What First Amednment? Proselytizing and Christians in the US Military

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 at 07:38 PM

You may be under the impression that our constitution prohibits the government from attempting to convert people to Christianity--you know, that separation of church and state, First Amendment thing. But it doesn't seem to be stopping our military from proselytizing it's ever-more-Christian butt off, or assuming that nonbelievers are, at a minimum, defective in some way. I guess they think it's hard to fight for God & Country if you have the wrong (or no) God.

There's been a series of incidents reported in the last couple of years in which members of the military have taken it as their duty to spread their version of the Christian gospel to people serving under them. And having been in the military, I can tell you that there is no more captive audience than a crowd of soldiers being lectured by their superiors.

Here are a few--hardly all--of the examples.

Case in Point # 1: Mikey Weinstein's detailing of anti-Semitism at the Air Force Academy

From a review of Weinstein's book With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military, by Robert C. Koehler of Tribune Media Services:

Until I read the newly published “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military” (St. Martin’s Press), Michael Weinstein’s disturbing account of anti-Semitism at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I shrugged off each of these remarks, and so much more, as isolated, almost comically intolerant noises out of True Believer Land. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do . . .

Now my blood runs cold. Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the Academy and former assistant general counsel in the Reagan administration, and a lifelong Republican, has devoted the last several years of his life to battling what he has come to regard as a fundamentalist takeover of the Academy, turning it, in effect, into a taxpayer-supported Evangelical institution. He charges that the separation of church and state is rapidly vanishing at the school, which routinely promotes sectarian religious events, tolerates the proselytizing of uniquely vulnerable new recruits and, basically, conflates evangelical interests and the national interest.

If you think this is just a fight over some abstract principle, with ramifications only for atheist, Jewish, Buddhist and other cadets who may be “offended” by fundamentalist God talk, I urge you to check out Weinstein’s book or website (militaryreligiousfreedom.org). He documents a chilling phenomenon: The whole U.S. military, up and down the chain of command, is coming to be dominated by members of a small, characteristically intolerant sliver of Christianity who truly regard themselves as Christian soldiers, on a God-appointed mission to harvest souls and battle evil.

Weinstein, whose family tradition of national service is pretty impressive, does not do battle lightly with those who now run his alma mater. One of his sons is a recent graduate of the Air Force Academy and the other is still a cadet there. His eldest son’s wife, a Christian, was his son’s classmate at the Academy, and Weinstein’s brother-in-law, also a Christian, is a grad as well. And his father graduated from Annapolis.

The fact that both sons endured anti-Semitic harassment initially spurred him to take action. But this goes deeper than disrespect for other faiths. The attitude he has encountered in his attempt to hold the institution, and the rest of the military, accountable smacks of a coup: “The Christian Taliban is running the Department of Defense,” he told me. “It inundates everything.”

Can you imagine a contingent of religious zealots, with their contempt for secular values (and such manifestations of secular order as the U.S. Constitution) — and with their zest for holy war — in control of the most potent fighting force and weaponry in human history? Is this possible?

Well, said Weinstein, consider the 523rd Fighter Squadron, based at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., which calls itself The Crusaders, and whose emblem consists of a sword, four crosses and a medieval knight’s helmet. Check ‘em out at globalsecurity.org, which reports that the payload on the F-16s they fly consists of “a wide variety of conventional, precision guided and nuclear weapons.”

Case in Point # 2: H.O.P.E. Ministries International allowed to spend two days inside the Pentagon proselytizing to government employees

From the Baltimore Chronicle:

According to documents obtained by the watchdog group the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and made available to Truthout, David Kistler, President of Hickory, North Carolina-based H.O.P.E. Ministries International, embarked on a "DC Crusade" along with dozens of members of the evangelical organization for two weeks that included two days inside the Pentagon proselytizing and preaching the "gospel" to government employees and "saving souls."

Kistler is a somewhat controversial figure whose sermons contain apocalyptic messages and bizarre prophecies. He believes certain Democratic lawmakers will burn in hell while "good Christians," such as President Bush, will be swept up into the heavens.

The Rapture will soon vacuum up good Christians, including George W. Bush, to Heaven, he said in a past sermon to his congregation. Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton will not be Raptured up to Heaven. Following The Rapture, the Anti-Christ will appear and children will be "micro-chipped."

