The Army, Facebook, and Mikey Weinstein

During the unique trials of the pandemic, US military chaplains are coming under fire for trying to provide support for their troops.

A few years ago, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein regularly made a ruckus over something frequently called “Chaplain’s Corner”. The pieces were generally short articles written by military chaplains and published in a military base’s local paper. Weinstein and his research assistant, Chris Rodda, were apparently unable to prove military Christians were actually doing anything wrong, so they took to finding articles with Christians saying something they didn’t like. Just about every week, it seemed, the MRFF would hit the press with another “the world is ending” claim about a Christian chaplain trying to subvert democracy by publishing an article in a small-circulation base paper. (Notably, they ignored those by other faiths.)

There were plenty of targets, of course, because these columns existed at pretty much every military base. (Routine public productions like that are good fodder for performance reviews.) In other words, Weinstein was able to keep himself in the press just by making a new complaint about old news every week. In many, if not most, cases, military bases responded by pulling the columns to mitigate the supposed offense. With the “victories” and coverage, Weinstein had found a new cash cow.

That is, until religious liberty advocates stepped in to defend the rights of US troops against the attacks by Weinstein and Rodda.

One of the most significant events occurred over an article written by US Air Force Chaplain (LtCol) Ken Reyes in 2013, which Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson had removed from its website after Weinstein complained, claiming it was “bigoted” and “defile[d] the dignity of service members.” However, it was restored a couple of weeks later in response to calls from the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition, including the ADF and Chaplain Alliance. The groups had demanded that the Air Force defend the religious freedoms of their troops, not simply kowtow to Weinstein. After guidance from “higher headquarters,” the base restored the article.

Weinstein, smarting, claimed the reversal was due to “pernicious…Christians” (might want to look up that word). JBER’s Chaplain’s Corner lived on, and the attacks on Chaplain’s Corner articles generally faded.

That event was a significant step in the decline of Mikey Weinstein’s influence, as well as the rise in prominence of organizations who defend military religious freedom from those would attack it.

Today, it would seem the military is facing a “Chaplain’s Corner” redux, Facebook edition.

Weinstein has been prowling the Facebook pages of military bases and essentially repeating his claims from 2013 – that it is an “illegal” and “unconstitutional travesty” for chaplains to do their job. Naturally, the online presence of chaplains has increased over the past few months due to world events, with chaplains performing their duties by video in many cases – which has given Weinstein plenty of targets. As before, Weinstein has begun to complain, and, as before, some bases simply pulled the videos, likely to try to quell the controversy and get on with the business of defending the nation.

Fortunately for religious liberty, bowing to Weinstein is not quelling the controversy. Fort Drum added fuel to the fire when their Public Affairs acknowledged the post had removed the videos, even though there was nothing wrong with them [emphasis added]:

Lt. Col. Kamil Sztalkoper said that 10th Mountain Division command viewed the videos and decided to remove them, stressing “that they were not deemed improper.”

Why remove them, then? It’s essentially an admission they’re bowing to the loudest voice in the room, either because of laziness or cowardice. Either way, they’re sacrificing the religious liberty of their troops on the altar of convenience. Mike Berry of the First Liberty Institute seemed to agree:

Mike Berry, a lawyer for the First Liberty Institute, said he was shocked to find out the news and questioned why MRFF is focused on this issue.

“At a time when our nation is hurting and many feel hopeless, why on earth would Mikey Weinstein attack prayer?” …

He added, “I cannot believe the legendary U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division raised the white flag of surrender to an anti-religious freedom zealot. Every president, from Washington to Trump, has publicly prayed for our military. If the commander in chief can pray, then our soldiers can, too.”

Fort Drum is another Army post that pulled its video, despite the work the chaplains are doing to support their Soldiers during this time.

Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, however, seems to have resisted, at least for now. A COVID-19 related video from Chaplain (Maj) Christian Goza has been posted on the “Team Redstone” Facebook page since mid-April – despite Weinstein’s complaint.

Chaplain Goza is a Christian chaplain, and the 10-minute message he spoke came from a Christian point of view. Not only is that not impermissible, it is expected. Of course, even that doesn’t matter. No one is being forced to go on the internet, log on to Facebook, and watch the video.

But that’s not what Mikey would have you believe:

MRFF continues its fight against the “virus” of Christian proselytizing COVID-19 videos on official military Facebook pages. The only proper place for these videos is on the chapel pages.

Weinstein doesn’t give a reason why he thinks they can only be “on the chapel pages”. That declaration isn’t supported by any rule, regulation, or law – it’s just how Mikey feels about it. That’s fine. He can feel however he wants. He just doesn’t get the right to demand others feel the same hurt feelings he does.

Weinstein is being disingenuous, though. While Weinstein has previously indicated he’d be happy if the military confined religion to the four walls of the chapel, he’s routinely attacked religious services that occurred inside those four walls as well. Shockingly, Weinstein has even gone after civilian church services – occurring off military bases, with no association with the US military.

In what world is “religious freedom” promoted when an organization attacks churches because they doesn’t like the content of their sermons?

If you think Weinstein will be happy if the videos just go to another Facebook page, you’re mistaken.

More significantly, the military (the Army, in particular) needs to understand the threat to religious liberty posed by those like Weinstein and standardize its policies toward those who would attack it. Letting Weinstein move from Army post to Army post lodging the same complaint both wastes the military’s time and harms the liberties of US troops. Just like the VA did with POW/MIA tables, the military needs to emplace (and support already emplaced) policies that, as the first presumption, promote religious liberty and free exercise. Just because Mikey Weinstein complains does not mean that the government needs to take action to restrict the liberty and exercise of its troops. In fact, doing so potentially causes the government to violate the Constitution it claims to defend.

As the US Supreme Court recently affirmed, being offended does not grant one superiority over the rights of others.

And we all know Mikey Weinstein and Chris Rodda are easily offended. I suppose there’s always someone willing to try to wield the ignoramus’ veto.

Chaplain Goza’s video can also be seen here. Also by the Catholic League and the Christian Post.