This speech was delivered on Oct. 7, 2006, at the 29th annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Listen to the audio version.
By Mikey Weinstein
I thank all of you very, very much. I appreciate it.
I do a lot of speaking around the country and was really happy I could be here today. This is the kickoff of the book tour. I know there are a lot of people in the Pentagon who are cringing about my book, With God on Our Side, being released, and I hope they keep cringing for a long time.
Usually I start speeches by asking people to raise their hands if they have actually, ever in their lives, once spoken truth to power. It's been said that democracy is an illusion in America. What we really have is an auction. But I can tell you today if you want to see true patriots, real democracy and real Americans, look around at your neighbors here. I know what all of you have had to go through to actually come and just be here and articulate today. I'm very honored to be here, honored to get this award. Thank all of you so very much.
My alma mater is the U.S. Air Force Academy. And let me make it very clear that I love our country, I love our military, I love all the service branches. Forty-five minutes ago, unfortunately, Annapolis defeated Air Force in football, 24-17, so I'm trying to get over that. My dad is an Annapolis graduate, so I know he's happy. Just before I came up here, he called me on the phone saying (we have a standing bet), "I'll take a very thick steak when you get back from San Francisco."
I guess I have to begin by thanking Mel Gibson, not for what he recently did, but what he did 32 months ago, when his movie came out. I forget the name of it. I think it was "The Jesus Chainsaw Murders" or "Freddie versus Jesus," one of those movies.
The cadets at the Air Force Academy were marched into Mitchell Hall, the big two-acre building, standing at attention, to watch this film. For three straight days, flyers advertising how they would all need to go see that movie were placed on their plates during mess. I talked to so many cadets, many of them nonevangelical Christians and Jews. Everybody was saying they couldn't believe it.
When that movie came out, I was contacted by Christian members of the faculty at the Air Force Academy. I've been very active there through the years. And they said, "Do you know what's going on here?"
I said, "What are you talking about?" I had three kids there and my older son graduated in the class of 2004, and so did his wife. She's Christian, my son's Jewish. My youngest son was a dooley, a fourth classman, a freshman. I didn't hear this from them.
I need to back up just a bit. If you are in the military, it's a very different world. Adultery, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, ladies and gentlemen, is a felony! I've prosecuted and defended those cases. If your commander or anybody up and down the chain of command in the military--and you can ask Phil Paulson about this, who spoke so eloquently earlier today--tells you to go to the base dentist at 4 p.m. and you don't go, it's a felony! We have regulations in the Army, Navy Air Force and Marine Corps that prevent superiors up and down the chain of command from pushing Mary Kay Cosmetics and Amway and Tupperware.
One particular vicious imperialist contagion of fascistic contagion gets me so emotional. A biblical worldview of Christianity is being pushed up and down the chain of command and we're not at "the tipping point." It's not like when Al Gore, in "An Inconvenient Truth," says we're at a tipping point, and we better do something now, because 30 or 40 years from now there's going to be a problem.
We've got to start remembering what T. S. Eliot said. The end of the world shall come, ladies and gentlemen, not with a bang but a whimper. Well, I come to you today with the gun smoke on my face, that we've lost the Marine Corps, we've lost the Army, we've lost the Navy and the Air Force.
We're past the tipping point. There's nothing but debris left of the wall supposedly separating church and state.
In America, we're supposed to be untouchable, because we have the Bill of Rights. I know the religious right loves to demonize me. They stopped going on national TV and radio with me. I think they didn't fare too terribly well. But a year ago yesterday, I sued the US Air Force. I sued them for violating the Constitution under the Establishment Clause.
I'm done talking to politicians. Under Republicans, man exploits man; but under Democrats it seems it's just the opposite! So I'm done with politicians. I'm going to the only sanctuary we have left, which is the federal judiciary. I'm asking the federal courts to force the Air Force, your United States Air Force, to treat religion neutrally. And even the concept of religion to no religion neutrally. I didn't make these words up, they're out of 200 straight years of federal case law from the Supreme Court.