Col. William Broome, the Pentagon chaplain, and his deputy, Maj. Alan Pomaville, invited Kistler's group to speak to DOD employees at a Pentagon prayer breakfast June 6 and in the Pentagon auditorium June 7, according to a copy of a recent newsletter published by H.O.P.E Ministries. Kistler, according to written statements made to his congregation, spent a considerable amount of his time at the Pentagon proselytizing to DOD employees in violation of federal law.

"I am thrilled to report that three souls were saved among those who attended those events," Kistler wrote in the newsletter sent to members of his congregation.

Neither a Pentagon spokesman nor a representative for H.O.P.E. ministries returned numerous calls for comment.

I can't imagine why the Pentagon didn't want to discuss this at length, can you?

And who exactly is David Kistler, a man who finds Bush heavenly but Kennedy, Biden, & Clinton hellish?

Evangelist Dave Kistler was called to preach at the age of 17. Having grown up in a pastor’s home, and coming to Christ at the age of 5, Evangelist Kistler, as a high school student felt a strong pull toward the legal profession. It was during his junior year in high school, that Brother Kistler gave up a focus toward secular law, and yielded to proclaim God’s law. Upon completion of his undergraduate and graduate training, Evangelist Kistler and his wife Betsy, entered into a two-year youth ministry in Tampa Florida.

It was during that time that the Lord began working strongly on Dave’s heart, drawing him toward the field of evangelism.

Case in Point # 3: Pat Tillman and his parents--problem atheists

Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, testified [before congress] that she was "appalled" by comments from Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, an officer in Tillman's unit, that implied the family was not at peace with Pat's death because they are atheists who believe their son is now "worm dirt."

"When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt" Kauzlarich stated in an interview with ESPN.

It's actually worse than that. The colonel who was the Exec Officer of Tillman's outfit in Afghanistan actually had all of this to say according to a piece on ESPN (emphasis added):
According to the Army officer who directed the first official inquiry, the Army might have more of a clue about the shooter's identity than it has let on. Asked whether ballistics work was done to identify who fired the fatal shots, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich told ESPN.com, "I think, yeah, they did. And I think they know [who fired]. But I never found out."

Mansfield and other Rangers who attended the post-incident meeting said — both in interviews with ESPN.com and in documents from the Army investigations — they were advised by debriefers that night that the unit as a whole bore the responsibility for Tillman's death and they should avoid placing blame on any one person.

In his interview with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich also said he was not driven to identify Tillman's killer.

"You know what? I don't think it really matters," Kauzlarich said. "And the reason I say that — you got to look at the overall situation here that these guys were fighting in. And somebody hit him. So would you hold that guy [who] hit him responsible for hitting him, when everybody was shooting in that direction, given the situation? We'll see how the [Defense Department Inspector General's] investigation comes out. But I had no issue on not finding a specific person responsible for doing it."

Kauzlarich said he is confident the current probe will not result in criminal charges against the shooter or shooters. He said investigators would not still be examining the incident at all if it were not for Tillman's NFL celebrity — he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals when he enlisted — and the pressure brought to bear by Tillman's family on a number of Washington politicos.

"His parents continue to ask for it to be looked at," Kauzlarich said. "And that is really their prerogative. And if they have the right backing, the right powerful people in our government to continue to let it happen, then that is the case.

"But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide, and the parents have basically said, 'OK, it was an unfortunate accident.' And they let it go. So this is — I don't know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."

In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November 2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the United States.

Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

In an interview with ESPN.com, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Asked by ESPN.com whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Asked what might finally placate the family, Kauzlarich said, "You know what? I don't think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don't know. Maybe they want to see somebody's head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can't bring their son back."

Kauzlarich, now 40, was the Ranger regiment executive officer in Afghanistan, who played a role in writing the recommendation for Tillman's posthumous Silver Star. And finally, with his fingerprints already all over many of the hot-button issues, including the question of who ordered the platoon to be split as it dragged a disabled Humvee through the mountains, Kauzlarich conducted the first official Army investigation into Tillman's death.

Case in Point # 4: Air Force rule allowed chaplains to evangelize military personnel who were not affiliated with any faith

The Air Force, facing a lawsuit over alleged proselytizing, has withdrawn a document that permitted chaplains to evangelize military personnel who were not affiliated with any faith, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The document was circulated at the Air Force Chaplain School until eight weeks ago. It was a "code of ethics" for chaplains that included the statement "I will not proselytize from other religious bodies, but I retain the right to evangelize those who are not affiliated."

