, the Air Force actually encourages it in the very same AFI Weinstein tried to say banned it [emphasis added]:

Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own.

Every Airman also has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment.

To make Weinstein — and his easily-offended “clients” — happy, US Air Force officers would have to be banned from any public activity in which another Airman could determine their faith, lest they be “offended.”

That’s asinine, Mikey, and fortunately the leadership at the Pentagon knows better.

The US Air Force cannot ban references to religion — or any other expression — just because someone complains.  (If that was true, there’d be no New England Patriot gear in the military…)

Believe it or not, the US Air Force conducts biennial training on this very topic. In that required religious freedom training, the Air Force clearly and firmly states that religious expression is permissible.

That same training goes further, though, and makes a point of saying the person who complains needs to be counseled about the proper environment of religious freedom in the US Air Force. (Of course, the Air Force training also explicitly talks about Airmen being allowed to have Bibles on their desks, but that didn’t stop a commander from “investigating” a subordinate for that very “crime.”)  Clearly, if “over 100” people at Incirlik think this commander needs to be punished in “public,” some remedial training on religious liberty is in order.

As an aside, it’s worth remembering that after the MRFF learns of a potential “complaint,” they socialize it among their supporters to create the numbers of “complaints” Weinstein vaunts in his demands. Hypocritically, this goes against Weinstein’s own prior reliance on Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s quote that “we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment.” That said, for every one MRFF “client,” there are probably a dozen who disagree with him.

Most Airmen just don’t think they need to “organize” to protect the religious liberties of their fellow US troops.  Rather, most troops trust their superiors will exercise leadership and protect their liberties for them.

Will they?

In the past, the US military has responded across the spectrum, everything from immediately kowtowing, to adding disclaimers, to rebuffing, to flat out ignoring Mikey Weinstein.  The easy answer in this case is for the Air Force to follow its own guidance.

Don’t react out of haste.  Thank the sender for their interest in national defense, reassure them of the Air Force’s priority on religious freedom, and tell them to have a nice day.

That’s it.

Then again, if you’re current on your ADLS training, you already knew that.

Update: The Washington Times, Christian ExaminerMilitary.com and a variety of other sites have picked up Weinstein’s complaint, but nothing more.  The Air Force has not responded — and the story remains posted.