Weinstein: 'It's not about eliminating God'

By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: February 11, 2014

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Michael Weinstein wants to make it clear: He is not waging war against Christians in the military.

But he sees himself in an all-out fight against religious intolerance. That has put him at odds with some Christians who, he says, force their views on others and ignore the Constitutional wall separating church and state — a practice particularly troubling in a world where subordinates must follow orders.

Weinstein, who goes by "Mikey," founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He spoke Monday at the College of William and Mary about his group's mission and cited examples how spreading a religious message can cross the line

In 2010, the foundation flagged the so-called "Jesus rifles" – references to Bible verses stamped on gun sights being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011, the Air Force suspended an ethics course for nuclear missile launch officers that used Bible passages.

"You can't make this stuff up," Weinstein said. "You just cannot."

Closer to home, Weinstein was involved in a dustup at Fort Eustis when three soldiers said they were ordered to clean up their barracks after opting not to attend a Christian rock concert on post. The soldiers said they felt punished. The Army later said the dispute resulted from a misunderstanding over orders.

Weinstein told his audience at the Sadler Center that he has no problem with evangelical Christians spreading their message, as long as they do it in "a time, manner and place" consistent with the law.

For example, he had no problem with the Eustis concert, just the idea that soldiers were forced to attend it.

"You can't use your position of military authority to push your religious faith on a helpless subordinate," he said. "Nor can you mercilessly proselytize the Iraqis, the Afghans and the Pakistanis, which is what we have been doing."

His foundation has some 36,000 clients across the services, military academies and ROTC. He defines clients as those who have contacted him with complaints of being oppressed. Nearly all of them – 96 percent – are mainline Protestants or Catholics, he said.

Weinstein has come in for his share of criticism, and he acknowledged that some of his "enemies" were probably in the audience Monday night. But he counts evangelical Christians as friends.

"It's not about eliminating God," he said. "If that were to happen, we would be in someone's face in two seconds. It's about making sure you follow the procedures in deploying your version of God."

Weinstein is an 1977 honor graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He served for more than a decade in the Judge Advocate General Corps and worked in the Reagan administration. He describes himself as a conservative Republican – and a man on a mission.

"I'm here trying to spread the gospel of the Constitution," he said.