The code was written by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces (NCMAF), a private association of religious bodies that provide chaplains to the military. It was never an official directive of the Defense Department, but the fact that it was handed out at the chaplains school at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., "might have given the impression that it was Air Force policy," said Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a retired Navy chaplain who is a special adviser to the secretary of the Air Force.

The Air Force distanced itself from the code of ethics after complaints by Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, a 1977 Air Force Academy graduate who has accused the academy's current leaders of fostering pressure on cadets to convert to evangelical Christianity.

Last week, Weinstein filed suit in federal court in New Mexico, alleging "severe, systemic and pervasive" religious discrimination in the Air Force. Among other evidence, the suit cited a July 12 New York Times article that quoted Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, the Air Force's deputy chief of chaplains, as saying: "We will not proselytize, but we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched."

Weinstein said yesterday that before filing the lawsuit, he asked senior Air Force officials to explain whether Richardson was speaking for the service.

"They say the bad guys we're fighting, the jihadists, represent a theocratic, fascistic movement," Weinstein said. "If the United States Air Force, probably the most technologically lethal organization ever assembled by man, has a policy of evangelizing 'the unchurched,' you tell me how that makes us look."

... Weinstein called the [new] guidelines insufficient, but evangelical Christian groups attacked them as overly restrictive. "Mikey Weinstein might not like it, but it is the job of an evangelical Christian chaplain to evangelize," said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for the Colorado-based Focus on the Family. "It's protected by the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion."

[Rabbi Arnold] Resnicoff [retired Navy chaplain who is a special adviser to the secretary of the Air Force] said the "amazing, positive thing that people are missing" about the NCMAF code of ethics is that "even the most evangelical chaplains are agreeing not to try to change the religion of a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu -- anyone who has a religious faith."

Case in Point # 5: Three Evangelical Christian Army chaplains at Fort Stewart, Georgia allegedly subjected Rabbi to displays of swastikas and Nazi uniforms
A former Army chaplain who has been listed as a deserter by the Department of Defense intends to file a civil rights lawsuit against the United States military for refusing to discipline three Evangelical Christian Army chaplains at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The three allegedly subjected Rabbi Jeffrey Goldman to vulgar displays of anti-Semitism in 2001 and 2002.

Goldman, 35, a native of Toronto, said the Army listed him as a deserter in retaliation for speaking out about other chaplains' anti-Semitic behavior at Fort Stewart. Goldman contends that he legally resigned from his stint as an Army chaplain in January 2002 when his transfer requests were rebuffed.

Mikey Weinstein, head of the watchdog group The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Goldman approached him last month after reading a story reported by Truthout in which Weinstein exposed a pattern of anti-Semitism displayed in Biblical teachings by chaplains at Fort Leavenworth.

Rabbi Goldman's civil rights "were perniciously raped in a literally mind-boggling, intentional manner," Weinstein said in an interview. "The Army retaliated against him for speaking out. The Army refused to lift a finger to address Rabbi Goldman's complaints despite documentary evidence that supports his claims. And now the Army is going to find itself the defendant in a lawsuit our organization will file on behalf of Rabbi Goldman for grossly violating his civil rights."

According to documents obtained by Truthout, an investigation by the Army Inspector General into Goldman's claims of anti-Semitism shows that in May 2001, Captain Robert Nay, a Christian chaplain at the Fort Stewart Army base, hung Nazi uniforms and swastikas on the wall of the officers' club at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, during a May 23, 2001 interfaith prayer breakfast Goldman was ordered to attend.

In an interview, Goldman said seeing the Nazi uniforms did not entirely surprise him. A month earlier, Nay had informed Goldman that he thought it would be "funny" if he dressed up soldiers in the Nazi uniforms on Holocaust Memorial Day, a time when the world memorializes the six million Jews who were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War II.

When contacted for comment, Nay hung up the telephone. A public affairs official at Fort Stewart would not comment for this story, nor would he disclose his name.

Goldman says he complained about Nay's anti-Semitic tirades to his Fort Stewart chaplain supervisor, Major Larry Sharp. In a sworn affidavit, Goldman said Sharp told him that he "needed to get along with people who hate Jews." Moreover, Goldman was then informed by Sharp that he would now be reporting directly to Nay. Goldman said he immediately contacted Rabbi David Lapp, head of the Jewish Chaplains Council in New York, who had sponsored Goldman's chaplain service in the military.

Lapp said he was made aware of the Nazi paraphernalia and the episode of anti-Semitism Goldman says he was subjected to, but he dismissed that as "no big deal."

