No, Mikey, the Sky Isn’t Falling: Defending Chaplains from Anti-Christian Zealots
I have to confess that it’s getting more and more difficult for me to “speak the truth in love” to some people. Some folks are just never going to get it, no matter what we do. It’s like casting pearls before swine. It reminds me of the tongue-in-cheek saying, “Hey, don’t cloud the issue with facts!”
Once again, Mr. Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is alleging that a number of military chaplains have violated everything from military regulations to the Constitution of the United States itself. The alleged offenses? First, that the chaplains attended an awards ceremony in uniform for Congressman Randy Forbes, founder of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and staunch supporter of the military chaplaincy, to honor him for his support of chaplains; and, Second, that two of the chaplains, one from the Army and one from the Air Force, gave the invocation and benediction, respectively, once again in uniform.
Such activities routinely trigger a visceral reaction in Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein’s hypersensitivity to religious expression in public—especially by conservative, Bible-believing Christians—is legendary. Hence, he is not only distressed that Mr. Forbes was honored in such a way (Mr. Weinstein dislikes and opposes Mr. Forbes’ views and politics), he is up in arms, demanding that the chaplains and other uniformed attendees at the awards event be investigated by the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General (IG) and that draconian punishment be meted out to all involved. In fact, Mr. Weinstein’s bombastic demand letter to the DOD IG actually demands that these chaplains be “visibly punished for their . . . transgressions.”
His specific demand: “Justice cries out for trials by courts-martial for those duly found to have criminally elevated their own personal sectarian versions of horrifically homophobic, anti-atheist, fundamentalist Christianity over their sworn oaths to protect and defend the secular mandates of bedrock DoD regulations and the United States Constitution.” Impressive string of pejoratives, eh? Yet, Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF just don’t seem to get it.
First, there are no “secular mandates” per se in the Constitution. Secular beliefs are definitely permitted, respected, and protected, but “mandated,” of course not! Even the “No Religious Test” clause did not mandate secularism. It merely forbade requiring that one be required to openly confess one’s formal religious orthodoxy to qualify for public office or position (and, that, only at the federal level—states which had religious tests for office were permitted to retain them). And, second, the First Amendment—clearly a part of the Constitution that all military officers swear or affirm to protect and defend—guarantees both the right to free exercise of religion as well as the right to free speech. In fact, the Supreme Court has noted that religious speech is specially protected (see Capitol Square Review & Advisory Bd. v. Pinette, 515 U.S. 753, 766-67 (1995) (noting that “private religious expression receives preferential treatment under the Free Exercise Clause” (emphasis added))).
The exercise of our Constitutional rights cannot depend on the sensitivities of the most hypersensitive amongst us—like Mr. Weinstein, the MRFF, and their allies. Constitutional rights must depend on reasonable men and women who understand that, in a free society like ours, we are likely to hear sentiments—both religious and non-religious—that may offend us. Our Constitution protects the right of others to say things we find offensive. That is the hallmark of a free society.
Mr. Weinstein and his organization are really seeking to stifle speech they find offensive. Under our Constitution, they have that right. Yet, as Americans, we don’t have to yield to the demands of the religiously hypersensitive like Mr. Weinstein and his supporters. We can stand up and be counted. We must have our voices heard.
To that end, we are sending a critical legal letter to the DOD IG, stating, “We are writing to you . . . to encourage you not to permit Mr. Weinsein and his organization to use the DOD IG office as a weapon to implement his agenda of eviscerating religious freedom in the Armed Forces of the United States.”
The ACLJ has engaged Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF frequently in the past, and we are doing so again. This time in defense of the military chaplains who attended and participated in the Forbes award event by opening and closing the event in prayer. Will you join us in supporting the military chaplains who sacrifice so much to meet the free exercise needs of the men and women in our Armed Forces?