After what was supposedly an amiable interlude, Michael Weinstein and his self-founded Military Religious Freedom Foundation are now officially back at “war” with the US Air Force Academy. The reason? The Air Force beat Weinstein to the press.
The Colorado Springs Independent reports the Air Force Academy issued a press release critical of an as yet unpublicized MRFF accusation that the Academy was allowing a private group to ‘improperly proselytize’ in public facilities. The reported press release, which is unsigned, undated, and available only on some local news sites, was unusual in its initiative, as well as its subtle criticisms of Weinstein and his MRFF:
One week ago, on September 10, Mr. Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), claimed that the Academy has allowed a private religious group to promote improper Christian proselytizing at publicly accessible Academy facilities.
Upon learning of this allegation, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, USAFA Superintendent, directed an immediate review of the claim. To date, the allegation is not substantiated…
Interestingly, the release cited Weinstein’s own website to support the Academy response, which highlighted the contradiction between Weinstein’s published goals and his actions to date:
The Academy remains committed to protecting an individual’s right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law or impede mission accomplishment. The Academy’s policy is consistent with the MRFF view that, “religious faith is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom that must never be compromised.” (MRFF official website)
Weinstein called the press release an “outrage” and said a “state of war” existed between him and the Academy.
Given Weinstein’s modus operandi, it is not unlikely that he threatened to “go to the press” with these latest accusations. It would appear the Academy saw his threat and raised it, and caught Weinstein on his heels.
Weinstein has apparently lost the “keys to the kingdom” he claimed when he proudly announced he had a personal “bat signal” giving him direct access to the Superintendent, General Michael Gould. Now he seems to be taking his ball and going home, nursing his wounded ego with a spiteful and measured rejoinder of “war.” (Given the bipolar nature of his reactions thus far, it is entirely possible the bat signal will return next week.)
Then again, it could be that the Air Force Academy is now seeing Weinstein’s personal agenda, and also seeing the impact his arguably frivolous complaints are having on the USAFA mission. In fact, they started their press release with that very implication:
In addition to respect and tolerance imperatives, the Academy is also committed to balancing outside influences that distract our cadets and staff from accomplishing that mission.
There seems to be a reference not only to the accused proselytizers, but also to the MRFF itself.
This current MRFF accusation is just the latest turn in a bizarre melodrama that reads like name-calling on a gradeschool playground. Reportedly, the scandal is the presence at the Air Force Academy of a group calling itself “Cadets for Christ” under the guidance of Don and Anna Warrick. There have been no specific complaints about what the group has done that is in any form impermissible. (While Weinstein attempts to connect the group with “proselytizing,” they are a private, not government, group.)
In addition, while Weinstein is making hay over this “new” scandal, it isn’t actually new at all. He made similar accusations in his book, published in 2006, when he cited the concerns of the Peasley family, whose daughter was “estranged” over her relationship with the cadet Christian “Shepherding cult.” (In fact, the only publicized complaint thus far is from anonymous parents complaining of the “spiritual rape” of their daughter, which sounds similar to the claims of the Peasleys years ago.) The accusations Weinstein makes now seem no different:
Weinstein says he stands by his allegations and has 51 cadets who have corroborated that a “Christian cult” is actively influencing cadets on academy grounds.
Cadets and their parents have told Weinstein that the group brainwashes cadets through a Cadets for Christ program run by Don and Anna Warrick. Their website teems with Biblically based teachings that, in part, promote the idea of the man as shepherd and the woman as subservient. Several academy personnel have complained to Weinstein about the teachings, saying the Air Force mantra is that female airmen are equal to male airmen.
What Weinstein takes issue with, then, is the religious content of another faith’s beliefs. Given the Air Force Academy’s response, it seems likely they see the inherent self-contradiction of Weinstein’s complaint:
The Academy remains committed to protecting an individual’s right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law or impede mission accomplishment.
There has been no indication the group violates any policy or law. Just because a group exists on a military base teaching a set of beliefs with which someone may disagree does not mean those people can coerce the military to prevent that religious exercise.
In a rare but admirably spirited defense, the press release also claims the high ground with respect to Constitutionally-protected liberties, and seems to offer Weinstein a hint he should follow their example:
The Academy remains committed to respect all members’ rights to practice, or not, any faith, and we offer that commitment as a model for the meaning and intent of First Amendment religious rights outlined under the U.S. Constitution.
There is nothing wrong with 51 cadets saying a Christian “cult” is “influencing” cadets. There is also nothing wrong with that “cult” doing that very thing, so long as their practice does not violate any military policy or law.
The restrictions on the free exercise of what Weinstein calls a “Christian cult” are no different than those on any other faith or non-faith group in the military, including what some may have called a “pagan cult” for which the Air Force Academy created a chapel earlier this year. The fact that Weinstein has heartburn over the Christian content of this group is irrelevant to their right to free exercise, though it does highlight the fact his goal isn’t “religious freedom” after all.
As the Academy press release essentially points out, if Weinstein really wanted to protect the Constitution and the First Amendment, he would be defending this group, not criticizing it. Of course, since they’re Christians…