Michael L. Weinstein
Michael L. Weinstein is an American attorney, businessman, and former Air Force officer. He is the founding president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military and No Snowflake in an Avalanche, both of which describe his fight against alleged coercive Christian fundamentalist practices by some members of the military.
Military service and education
Weinstein graduated with honors from the United States Air Force Academy in 1977. He has stated that at the Academy he encountered a string of incidents of psychological harassment, including notes emblazoned with swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs, death threats, and two violent incidents of hazing where he was ambushed, beaten, and, in one case, hospitalized.
Weinstein began his legal studies shortly after his appointment as chief of the secure systems branch of the 2049th Communications and Installations Group at McClellan Air Force Base. He enrolled in the Air Force law school program, where he earned his juris doctorate degree. He then served as a U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer for ten years.
Legal and political career
Weinstein spent over three years in the West Wing of the Reagan White House as legal counsel to the White House. He began with an appointment to the Office of Budget Management and was soon named the Committee Management Officer of the much-publicized Iran-Contra Investigation in his capacity as Assistant General Counsel of The White House Office of Administration, Executive Office of the President of the United States.
Weinstein served as the first General Counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time Presidential candidate H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation and left in 2006 to work full-time on the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a nonprofit foundation he founded in March 2006. This foundation was formed as a watchdog organization to protect religious freedom in the military in accordance with Department of Defense Directive 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services.
Weinstein says that both his sons were exposed to Christian proselytizing at the Academy. In the case of his younger son Curtis, he reported that it included anti-Semitic language and being asked "how it felt to kill Jesus". His elder son, Casey, a 2004 Academy graduate, alleged that "Senior cadets would sit down and say, 'How do you feel about the fact that your family is going to burn in hell?'" He wrote in his autobiography (Weinstein and Seay, p. 208):
It is naturally of great personal consequence that Curtis's and Casey's encounters with religious bigotry occurred at the Academy, which is where I first encountered it as well. Of course, from a historical perspective, Jews have always had the unfortunate role of scapegoat thrust upon them. But I'm under no illusions that what happened to my Jewish sons and my Christian daughter-in-law could not have happened to the son of a patriotic American Muslim or Buddhist or agnostic or atheist. I wouldn't be surprised if it already had.
Describing his trajectory in an interview with LA Progressive that was published in April 2012, Weinstein explained:
With regard to the arc of justice in my life, I started out at point A where I made a commitment that wherever I saw anti-semitism I’d stamp it out. Now I’m at point B, when I see unconstitutional religious persecution of any stripe, I don't care if I live or die, I’m not going to stand by and let it happen.
In October 6, 2005, Weinstein sued the United States Air Force for failing to prevent religious proselytizing in the U.S. Air Force. U.S. District Judge James A. Parker dismissed the case of Weinstein v. U.S. Air Force and wrote:
No Plaintiff claims to have personally experienced any of the things described under 'Factual Allegations'... while at the Academy or after leaving the Academy. The only fair reading of Plaintiffs’ factual allegations limits them to practices and events at the Academy and policies as they affect persons, other than Plaintiffs, at the Academy...Not a single Plaintiff has alleged any personal factual situation that has allegedly impinged on that Plaintiff’s constitutional rights since the Plaintiff left the Academy.
On September 17, 2007, Weinstein and the MRFF filed a federal lawsuit in Kansas City, Kansas, against Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Major Freddy J. Welborn, accusing them of allowing a "pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional religious rape of freedoms of our U.S. military. On March 5, 2008, the lawsuit was re-filed to include allegations that co-plaintiff Army Specialist Jeremy Hall was denied a promotion due to the filing of the original lawsuit.
Following the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, Weinstein suggested that proselytizing by "fundamentalist Christians" may have created a hostile environment that contributed to the psychological pressure on Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Hasan reportedly claimed he had faced harassing insults related to his Arab ethnic background and Islamic faith.
In November 2009, the American Family Association issued the statement "No More Muslims in the US Military", which explicitly stated that Muslim military enlistees be barred from military service in the United States armed forces on the grounds that "...just as Christians are taught to imitate the life of Christ, so Muslims are taught to imitate the Prophet in all things. Yesterday, Nidal Malik Hasan was simply being a good Muslim." MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein's denunciation of the AFA position as "bigoted, racist, [and] vile" was featured prominently by Hatewatch, the official blog of the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights organization.
A significant MRFF victory arrived in 2011 when the US Air Force, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Foundation, revised a training course taught to nuclear missile launch officers which included quotations from Wernher von Braun and also cited Christian Just War Theory, among other materials.
This led to Weinstein coming under attack from various opponents, including radio shock jock Michael Savage (himself born into a Jewish family), who mocked Weinstein's name as "Mickey Whine-stein", while asking "Why do you hate Christians, America, and the military, when, was it not for the Christians and the military your ancestors would have been turned into [something edited out]?"
Savage claimed "What Weinstein doesn't know was if it was not for the warrior mentality of the Christians he hates so much, who rescued his ancestors from the ovens of Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, Mickey Whine-[something edited out] wouldn't be here plaguing the United States of America."
Weinstein responded in a newsletter to his audience, noting that Savage's "stupefying rant" was "a rabidly ad-hominem, personal assault... which should serve as a particularly revealing clue as to the psychological state of this specimen, a professional bottom-feeding hyena who earns his daily bread by foaming at the mouth and spreading extremist hysteria which he likely doesn't even believe himself."
In January 2012, No Snowflake in an Avalanche (Vireo, 2012) was released. The book, co-authored by Weinstein and Davin Seay, details MRFF's prominent case studies and struggles, as well as the violent impediments that continue to be imposed against MRFF by its opponents. Weinstein supported the book release with nationwide speaking and book signing tour which includes one book store in Albuquerque, NM being forced by public pressure to reverse its decision to deny an in-store appearance due to “controversy” surrounding Mikey/MRFF/Book.
When protests broke out in various parts of Afghanistan over the improper disposal of copies of the Quran at the US military Bagram Air Base, for which the US apologized. Protesters shouted "Death to America" and burned U.S. flags. In a MRFF statement, Weinstein noted that the desecrations of the Muslim holy book by U.S. personnel revealed "a fatal attitude of patronizing colonial hostility [that] has indeed been allowed to hijack the US mission in Afghanistan. By adding grist to the mill of escalating regional resentment, America's own religious extremists, racists and anti-Muslim bigots within the military have ensured that they and their comrades in arms will continue to pay the awful price in spilled blood... the real-world consequence of this intrinsically ingrained religious prejudice and bigotry is the loss of service members' lives and limbs."
In 2012 Weinstein sued former chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt for issuing an imprecatory prayer that he equated to a fatwa. The suit was dismissed by the judge, who stated that Weinstein failed to connect the prayer to any subsequent threats or actions against him.
When news sources announced that permission granted to use military emblems on Holman Military Bibles had been revoked, with B&H Publishing Group being notified in 2011 that the decision was made based on new military trademark licensing issues.
The Bibles were a military variant of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and included “quotations, prayers, and inspiration” from figures ranging from George Washington and President George W. Bush to various historical figures from each of the respective branches of the U.S. Armed Services. Additionally, the Department of Defense announced that all Bibles with military emblems must be removed from military stores. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had threatened to sue the government if permission to use military emblems on Bibles was not revoked, with Mikey noting that the Bibles were both an "unconstitutional government endorsement of religion" and a "national security threat." In response to the revocation of the Bibles, Twenty-two members of Congress led by Mississippi Republican Alan Nunnelee wrote a letter seeking clarification for the pulling of B&H's permission to use military insignia, mischaracterizing MRFF as an "atheist group" to which the military "succumbed."
Weinstein has reportedly been frequently mischaracterized as an atheist, a charge that he and his defenders vociferously deny on the basis of him being "a Jewish agnostic who still prays three times a day in Hebrew... definitely not an atheist."
In a newsletter by his organization, Weinstein explained the rationale for MRFF's pressure to have the Bible pulled:
The Holman Bible endorsement was a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." We can't allow for precedents to be set that wear away, through an atrocious process of attrition, these important safeguards. Additionally, the endorsement was an open violation of Clause 3, Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
In November 2014 press release, Weinstien alleged that Christians in America could "pose the same kind of threat" as the terrorist group ISIS does in the Middle East.
Awards and recognition
In 2006, Weinstein was named by The Jewish Daily Forward in the "Forward 50", a list of those it considers to be the most influential Jews in America. Weinstein has also received the Buzzflash Wings of Justice Award. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice awarded him its Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award for taking extraordinary risks in pursuit of justice.
In 2010, Weinstein was given the Anne Froehlich Political Courage Award by the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club, which had previously been awarded to figures such as Phil Donahue, Daniel Ellsberg, Ron Kovic, as well as Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson and wife Valerie Plame.
Weinstein was named Americans United for Separation of Church and State's 2011 "Person of the Year" at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on November 7, 2011.
Weinstein has been accused of "waging a war on Christianity" by some critics. He describes his enemy as "gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates," and claims that the vast majority of their victims--his clients--are practicing Catholics and mainline Protestants. Weinstein has clashed frequently with religious figures such as James Dobson and Ted Haggard, whom Weinstein challenged to a fistfight after an e-mail exchange between the two was leaked. Even some of Weinstein's allies have acknowledged that he can be "over the top" and "hell-raising", though some defend his behavior as being what is needed.
Weinstein has come under criticism for his larger than average (for a non-profit) salary and his practice of voting on his own compensation (he is one of the voting members of MRFF’s 3 member board). Supporters have noted this criticism comes from the same media source  which had named Weinstein one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense in December 2012 and that the study upon which this criticism was based noted that “If you come across a charity whose CEO pay is higher than other similar charities, don't immediately dismiss that charity's request for funding. You're better off supporting a charity that is fiscally efficient, accountable and transparent, achieving its programmatic goals and paying its CEO well, than a charity that has substandard fiscal health, fails to live up to its mission, but under-pays its CEO.” A compensation policy for charity CEOs that has been expressed by other reputable sources.
The group Jews in Green, a Jewish military support group, has challenged some of his claims, such as an entrenched anti-Semitism in the military, calling them baseless.
Weinstein has appeared on major cable and network TV news networks and is a frequent guest on national radio networks. He has written Op-Eds which have been published by Washington Post, AlterNet, and Truthout. His activism has been covered in such media as CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times The Nation, the Guardian, and Time magazine.
- Philadelphia Jewish Voice: An Interview with Michael Weinstein, February 2008, accessed June 13, 2012.
- Weinstein and Seay, p. 188
- Weinstein and Seay, p. 14
- "DoD Directive 1300.17, "Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services"". DTIC.mil. February 3, 1988. Archived from the original on 18 November 2007.
- "About the Foundation". Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Archived from the original on February 19, 2009.
- Harwood, Matt. Meet the military man battling dangerous Christian extremism in the military, Alternet.org; July 12, 2010.
- "Religious Freedom in the Military". Laprogessive.com. 23 April 2012. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- "Air Force Academy Case Will Be Appealed". Americans United for Separation of Church and State. December 2006.
- MRFF: MRFF v. Gates, undated, accessed June 13, 2012
- "Different Perspectives on Fort Hood Shooting". Jewsingreen.com. November 12, 2009. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- Philip Sherwell, Philip Sherwell, "Fort Hood shooting: Nidal Malik Hasan 'said Muslims should rise up'", telegraph.co.uk, November 6, 2009; accessed June 13, 2012.
- American Family Association blog "No More Muslims in the U.S. Military" Archived March 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., afa.net; accessed November 13, 2016.
- SPLC Hatewatch (November 12, 2009) "Violate the Constitution? Christian Right Group Says Yes", splcenter.org; retrieved July 25, 2011.
- Air Force suspends ethics course that used Bible passages to train missile launch officers, washingtonpost.com, August 2, 2011.
- Rodda, Chris."Michael Savage Attacks Mikey Weinstein Over Stopping of Air Force "Jesus Loves Nukes" Training", huffingtonpost.com; accessed October 14, 2016.
- "Military Religious Freedom Foundation - August 2011 Newsletter". Militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- "GUADALUPE COUNTY COMMISSIONER – The First Amendments". Militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- Archiver, Truthout. "Mass Burnings of Korans at Bagram Fuel Anti-Americanism". Truth-out.org. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- "Praying for God to hurt someone is not illegal, judge rules". Usatoday30.usatoday.com. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- Archiver, Truthout. "A Biblical Threat to National Security". Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- Director, Chris Rodda Senior Research; Author, Military Religious Freedom Foundation;; Jesus', 'Liars For (30 April 2014). "No, Megyn Kelly, Mikey Weinstein Is NOT an Atheist". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- Director, Chris Rodda Senior Research; Author, Military Religious Freedom Foundation;; Jesus', 'Liars For (April 30, 2014). "No, Megyn Kelly, Mikey Weinstein Is NOT an Atheist". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- "DIGITAL JOURNAL – Christian Zealots: ISIS in America". Militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
- October 17, 2016 (2001-09-11). "Forward 50, 2006 –". Forward.com. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- "Wings of Justice : Mikey Weinstein" (JPG). Militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- "MRFF Press Release -MRFF'S MIKEY WEINSTEIN TO RECEIVE DISTINGUISHED JUSTICE AWARD". Militaryreligiousfreedom.org. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 2014-08-21.
- L.Weinstein, Michael; Attorney, Esq; Author; