Religious Bigotry is a Big Problem in the Military
By Joseph Cotto
Freedom is a strange thing. On some level, everyone wants it. People usually can't stop talking about it when arguing socioeconomic matters. Yet, so many take freedom's political arm, liberty, for granted.
Nowhere is this more true than in the U.S. military.
For generations, our Armed Forces have been saddled by problems with proselytization. More or less, the matter boils down to superiors forcing their religious beliefs on subordinates. This comes in a multitude of ways; sometimes soldiers are subject to "witnessing" by fundamentalists, and in other cases, the display of theistic symbols in unsuitable places.
Most problems are caused by radicals who perceive Christianity from a Dominionist standpoint. Plainly spoken, they think that the New Testament demands conversion of those around them — even when secular or conflicting religious authority disagrees. The mission field is every field, including where battles are fought. For Dominionists, the chain of command links up to God, not generals.
Of course, they take the liberty to determine exactly what God wants. Should anybody disagree with them, it's not a matter of theological debate, but eternal damnation.
Radical atheists have been known to cause trouble too. Though they don't have much on the Dominionists, our society's rise of evangelical godlessness might eventually take its toll on service-members.
Leading the crusade against all of this, and much more, is the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Over the last several years, it has become one of America's most controversial and well known legal action groups. The MRFF's leader is Michael L. Weinstein, a former Air Force captain who served as Judge Advocate General for several years. He also worked in the Reagan Administration during Iran-Contra.
After one of his children reported anti-Semitism at the Air Force Academy in 2004, Weinstein — who prefers to be called "Mikey" — swung into action. The ultimate result was the MRFF, which pulled together an almost unbelievably passionate team of legal minds and concerned citizens.
Outside of the military, much has been made about their crusade. Critics chiefly hail from the Religious Right, which consists of those with a militant take on Christian doctrine. It is not just keyboard warriors who dog the MRFF, however. Rich organizations — in terms of both finances and membership — have made the Foundation a primary target.
Some media outlets, whether they be talk radio shows or cable news programs, seem uninterested in most of the MRFF's work. Instead, they focus on outlandish allegations of Christianity being outlawed. Said claims are amplified by a jumble of pundits, holy men, and professional activists.
Weinstein himself is usually at the center of these gripes. He does take an aggressive tone in carrying out the MRFF's mission, and makes no bones about this. As a matter of fact, he seems quite proud, if not cheerful, regarding his work.
Is the MRFF perfect? Not in the slightest. On July 3, Stars and Stripes noted that "(i)n 2012, Weinstein received total compensation worth $273,355 — about 47 percent of all money MRFF raised through contributions and grants that year, according to IRS filings accessed on the nonprofit transparency website GuideStar."
That is far more than what most nonprofit directors earn, and such a large chunk of the overall budget! At the same time, Weinstein is the Foundation's sole employee. His daily work schedule must be exhaustive. In private practice, the man's annual salary would likely be far greater.
Draw your own conclusions here.
At any rate, the MRFF has accomplished something which cannot be measured in dollars and cents. This is making Americans aware of bigotry and, speaking comprehensively, intolerance where such things can cause problems on an unimaginable scale.
The Foundation is not known for its politeness or desire to go along for the sake of getting along. Its reason for existence is challenging the status quo so things can run smoothly in the long term. America's Founding Fathers would definitely be proud.
That's good enough for me.
Copyright 2014 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.
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