Secondly, I'm asking the federal courts to force your U.S. Air Force--and I don't think it's any better in the Army Navy or Marine Corps--to ensure that during the duty day, and duty night, no member of the Air Force shall ever involuntarily--which I know is a big five-syllable word for the religious right--against their will, ever have to be coerced, exhorted, pressured, evangelized or proselytized while on duty to change their religious faith.
I don't know what else I could ask of the Air Force than for it to agree each day to put on its underwear, brush its teeth, and show up to work on time.
My legal team and I waited until after Hanukkah, eight days, before we extended the olive branch to the Department of Justice, which of course is defending the Air Force. That's why I had a wry smile on my face while Michelle Goldberg was talking about the prayer group in the Department of Justice. I thought for sure they might consider this situation an embarrassment beyond belief. But,of course not. They're trying to attack our lawsuit on standing.
Four days later, four second lieutenants, all graduates of the Air Force Academy class of 2004, my son one of them (not all of them Jewish), joined me as a plaintiff. There is a terror beyond description as to what the military can do to you. Thousands of men and women, sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen, contact me 24/7, including today.
Here's the metric I'd like you to remember from this speech today. Actually there are two, one of them from Michelle's book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. I'm sure I'm selling more books for Michelle--I need to get a cut out of this! There are 702 US military installations in 34 states and 132 countries. Each of them is like a city or a town. In every one of them now we have something called an Officers' Christian Fellowship--for the officers, and a Christian Military Fellowship--for the enlisted folks.
They have three goals and they are unabashed about it. Right out there on the Internet, they push 'em unabashedly. And that's why we're at war now.
Number one goal: We want to see a spiritually transformed United States military.
Number two: With ambassadors for Christ in uniform.
Number three: Powered by something called the Holy Spirit.
Now you think about that for a second. Go back to Michelle's book and there's a stat that jumped out like a tarantula on a wedding cake when I read it. I had to go get a shot of bourbon and wait a couple of days before reading her book again. It was a long shot!
In 1970, there were ten mega-evangelical churches in America. Michelle defines a mega-evangelical church as 2,000 or more members. But in the last few years a new one has opened up every 48 hours. Now that says it all.
Let me say this again, when you're Phil Paulson and you're 18 years old and you're in the United States Army and your platoon sergeant tells you you're going to go to services, or if you're Curtis Weinstein, my son, who's being called a "fucking Jew" and being accused of total complicity in the execution of Jesus Christ, the response, "Get out of my face, sir or ma'am," is not an option.
Whenever the majority uses its power to hurt the minority, that is fascism, and that is wrong!
It took a lot for me to fight the United States military. You heard about my family's background. Yes, I'm Jewish; it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. If you think of the levees breaking in New Orleans, and New Orleans being completely flooded, imagine the wall, not a levee, in the U.S. military being broken a number of years ago and being flooded with one particular voracious world-view of Christianity. It's exactly the way that Michelle described it: dominionism.
As I mentioned, thousands of people come to me and tell me their stories--Marines, sailors, airmen, soldiers, many of them from the AOR (the term the military uses for Afghanistan and Iraq Area of Responsibility). Ninety-six to 97 percent are Christian, three-fourths of whom are Protestant, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and LDS. About a fourth are Roman Catholic. I will get some atheists and agnostics and Jews and Muslims, but basically these are Christians being preyed upon, p-r-a-y and p-re-y, by other Christians, telling them that they are not Christian enough, so they're going to be burned eternally in the lake of fire with the Jews!
No kidding. When they see me, and I speak to Christian audiences, I look into that thousand-yard stare, and some of them actually think I am Satan. He would have been here today, but he has a standing Saturday badminton thing with Bush and Cheney and their boss Rove. Sends his condolences.
In 2004, an atheist cadet who was raised in a Christian family had had enough of the torment. He went to the Equal Opportunity Office at the Air Force Academy. In the Air Force Academy, those officers are called MEOs (Military Equal Employment Opportunity Officers). He had a report, and chronicled what he was going through being an atheist. Doesn't matter that he was born and raised Christian, it made no difference. The captain looked at him. The captain had previously been selected just a couple of months before as the MEO Officer of the Year in the entire United States Air Force. He told the young cadet, "I can't help you. My goal is to bring you back to Jesus."
