Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) combats fundamentalist Christian control of our nation’s military every day. The rot of Christian nationalism is widespread. Soldiers who do not jump on the Jesus bandwagon are persecuted.
For his troubles, for defending religious freedom, he is dubbed “Field General of the Godless Armies of Satan” and inundated with hate mail. Because that’s what Jesus told his followers to do: don’t turn the other cheek or love your enemies, but write hate mail.
Bad enough our military has been put in the role of playing religious crusaders in the Middle East. The situation in our military is anything but friendly to atheists and non-Christian religionists. Fundamentalists men and women in the military feel their duty to “spread the Gospel” is more important than the Constitution, and they have widespread support from their superiors. Thousands of soldiers have been pressured by their commanding officers to convert to Christianity.
MRFF tells us,
Evangelism is firmly entrenched in American military culture. It pervades several aspects of military life, and each of these — from the social exclusion of nonbelievers, to the influence of evangelism on access to military resources, to the toxic fusion of national security objectives with religious terminology — warrants serious consideration. For all the honor and respect we give our soldiers, we certainly don’t hold some of the ideas they defend — namely, the separation of church and state — in very high regard.
You can read about this discrimination of non-Christians and the military campaign to make its soldiers Christian at Policymic. It makes for some shocking reading, if you are not already familiar with these efforts. Remember, these are people who think that separation of church and state is a lie. They want control of our government and more frightening yet (think about Christian communities occupied by religious zealots in the Middle East) they want control of our military.
Weinstein speaks of the “pernicious, fundamentalist Christian pressure” being brought to bear on all branches of our military – but particularly the Air Force and here – as he struggles to defend not only atheists and other non-Christians, but Christians themselves from these fundamentalist attacks on religious freedom.
But you will be aware of none of this if you watch Fox News, or read the Fox News website, where the hysteria is all about the Air Force Cracking Down on Christians or how Christian Air Force Veteran Punished By Lesbian Commander.
Matt Barber and Shawn Akers have used this incident, where an Air Force sergeant got worked up over gay marriages in the military to the extent that he was reassigned, to claim, reports Right Wing Watch,
“In just a few short years,” Akers said we’ve reached “a place where it very well seems safest not to mention your Christianity; we may have very well entered a time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Christianity within the United States military.”
Barber called his enemies “hordes of locusts” who want to destroy “every noble institution that adheres to traditional values and righteousness and upholds Biblical principles … It’s sad what’s happening to America now, folks.”
Of course, in reality, nobody is trying to say fundamentalist “Christians” have to marry somebody of the same sex. What we are saying to them is that we don’t have to live our lives according to their religious beliefs.
And it is not just atheists and non-Christians who are the victims of this attempted purge of our military, but Jews, allegedly fundamentalist Christianity’s best-friend. The Philadelphia Jewish Voice reported in 2007 that,
An Orthodox Jew and former petty officer in the US Navy said his civil rights were violated after a chaplain and officials at a Veterans Administration hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, tried to convert him to Christianity while he was under the V.A.’s care.
Also in 2007, TruthOut reported that “At the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Army base, military chaplains have been holding Bible classes for US soldiers using study guides that appear to be anti-Semitic.”
Mikey Weinstein has said in an interview that “The rise of evangelical Christianity inside the military went on steroids after 9/11 under this administration and this White House, This administration [President Bush] has turned the entire Department of Defense into a faith-based initiative.”
Things had gotten to such a state in 2011 that, as the Air Force Times reported,
The Air Force’s top officer has issued a stern reminder to leaders about religion and their jobs: Don’t proselytize or show favoritism toward a particular faith.
Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz sent a servicewide memo Sept. 1 cautioning leaders at all levels to balance the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom and the prohibition on government intrusion.
“We have seen instances where well-meaning commanders and senior noncommissioned officers appeared to advance a particular religious view among their subordinates, calling into question their impartiality and objectivity. We can learn from these instances,” said Lt. Col. Sam Highley, Schwartz’s spokesman.
And no, it wasn’t atheists who were the problem. It was so-called Christians. And this was, as Mikey Weinstein called it, a better-late-than-never example of “constitutional religious compliance.”
If you Google this topic of religious persecution in the military you will find an incredible number of right wing websites presenting America with an imagined war on Christians in the military. Of the opposite, sadly, because it is the opposite that is true, you will find almost nothing at all. You won’t find much about it in the mainstream media either, which prefers to ignore touchy subjects that leave conservatives looking like the bigots they are. Unless you go looking, you could go through life unaware of the anti-non-believer crusade taking place in our nation’s military and you might imagine that the opposite is taking place.
Really, the problem for fundamentalists is that they hate being told “no.” This really infuriates them, because they say they are only doing what God wants them to do, which is, apparently, to defame and abuse and discriminate against everybody who does not submit to them and to their religious beliefs. They do not like being thwarted.
The threat of a military that takes its marching orders from the American Family Association ought to frighten you. If it does not, you have not been paying attention. Just stop and think for a minute what U.S. military intervention means to a group for which “the road to Damascus” has end-times overtones you do NOT want to participate in.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.