Military Religious Freedom Foundation Founded Due to Religious Persecution

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein is a 1977 honors alum of the Air Force Academy, a former member of the JAG Corps, and Assistant General Counsel to President Ronald Reagan. As his name suggests, Weinstein is Jewish. As a Academy cadet, Mikey Weinstein suffered anti-Semitic slurs, hanging swastikas, death threats, and physical hazing. Mikey Weinstein’s two sons attended Colorado Springs’ Air Force Academy in the early decade of the 2000s. The sons, Casey and Curtis, also suffered harassment because of being Jews.

In February 2004, on repeated days, the administration at the Air Force Academy placed flyers advertising Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ, on the plates of cadets at the school’s dining room. The administration also covered academy walls with posters promoting the movie. The commanding general of the Air Force Academy directed Christian cadet Amanda Weinstein, Casey’s wife, to take non-Christian cadets to Colorado Springs’ New Life Church, pastored by Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals. The general also instructed Amanda to bring non-Christian cadets to the church for its Easter passion play called The Thorn. Fellow cadets called Casey a “fucking Jew,” and academy staff accused Casey and all Jewish people of complicity in the execution of Jesus Christ.

In October 2005, Mikey Weinstein, Casey Weinstein and other recent graduates of the Air Force Academy sued the United States Air Force, in the United States District Court in New Mexico. The plaintiffs alleged the Air Force unlawfully permits proselytization by evangelical Christian officers. On October 26, 2006, U.S. District Judge James A. Parker, for the District of New Mexico, dismissed Weinstein v. U.S. Air Force, on the ground that none of the plaintiffs had standing to sue, since no plaintiff currently attended the Air Force Academy.

As the result of publicity from the lawsuit, Mikey Weinstein and his wife received frequent death threats. Someone shot the largest window in the Weinstein house. Others left dead animal sacrifices on the couple’s front door. Feces and beer bottles smeared the house. For three years, a group of women called the Weinstein home every ten days and chanted on the phone: “Mikey Weinstein, bullet in the head, praise the Lord, he’s finally dead.” Little children called and sang: “Now we lay you in your grave, there was no way you could be saved; you hate our Lord and he can tell, which is why you burn in hell.” The Weinsteins heard adults, in the background, instructing children what to say.

In March 2008, the United States Air Force Academy, in order to allay claims of religious intolerance on campus, scheduled a seminar for April 9, entitled “U.S.A.’s War on Terror: Not a Battle Between Christianity and Islam.” The Academy invited Michael Weinstein, Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, and former United States Ambassador Joseph Wilson to speak at the April forum. The speakers intended to argue that sectarian religious interests should not determine military doctrine. Weinstein planned to show clips from Constantine’s Sword, a film documentary about the Catholic Church’s violence against Jews.

On April 8, Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious Liberty and Civil Rights, issued a press release, denouncing Constantine’s Sword as anti-Catholic and charging its writer, James Carroll, as an “embittered ex-priest.” The Catholic League also contacted more than one hundred elected officials, including the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Secretary of Defense.

On April 9, Air Force Academy Superintendent John F. Regni appeared at the beginning of the seminar and directed Michael Weinstein to remove clips from Constantine’s Sword from his presentation. After a 25-minute argument, Regni refused to rescind his directive. The seminar proceeded without the documentary clips. In an April 10 statement, Bill Donohue said he was “delighted” the academy “made the right decision.”

As a result of his sons’ experience at the Air Force Academy, Mikey Weinstein formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog organization promoting religious freedom in the Military. The Foundation won a significant victory in 2011, when the US Air Force, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, revised a training course taught to nuclear missile launch officers which included quotations from Catholic dogma on the theory of just war. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation website may be found at http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org.