Mikey Weinstein Fights Oppression of Vacation Bible School

Early in June, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s so-called “religious freedom” group ensured the sanctity of religious liberty in the US military by forcing the leaders of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to pull down a banner advertising Vacation Bible School at the chapel:

An advocacy group that says it fights “church/state violations and noxious abuse” in the military said Friday it forced the removal of a banner advertising a Vacation Bible School program from the main gate at the Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation…said the banner’s slogan, “Jesus [Power] Pulls Us Through,” was objectionable when displayed at the base entrance.

Here’s the thing: VBS has been extremely popular at military bases throughout the world for decades. For military families who constantly move from one location to another, the summer VBS program represents somewhat of a reliable constant in their changing world. If there is a military base near you, you can almost be guaranteed that they’ve had, or will have, VBS this summer.

The “Rocky Railway” program Weinstein complained about was created by Group Publishing, which describes itself as “interdenominational.” It is clearly Christian, which is probably somewhat redundant, since VBS itself is a Christian construct (unless you’re a militant atheist). Like many churches, military chapels frequently purchase the program kits for VBS which come with the support and advertising materials. Fort Sill’s chapel appears to have hung an advertising banner for the Rocky Railway on its main gate fence. The banner had the VBS program slogan of “Jesus’ power pulls us through.”

And Mikey did not like it:

“Which ‘us’” did the banner refer to?” asked Mikey Weinstein…He said advertising the program on the base’s chapel grounds or on a military religious services webpage was one thing, but to hang the banner at the gate entrance suggested what Mr. Weinstein termed “an unconstitutional sectarian endorsement of fundamentalist Christianity.”

Um, no. That’s not how that works at all. But if we play Weinstein’s game, he would have the military post ‘sanitized’ VBS banners that obscured their Christian programming, which might lead to non-Christian members of the military sending their kids to these programs. Is that what he wants? Weinstein is advocating for secretive proselytization?

Or maybe the more logical thing is to be upfront in the advertising and acknowledge that it’s a Christian program – by using the advertising banners the chapel paid for.

It gets better, though. A self-described “secular-humanist” MRFF complainant raised the tired canard that because a Christian VBS was the only program advertised, the military appeared to be endorsing Christianity. Said Sarah Kline:

“Due to the VBS being the only event that was being advertised, it gave the impression that events or individuals of other faiths, and those who have no faith, were not being equally promoted or valued. And it also appeared the U.S. Army was endorsing an evangelical Christian event,” Ms. Kline said.

Naturally, her solution was not to advertise her own secular humanist Vacation Humanist School, but instead to demand that others not be able to advertise programs for their faith.

Notably, Kline wasn’t able to say if the Fort had ever advertised any other religious or non-religious events at any time of the year. In other words, she had no basis for saying the Fort didn’t equally advertise other faiths or non-faiths. She just didn’t like this banner.

Though the banner neither picked her pocket nor broke her leg – nor did she have anything positive to offer – she was going to see to it that those who might actually be interested would be denied the opportunity to learn about VBS.

If she didn’t like the ball those other kids were playing with, she was going to make sure they were forced to take it and go home.

She’s apparently an easily offended secular-humanist.

Though the Fort could have, theoretically, just cut the slogan off the banner (and engaged in surreptitious evangelism), they opted to pull the banner down after a “legal review.”

It is notable, though, that Rocky Railway is one of only three programs offered by Group Publishing for 2021. In other words, it is very likely that banners just like that one are appearing all over the world on or around military facilities. In fact, they are appearing, despite Weinstein’s vituperative assaults. This pre-announcement using the same VBS banner image recently appeared on an official Facebook page:

Or last month, at a different location:

Unlike the public posturing by the commanders at Fort Sill, most military commanders understand their chaplains have a duty to support the spiritual wellness and religious exercise of their troops. Publishing those opportunities – like VBS – is one explicit way they support the spiritual well-being of their troops.

That’s not to say all is well. In one fairly ridiculous example, many military bases have digital signs that advertise the hours of the gym, commissary, and other base facilities. But some military bases won’t advertise the service times for the base chapel on that same sign – presumably, out of an unreasonable fear that to do so, just like advertising Rocky Railway VBS, would somehow be construed as endorsement, coercion, etc. In some cases, those military commanders have received bad counsel from their chaplains and JAGS – some of whom turn around and feed Weinstein information. In other cases, those commanders are simply self-censoring to avoid any publicity that might interfere with their next performance review.

Think about that. Doing nothing more than announcing an event is judged improper if the event supports the spiritual wellness (Christian, that is) of the troops. Had the event been any other thing – including any other religion – there would have been no complaint, and no problem.

Doubt it? Check out how many military main gates and Facebook pages have advertised summer barbecues, gay pride events, anti-racism events, various religious holidays, various gender and ethnic celebrations, etc. Events of various flavors and ideologies are publicized every single day, on official marquees, websites, social media, etc. Only ones that identify as Christian receive Mikey Weinstein’s legal threats. Instead of being treated equally, Christian events are singled out for hostile actions.

Does that sound like he’s defending religious freedom to you?

And every now and then, Weinstein finds a military commander who lacks the intestinal fortitude to stand up to him. At Fort Sill, Col Rhett Taylor was more than happy to bow to the MRFF’s demands — but then declined any comment when the press called later.

Mikey Weinstein’s goal has long been to squelch the religious liberty of Christians wherever he can. And where he can’t successfully do so, he’ll so marginalize it that even those troops who want to practice their faith have a difficult time doing so – because they can’t learn about VBS or even find out what time the chapel service is on Sunday morning. But at least they know what time Taco Bell opens.

Perhaps next year the military chapels should acquiesce to Weinstein’s demands and advertise VBS without letting on that it’s a Christian event. Then we’ll see if local MRFF agents like the Klines sign their kids up just so they can complain about the secretive proselytization that Christians are doing with their cheap cookies and over-sugared lemonade…