According to the Associated Press, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that has lambasted the Air Force for allegedly supporting evangelical Christianity, is being invited to the AF Academy to present its view of Islam. This follows the previous panel on terrorism, which had three panelists that the MRFF criticized for being Christian and unqualified. (See previous posts, 1 & 2.)
Two invitees are members of the MRFF board. Joseph Wilson was a Clinton era consultant on African affairs and acting ambassador to Iraq. Reza Aslan is an academic teacher and writer on Islam. Aslan recently went on the record (on a CNN blog) criticizing the Academy for hosting “fundamentalist Christians” during the last panel.
The third and final invitee is Weinstein himself, a Reagan era lawyer and founder of the MRFF. It is unclear what his qualifications are to speak as an “expert on Islam.”
Just as the MRFF accused the three “former terrorists” of ulterior motives, it seems unlikely that the MRFF–which has expressed no interest in Islamic issues–would be a legitimate source of “balance” for a previous panel on Islamic terrorism. The MRFF has a political agenda centered on evangelical Christianity. According to a San Diego news site (which implied that the MRFF was getting “equal time”), Weinstein has indicated that “deprogramming” may be a part of their upcoming panel–even though no accusations of religious impropriety occurred after the previous panel.
What is clear is that non-Islamic religious issues will be a focus of Weinstein’s visit.
As reported on the ADF and Religion Clause.
As covered on Military.com, some people are upset that a Protestant chapel service ritual at the US Naval Academy includes “dipping” the American and Brigade flags at the altar.
In particular, Michael Weinstein was upset that the Academy Superintendent, Vice Admiral Jeffrey Fowler, had issued an order that the ceremony stop, only to later allow it to continue. In criticizing the reversal, Weinstein said, in typical fashion,
Vice Admiral Fowler…wins the ‘Fundamentalist Christian Most Intimidated Award’ for 2008…Such profound duplicity and cowardice fatally disgraces the U.S. Naval Academy…
The implication in the article is that the Vice Admiral had his order overruled. (Given that the article also says the Admiral would refuse to return if not “obeyed,” which is an unusual thing for an officer giving an order to say, it is possible that an “order” was not given, but that he expressed a preference that is being misreported.)
It might be somewhat ironic that Weinstein, who founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), would back a military officer who attempted to dictate the rituals of a religious chapel service. That very issue–that a state actor would direct a subordinate’s religious observance–was probably what led to the reversal, as such an order would be unConstitutional.
Also reported on Reasoned Audacity.
According to a press release, the Air Force has replaced its “No one comes close” with “Above all” for its future recruiting efforts.
No word yet on when Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation will sue the Air Force for using the title of a popular evangelical Christian worship song as its new slogan.
(Above All, written by Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, was popularized by Michael W. Smith’s 2001 Worship CD. Weinstein’s 2005 lawsuit accusing the Air Force of advancing Christianity was dismissed. He is currently using a lawsuit against the Army to accuse the Secretary of Defense of allowing the entire American military to become a vehicle for Christianity.)
In an AF.mil article, the incoming AF Chief Chaplain speaks about the importance of trusting God, and the effect that has had on America.
There are people who think it inappropriate for the most powerful nation on earth to stamp ‘In God We Trust’ on every dollar bill, every coin and across every official seal. There are people who believe trusting in God is nothing more than foolishness, superstition (and) weakness….America exists because of men and women who trusted in God.
It was trust in God that gave religiously persecuted families the courage to sail across the Atlantic and arrive in a new world far from the comforts of civilization. It was trust in God that helped Puritans establish Massachusetts, led Roman Catholics to found Maryland as a Catholic colony, caused the Quakers to settle Pennsylvania, helped Catholic priests establish missions in California and gave strength and vision to our ancestors to build this nation.
It will be our trust in God that will keep our nation free and preserve us as a nation.
Update to previous post.
The Colorado Springs Gazette has an editorial that took the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to task for complaining about the Academy’s choice of speakers in its recent political forum. The paper accused the MRFF of “scouring the landscape” to prevent religious expression and ignoring the value of academic freedom in the process.
The MRFF admitted that its primary concern was that the speakers were Christian, which is consistent with MRFF founder Michael Weinstein’s self-described blood-letting “war” with evangelical Christians.
In an as yet unpublished reply, Richard Baker, an associate of Weinstein’s, continues to accuse the Academy of using the men to proselytize, even though the forum is already complete and no such complaints have been made.
In acknowledging that the Academy should not proselytize, the paper noted that Council on American-Islamic Relations also took issue with the three speakers; however, they requested that other, more “moderate” speakers be invited to balance the “extreme” views of the three men. They did not attempt to silence them because they were Christians, as the MRFF would do. In fact, CAIR even offered to help the Academy find speakers with such a balancing perspective.
As part of the academic environment at the Academy, policies on forums and speakers often result in “unusual choices” for speakers, some of whom are not even favorably disposed to the military. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the AF Academy has invited three former Islamic terrorists who have converted to Christianity to speak as a portion of an annual political forum. One of the speakers has “criticized Palestinian sympathizers,” and has been accused by Eileen Fleming, a freelance blogger and Palestinian advocate, of fabricating his terrorist past.
Michael Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation was quick to criticize the decision to invite Christian speakers. Said David Antoon, MRFF board member:
What’s troublesome to me is this is pure ideology and it has nothing to do with academics…This is the Air Force Academy. It used to be an academic institution of excellence. It has become a political Bible college with the evangelicals holding so much influence with what’s going on there.
The criticisms come even though the MRFF didn’t know the men, hadn’t researched their background, and did not address the other people, topics, or ideologies of the forum. Apparently, the only issue with which the MRFF was concerned was the men’s Christianity.
Update: In response to concerns that the three men were Christians, another Gazette article notes that the Academy said the three would constrain their comments to, shockingly, the topic of the forum (terrorism).
The Religion Clause notes a recent military appeals court decision (US v Webster) that found a Muslim soldier who “missed movement” (was absent from his unit’s deployment) was rightfully convicted.
The soldier had pled guilty, then sought to reverse that plea. The soldier’s initial contention was that he could not deploy to Iraq because his internet research of Muslims had led him to believe that it was wrong to kill fellow Muslims.
This advice was not only inconsistent with what the Muslim Chaplain said, but it was also irrelevant: his commander gave him the opportunity to deploy in a non-combatant role. He filed conscientious objector status on the same day he missed movement; the court noted that CO status applied to those who objected to war, not to those who objected to one aspect of a certain war. The court also affirmed that his commander attempted to accomodate the soldier’s religious beliefs.
“I look at this as a job, but I also look at it as a ministry…” – Tony Dungy, Colts Head Coach
The Indianapolis Colts’ head football coach Tony Dungy recently announced he would not retire, but would return to coach next season.
Dungy’s outspoken Christian faith, the Colts’ 2007 Super Bowl victory, and his best-selling book have made him a unique and reluctant celebrity. (See the “Perspective” section of this post.) Dungy had been criticized for leading the Colts to 13 regular season wins this year, only to be eliminated in the first game of the playoffs.
The experience gives Dungy the ability to continue his Christian witness even though his team didn’t win–a reminder to people that being a Christian does not guarantee “success” (at least not by the world’s standards).