Air Force Chaplain, Mikey Weinstein Attack National Guard Strong Bonds

An unnamed Air Force chaplain sent a formally formatted complaint to Michael “Mikey” Weinstein in early May, claiming the National Guard Bureau had established “Protestant Christianity” as the “official religion” of the Guard’s Strong Bonds program.

As if to reinforce the fact the letter was written specifically for public consumption, just a few hours after receiving it Weinstein sent off his “demand” letter to General Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau. Weinstein made no new allegations but asserted those of the chaplain, who had complained about a line from a National Guard MOI on Strong Bonds.  Regarding Strong Bonds events, the official Memorandum of Instruction said

One voluntary worship service will be conducted at all overnight training sessions, serving to the extent possible, the largest religious demographic represented in accordance with the Constitutional mandate to provide for the “free exercise of religion”. (See “DODI 1300.17”; “AFI 52-101”).

Military regulations can sometimes be ambiguous, vague, and even self-contradictory, so it is understandable that even well-meaning or intelligent members of the military might misunderstand them.

But even graciously speaking, that’s not what happened here.

For those who have ever had to write policy, the wording of the subject MOI is completely understandable: it contains key “weasel words” almost certainly because it was reviewed by a lawyer and was intended to meet every criticism it might receive.

Consider:

One voluntary worship service…

Strong Bonds is funded via a specific citation in Federal law as a chaplain’s program. Not even Weinstein complains that there is a worship service, and the author of the MOI went out of his way to make it unnecessarily clear it was to be a “voluntary” event — in anticipation of potential criticism.  Further, the service should be

…serving to the extent possible, the largest religious demographic represented…

“To the extent possible” is a universal get-out-of-jail-free card. If, for any reason, you can’t do it, the MOI specifically says you don’t have to. You don’t even have to ask for an exception to policy or a waiver; the MOI outright says it is not required.  The caveat about the “largest” religious group represented just kind of makes sense. Why have a Jewish service if the attendees are mostly Catholic, right?

Finally,

…in accordance with the Constitutional mandate to provide for the “free exercise of religion”. (See “DODI 1300.17”; “AFI 52-101”)

Whoever wrote the MOI was not an idiot. They clearly had the appropriate justification in mind when they created that paragraph and were trying to anticipate any avenue of criticism.  Thus, they took the unusual step of citing a governing DODI in the middle of an MOI.

With such a seemingly benign — and well thought-out — instruction to a chaplain program, why did the chaplain complain? According to an email released by Mikey Weinstein, the chaplain claimed

The MOI establishes Protestant Christianity — the “largest religious demographic represented” within the Air Force — as the official religion of the Strong Bonds program in the ANG.

Kindly speaking, the chaplain made a fundamental reading error: the “demographic” to which the MOI referred was clearly that of the attendees, not the entire Air Force.  Less kindly speaking, the chaplain appears to be pretending the MOI says something it does not.

Does this military chaplain really believe it is a problem for the military to scope a religious service to serve the largest group of people who are present? (For anyone who has been involved in Strong Bonds, the largest group isn’t always “protestants.”)  Wouldn’t that be in the spirit of the “perform or provide” this chaplain claims he wants to support?

As with many things Mikey Weinstein complains about, this isn’t even new policy. In 2010, the Army (from which Strong Bonds originated) noted that [emphasis added]

faith based activities, if added [to a Strong Bonds event], will be voluntary, announced in advance, and geared to audience preferences/beliefs.

The National Guard has simply repeated the same basic premise that has been integrated in Strong Bonds for decades.  Scoping something to the “audience preferences/beliefs” does not violate the Constitution nor establish those “preferences/beliefs” as an official religion.  In fact, as the author of the MOI noted, it supports the Constitution as it protects the rights of US troops to exercise their faiths.

Even so, Mikey Weinstein demanded a rewrite to “an inclusive…policy” and, per his usual rhetoric toward only Christians,

demand[ed] that any and all NGB/ANG personnel who were either directly or indirectly involved in the promulgation and release of that Constitutionally noxious…MOI…be aggressively investigated and visibly punished for these clear violations of both bedrock civil rights law and regulation.

According to a limited amount of correspondence released by Weinstein, the Guard Bureau’s Chief Counsel, aptly named BrigGen Christian Rofrano, told Weinstein the Guard would, indeed, rescind and rewrite the MOI. Presumably, simply adding “…demographic represented at the event…” would be enough to make it no longer “noxious,” though Mikey Weinstein isn’t apt to let anyone know.  According to Weinstein’s releases, the National Guard has already replaced the text — but Weinstein declined to report on what any new text said.

Despite the “victory,” there is no indication anyone was “aggressively investigated and visibly punished ” as Weinstein had demanded, so it seems Mikey only received half of what he requested.

Weinstein’s complaint is asinine — and he likely knew it.  That’s why Weinstein didn’t let slip any word of the ongoing complaint, waiting instead until he could claim “victory.”  This goes against his normal method of immediately issuing press releases calling for heads to roll — but it is a method he uses when he doubts his ability to “win” if anyone else finds out what he’s doing.  Had the general public — or an actual religious liberty group — found out, a phone call and a plea for common sense could potentially have undermined Mikey Weinstein’s one-man mercenary war against religious freedom in the military.  Seems even Mikey Weinstein realizes how weak he’s become.

Ultimately, the Guard would have done better to have treated Mikey Weinstein like the active duty military has treated him — that is, simply ignored him. Beyond that, the chaplain needs a primer in reading — and then a remedial lesson in how to talk to, at a minimum, fellow chaplains before complaining to the entire US Air Force leadership about a regulation he didn’t even read correctly, and one which no reasonable person would read the way he claimed.

Regrettably, the chaplain now has a very prejudicial view of how the Air Force — and religious liberty — function.  Now it is likely that chaplain will serve troops in the National Guard with a jaundiced eye — and a tendency to report on their behavior to Mikey Weinstein. So much for Glorifying God, Serving Airmen, and Pursuing Excellence.

Despite his claims to the contrary, Mikey Weinstein didn’t save the United States from a Christian coup by complaining about this MOI — and anyone with a modicum of common sense can see that. But apparently it’s been a slow news year, so that won’t stop Weinstein from creating a scandal where none exists.

Otherwise, Mikey Weinstein would have nothing to talk about.

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