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GOD’S SQUAD: Military At Risk As Sooner Delegation Helps Tear Down Church-State Wall

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As Weinstein notes, the opposite is true – particularly when it comes to the U.S. military. His group rep- resents nearly 35,000 active-duty service members who have been targeted by religious zealots – oft- times superior officers – demanding they embrace a specific strain of Christianity.

Ninety-six percent of the foundation’s clients are Protestant or Roman Catholic, including 21 varieties of Baptist alone. Only four percent of service members lodging complaints through Weinstein’s group are atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist, Wiccan, Native American Spiritualist or other.

More than 800 are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Having served 10 years in the military, Weinstein, himself agnostic says he knows how much pressure can be applied in a military setting to conform to a certain religious point of view.

He founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about a decade ago after his children, while Air Force Academy cadets, were browbeaten to attend Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

Weinstein says his group is working to rebuild the wall separating church and state that all too often has been knocked down in the U.S. military, effectively depriving many armed forces members freedom of – and from – religion.

It’s particularly worrisome, he says, that Dominionists are asserting their apocalyptic worldviews in settings where they can mix “a fanatical religiosity … with actual weapons of mass destruction.”

“It’s a tortured, poisoned view of patriotism,” says Weinstein. “It’s a metastasizing threat to this country.”

Not surprisingly, Weinstein’s support of religious freedom does not set well with the likes of Rep. Bridenstine, who in a May 2013 blog entry promoted the fact he “questioned the Department of Defense’s recent interactions with anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein.”

“As a Navy reservist with com- bat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bridenstine said, “I know firsthand the importance of faith to many of our men and women in uniform.

“I am growing increasingly concerned that well-established protections of conscience and religious expression are being slowly eroded. Right now, the military is preparing guidance on religious issues. During this process, it remains critical that senior JAG leaders understand the concerns of religious service members.”

What Bridenstine and his ilk clearly fail to appreciate is how they would like it if the shoe were on the other foot. They would be irate if other religious groups were given carte blanche to proselytize or – as seems likely in a military setting – the power to make one conform or face career-ending consequences. It’s as if they can’t come to grips with the uniquely American concept that it’s OK not to believe – or to believe differently than Bridenstine and Co.

For them “to say we, Christians, are the persecuted, it is not only disingenuous, it is a goddamn lie – and they know,” Weinstein says.

“This is like the playground bully – after he’s been pulled aside by every teacher or monitor on the playground for beating little Jim- my into the ground – showing his hand and saying, ‘Look what little Jimmy’s head did to my knuckles – they’re all bruised.’”

It speaks to the strange political times in which we live that Weinstein would be so despised by the religious right.

He’s a lifelong Republican who served as a White House legal counsel under their favorite president, Ronald Reagan, and as committee management officer of the Iran-Contra investigation. He also served as first general counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems.

Of course, Weinstein also was named one of the 50 most influential Jews in America by the Jewish weekly Forward. He was tabbed one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense in 2012 by Gannett’s Defense News. And his organization has been nominated five times for the Nobel Peace prize.