"Lots of people collect Nazi material and swastikas," Lapp, now retired, said in an interview from his New Jersey home. "Sure, he told me about it. But that's not the issue here. The issue is he ran away from his commitment when he found out he was going to be sent to Afghanistan in 2001."

Goldman disputes that account. He said he was never privy to information regarding "troop movement" and that Lapp's accusation is an attempt to cover up the fact that he "turned a blind eye" to Goldman's numerous complaints of anti-Semitism and his requests for a transfer.

"I would have willingly gone to Afghanistan," Goldman said. "I just didn't want to be subjected to anti-Semitism at Fort Stewart. The whole reason I volunteered to become a chaplain is because I was eager to help Jewish kids who chose the military and needed spiritual guidance while being far away from home serving" in the Army. "Rabbi Lapp told me over and over again not to rock the boat in the military and that I should just do what the goyim(gentiles) want and keep four meters away from the people who were anti-Semitic."

.... Weinstein said he expected the Army's denials to Goldman's claims, so he demanded that the rabbi take a lie detector test to measure the validity of his allegations of anti-Semitism. The administrator of the test, John McClinton, a forensic polygrapher and former Canadian military intelligence officer, said Goldman scored a "+21" in response to questions about claims of anti-Semitism at Fort Stewart, which McClinton says suggests Goldman is "being more than truthful."


What?! An Air Force unit calling itself Crusaders? Those darned Christians have gone too far this time. Oh, wait... The 523rd already had that nickname way back in 1977 when Mikey first joined the Air Force. Whoops.

The info on the 523rd is a small blip in a much larger story about a pretty frightening tendency of the military, especially the Air Force, to push Christianity on a captive audience. The fact that the Crusaders name may predate Weinstein's service (accepting for the sake of argument that it does) really doesn't change the underlying problem.

Reader Russ is right--it's a much larger story than one or seventy-one of Mikey's out-of-context horror anecdotes. The real story should be the fawning media's eagerness to attack Christianity in all its forms. Read Mikey's litany of complaints against the Air Force Academy filed by the "Americans United for the Separation of Church and State." As I recall from following that story, not a single one of them was confirmed by either the Air Force or Department of Defense. What? You didn't read about that? I'm shocked; SHOCKED! And Mikey's "massive lawsuit" he was gonna file to cause "sucking chest wounds"? Thrown out by the courts. How about the time Mikey read that a retired U. S. Navy Jewish Chaplain was going to assist in looking into military chaplain religious guidelines? Well, Mikey--as I recount with more than a little shame for the former Captain Weinstein--referred to him as "Rabbi Bootlicker."
On the other hand, it's a matter of historical fact that the U.S. was founded largely by Episcopalians and that protestantism, especially that denomination, was embraced by the United States military chaplaincy as the "in" faith. Everybody else, though tolerated, was of secondary importance. You can go on just about any military base, visit a chapel, and see that it's so. Now, why is that "constitutional"? Because it existed at the framing of the constitution and thus the framers accepted it without comment.

"On the other hand, it's a matter of historical fact that the U.S. was founded largely by Episcopalians and that protestantism, especially that denomination, was embraced by the United States military chaplaincy as the "in" faith...Now, why is that "constitutional"? Because it existed at the framing of the constitution and thus the framers accepted it without comment."

So why don't we declare the US a Protestant nation? I'm sure Catholics in the country will love paying taxes to support Protestant churches. James Madison pushed for the First Amendment so that no one sect of any religion could be declared the national religion and receive official government sanction. Thomas Jefferson even more vehemently defended the idea that church and state should be separated. Were our nation's founders dangerous secularist liberals out to destroy Christianity? Hardly. But the bloody history of the Protestant/Catholic wars in Europe and discrimination of Puritans in England was still fresh in their minds; they knew the disastrous consequences of building a religious state.

"The real story should be the fawning media's eagerness to attack Christianity in all its forms"

I think that demonstrates the nature & value of your views well enough that no other response is needed from me.

"I'm sure Catholics in the country will love paying taxes to support Protestant churches."

You should ask them. At Mikey's Air Force Academy, that beautiful, seventeen-spired cadet chapel you see is a protestant house of worship. Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Catholics have to go downstairs in the basement if they want to worship there. Another protestant church built in your name is the National Cathedral in Washington. It's an Episcopal church, too.

So, why aren't we aiming further up the chain towards the Drunkard-in-Thief? Look at Shlub and his office of "faith-based initiatives". Trust me, all this is done with Herr Butthole's nod.