In January 2005, a brown-bag lunch was held at the Academy, as they often are. Anyone ever been to the Academy in Colorado Springs? Show of hands. Annapolis or West Point? Anybody? A brown-bag lunch was held. There was a flyer that went out. It said, "Do not take this flyer down. This is an officially-sponsored Air Force Academy activity in conjunction with something called The Christian Leadership Ministries. Today's luncheon topic"--it was attended by hundreds of officers, by the way--"Why We Cannot Let You Have Your God While We Have Ours."
When James Dobson, another guy that will never be going out to dinner with me, opened Focus on the Family, some idiot-prince at the Air Force Academy decided it would be a good idea for the famed Air Force Academy jump team to parachute down out of the azure, crystal-blue Colorado Springs skies, carrying the keys of heaven, landing on the front lawn, picking up their parachutes, marching in formation, and giving Dr. Dobson the keys to heaven. Hello, James Madison! Hello, Thomas Jefferson!
Number one joke at the Air Force Academy, late 2004: Why do Jews make the best magicians? Anybody out there? Because they have the magical ability to walk into a red-brick building and come out the smokestacks in a puff of smoke.
I had a senior member of the United States military with more than one star on his shoulder (that's as far as I'll go) tell me to "please stop, stop the lawsuit, stop the attack." He admitted there'd been a vast number of church/state violations that have occurred in the U.S. military. He then said to me, and I'll never forget it: "But, Mikey, it's not like we violated any laws!" I kid you not.
Late July 2004, the incoming freshmen, who are called basic cadets, are out in the remote combat training part of the Air Force Academy called Jacks Valley. The Air Force Academy is vast: 18,000 acres. The first three weeks of basic training are hard enough; the last three are particularly onerous. They live in tents. They are under simulated combat conditions for three straight weeks. Seven days into the three-week period of what's called "Second Beast," there was an ecumenical voluntary Protestant worship service, as they called it, that was going to be held out in one of the amphitheaters. There are 1,400 incoming basic cadets. They were strongly encouraged to show up. Half of the class did: 700. You remember they are still in a state of essential shock. Upperclassmen were with them, other officers were with them. Forty yards away, in the tents, huddled the other half of the class.
A chaplain jumps on the stage and goes into an unbelievable fire-and-brimstone lecture, still OK by the Constitution. It's a voluntary, (with a small "v"), supposedly ecumenical Protestant worship service. At the end of it, this chaplain pointed with his hand, to where those tents were. Using a megaphone, he ordered the basic cadets to immediately at the end of the service go into the tents, confront their classmates, and demand to know what their religious faith is. If they were not born-again Christians, they were to be evangelized on the spot and told that the penalty for that apostasy, if they didn't accept born-again, evangelical Christianity, was that they would burn eternally in the fires of hell.
Now, the Air Force Academy says it didn't happen. It lasted for a few hours. Then they said it happened, but maybe it was just a reserve chaplain who had done it, You know, like a guy who's a baker in Peoria whose car broke down outside of the Academy, and said, "Hey, it's a great time to do my two-weeks stint!"
But you know who that chaplain was? He was Miss America. He was the reigning U.S. Air Force chaplain-of-the-year. He had bragged of baptizing U.S. soldiers in swimming pools that had formerly been owned by Saddam Hussein in the AOR, in Iraq.
I could go on and on and on. I didn't even want to write a book. But it became pretty clear that it was de rigueur, and needed to be done. But let me tell you something. I think back to what Sinclair Lewis said in 1939. Some of you may know this. He was the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He spent about six months observing the Third Reich. He came back to America and made a chilling statement. He said that when fascism comes to America, ladies and gentlemen, it will be wrapped in the American flag carrying a cross.
Now, it doesn't much matter if they're teaching intelligent design in Modesto over evolution, it doesn't much matter if we have "In God We Trust" on the coinage, or if we say "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance--not if we lose the Marine Corps, Navy, Army and Air Force. Everybody there takes an oath. Some of them put their hands on bibles and swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We do not want an American military to put their hand on the Constitution, to swear to support and defend the New Testament! And that's what's happening.
There's a book by a man named Bobby Welch. You may not have heard of Bobby, but you've heard of his organization, the Southern Baptist Convention. Have any of you heard of his book, The Turner Diaries, and the relation between that and Oklahoma City and Timothy McVeigh? This is The Turner Diaries for the evangelical fascistic movement in the Department of Defense. Many admirals and generals and senior civilians carry this book around.
If you've ever been in the military, the mere tacit nuance of something that your superior does massively affects your life. What can we do about something like this? Where do we go?
The last refuge for us is the courts. And that's where I went. It's been a year now. They are not going to settle. They're trying to fight me on standing, as I said before. We formed a foundation. We have the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on my foundation. Some of you may have heard the most remarkable Islamic intellectual in the world right now, Reza Aslan, and his book No God But God. He's on my advisory board.
I've got gay and straight people on my board. I've got Republicans and Democrats, Christians and Jews, atheists and agnostics. Because something has to be done.
There are too many bangs going off. Herta Long spent 40 years in San Francisco. She's my great-aunt, the matriarch of our family. She passed away last summer. She was a Holocaust survivor. She came here after the war and then she moved to my hometown of Albuquerque shortly after that. Last summer she told me, "Mikey, don't stop this fight that you're in, because I remember living in Berlin in the late '30s when the first pronouncements came down that all the Jews had to have the same alphanumeric license plates for their cars."
Bang. Jews could not congregate in groups of 100. Bang. Then groups of 50, 40, 30. Bang, bang, bang. And nobody did anything.
Most of my people walked like sheep into Treblinka, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belson. Yes, there were pockets of resistance, ladies and gentlemen, the Warsaw ghetto. But nobody did anything. Herda told me, "Don't ever stop." I remember how upset she was right before she passed away, because the family did not let her drive anymore. She loved driving her car. She was in her late 80s, and the family prevented that from happening, I think, for the safety of people in Albuquerque! But Herda didn't like that very much. It was a real grudge thing for her.
A week before she died, I asked her to forgive the family and asked why was it she was so resolute about not wanting to give up her driving privileges? And I'll never forget what she said: "Because when you're a Jew, you never know when you have to get away."
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're all American citizens here, and we're not going to get away from our own country. Not when our social contract includes the U.S. Constitution. Not just those 16 golden words in the First Amendment that we all know so well, that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The religious right says, "Mikey Weinstein talks about the separation of church and state. Hey, that's a myth, you know, like Paul Bunyan and Bigfoot." Most lawyers in this country forget that in the body of the Constitution (forget the Bill of Rights for a second), you go to Clause 3, Article 6, ladies and gentlemen. You know what it says there: we will never have a religion test for any position in this federal government.
So you tell me that when Katherine Harris last month stated if you don't vote for a Christian you are essentially legislating sin, that isn't sedition? I guess Anne Coulter can call everybody a traitor. And of course Katherine Harris, who carefully counted those votes for Bush in 2000, very carefully, also talked about the "lie of separation of church and state."
From my perspective, I don't have the time to try to convince people anymore. In this country, we have cornered the market in America on at least being able to agree to disagree. We can't even do that with the religious reich, as I call them. There is no more communication. They'll talk to you only so long as they think they can convert you.
I got a great note from Jimmy Carter a few months ago, saying, "Don't give up the fight, I'll keep fighting, too, Mikey." I remember when he ran for president, I was very worried about him. I didn't vote for him. Even though he was an Academy graduate, I was concerned he wouldn't respect separation of church and state. Boy, does he ever!
You know, I tell people that this is not a political spectrum, left-or-right issue. It's a constitutional right-and-wrong issue. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican, if you're a Green, if you're a Democrat. Doesn't matter if you're an atheist, doesn't matter if you're an agnostic. If you get upset at your neighbor, wherever you live around America, you're not allowed to take your shovel and go cave his or her head in. We have a way of doing things in this country. We have a social contract and that's the Constitution.
One big part of the Constitution is that our armed forces are supposed to protect our liberties and our freedoms. When we lose the Armed Forces, and they become themselves a faith-based initiative, what can you do? Well, you can go to federal court, because that's the last bastion we have. But of course those are the "activist judges," meaning from the religious right's perspective. We can't get to them yet.
We've had some of the windows shot out of our synagogue in Albuquerque, feces, beer bottles, thrown at our house, our tires slashed. Yesterday when I boarded the plane in Albuquerque to come here, someone called me saying that my wife and children will be slaughtered at the Air Force/Navy game today in Colorado Springs. That doesn't seem very Christian to me. Of course, all the Christians say, "Well, Mikey, we're sorry that happened. Those aren't real Christians." Somebody tell me what a real Christian is!
If you're a shift manager at Starbucks, you cannot inflict Christianity, your version, your biblical world-view, on those who work for you. Or at Wendy's or Burger King. That's a violation of Title 7 of the U.S. Code. I don't care if you have a two-person company, you can't do it!
But we're going to allow the technologically most lethal organization created by humankind--the U.S. military--to push one particular biblical world-view. Wahhabeist Islam views right now are that the conflict going on in the world is between the forces of Allah and the princes of darkness. That's exactly what they say. Both the cosmic battle and on terrestrial earth.
I want to read you the back page of this crap from Bobby Welch. And I want you to think about how perfectly matched are those who are running our country, in particular our military now. "We are at war," the book says. "This declaration should come as no surprise to anyone within earshot of today's news media, but our war as Christians is much more intense and of a grander scale than any news report will ever show."
"There is a great cosmic war between God's army and the princes of evil. And all are enlisted. What is needed in today's church are warrior leaders to lead charges into battle."
Remember that when you go see the documentary, "Jesus Camp." I want you to think about this: the bombs, the nukes, the bullets, in the hands of people like that.
I was contacted about 20 months ago by a senior officer trying to get me to stop a three-star general at Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va., where all our fighters and bombers are, and all the nukes that go with them. He had ordered his staff to put together a Powerpoint presentation showing the direct correlation between The Book of Revelation and all of our movements in Afghanistan and Iraq. It got stopped, I believe, after one or two briefings.
What do you do about something like that? Again, you fight and you have to sue. There's nothing else we can do. I also agree with Michelle: our last refuge is the federal court system. Maybe November 7th things will change a little bit.
You have a congressman in California who makes me want to projectile vomit. His name is Duncan Hunter. I've been fighting Duncan for the last year. We defeated HR5122 and Senate Bill 2766, two weeks ago, and its attempt to create the right for chaplains in the military and anyone else, at mandatory military formations and even non-denominational services, from praying in the name of Jesus Christ. We were able to fight it and we won that one. They also repealed back the regulations that the military had put in place that said superiors can evangelize their subordinates as long as its done "noncoercively" and "sensitively."
Let me give you an analogy. If you're a 21-year-old male prison guard and you have fully consensual sexual intercourse with a 45- year-old female prison inmate, it's still statutory rape, because it can never be consensual enough. There is no way a commander or even a four-striper to a three-striper can be noncoercive enough or sensitive enough to push their particular biblical world-view of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And what about Jesus? You know when I talk to audiences around the country, it inevitably happens that someone says, "Mikey, OK, we get where you stand on the constitutional thing, we just don't agree with you." Actually, that's big of them to get that far without wanting to have to kill me. But they will inevitably say, "What is it about the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of Love, what is it about Jesus that you just can't handle?"
I'm a lawyer, it took me two years to figure out how to get through the cerebellum of an evangelical Christian. Here's what I came up with. You know I come from New Mexico. We have a lot of Native Americans in our state, so I say, "Listen to me, evangelical audience, you're not going to agree with me, but I want you to go through this with me. If you're a Native American kid, or a teenager, in New Mexico, a Navaho, an Apache, Mescalero, Jicarilla, or whatever, Pueblo Indian, and you're watching those old John Wayne movies when they circle the wagons, get the Winchester out, popping those braves off the horses, you're not real happy--because from your perspective, those are your enemies."
So here's how I describe it. Here's a chance meeting between myself and the Lamb of Love, Prince of Peace.
"Hey, Mikey, hey."
"I am, how you doin'?"
"I'm doin' all right."
"Mikey, I want to tell you something. Perhaps you know about my friend John. In Chapter 14:6, he correctly quotes me as saying that I'm the only light, the only truth, and the only way. And no one gets to the father (by the way, Mikey, who is also me) unless they accept me.
"Now, Mikey, I know in your Jewish faith, there's some concept which existed 3,000 years before I showed up called adonai shaddai, the Lord is just one. Well, I'm actually the father, the son, and a thing called the holy ghost. I'm actually three gods in one, but you don't have to worry about that. I want you to get to your knees here, on Van Ness Avenue. Get down, Mikey. Be slain in my spirit, be washed in the blood of me, the lamb. Now! Because I'm the only way, the only truth and the only life. Because that's gospel, because that's the word of God, which is me, and I'm also the son and the holy spirit. Now Mikey, if you don't do it, my hands are tied. If you don't do it, I'm going to have to hurt you really, really badly, like light you on fire, for a really, really long period of time, like eternity. Like I've done to Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, and Gandhi and Dr. Seuss."
I kid you not, I've had a number of evangelicals who have looked at me, and they've told me, when I've asked the question, that little Anne Frank is burning eternally in hell!
I look at them and say, "That's right, her little 13-year-old body was taken into a hermetically-sealed gas chamber where the Nazis' zyclon-B gas turned her little body into a blue and purple polka-dotted corpse and then it was shoved into a crematorium."
And I'll tell you something: I would commend my three children in the military right now, and everyone in this country to give their last drop of blood to defend that view. But I will not defend the view of my country telling me that's the only view, that's the correct view.
I am not trying to brutalize anybody's warm, cuddly Jesus teddy bear, or Vishnu teddy bear or Moses teddy bear. I'm saying simply that there is a time and a place. [Blue Angel planes flew loudly overhead at this point in the speech.] Thank you, God! You know, if that's the first sign of the rapture, I want to say I'm really just kidding about this. [Laughter]
There is a time and a place to push your religion on others. And that's what America is about. I was at the New Mexico State Fair two weeks ago. A guy walked up to me and gave me a four-panel cartoon that showed normal American life. The last panel showed a grotesquely-tortured and crucified Jesus saying that unless you accept Christ you will burn eternally in hell. That's the right place to do it. Being in America means that we have a free marketplace of ideas where you can go and do this.
I offered to fight Ted Haggard, actually, on HBO (that's the president of the National Association of Evangelicals), when he released an e-mail exchange we had last December to the news media, conveniently leaving off the last e-mail exchange. I heard he was a high-school football player. I boxed at the Academy. He wouldn't do it. I said we could give the money to the Christian Children's Fund, but he still wouldn't do it.
There is no more dialogue. There's no more dialogue with this side. We're in a war right now. As Michelle said, you do not wake up one day and go, "Hey, how did we get this theocracy?"
All these bangs are going off. Think of T.S. Eliot. When are we going to do something so that we can muster enough energy to fight back and propel something more than a sigh or a whimper? We have to do something. I formed a foundation, we got our nonprofit status. We're a militant organization. Our goals are to litigate first and to educate secondarily. I will meet them in court. I will fight them tooth and nail. My wife and I have decided we will fly the plane into the mountaintop, grabbing the saber, running into the enemy's positions. We will never stop, and please don't you either.
Thank you all very much. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Michael L. ("Mikey") Weinstein filed suit in federal court in October 2005 against the Air Force to end illegal proselytizing and evangelizing. The lawsuit was recently thrown out on standing. In March 2006, Weinstein formed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org), a watchdog group.
He is an attorney and businessman who served on active duty in the United States Air Force as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) for ten years stationed at military installations. He served as a federal prosecutor and defense attorney, as well as the Air Force's first Chief of Telecommunications and Information Systems Procurement Law. He spent three years as an attorney in the Reagan White House serving in the Office of Management and Budget under White House Budget Director David Stockman and as Assistant General Counsel in the Executive Office. His book is With God on Our Side.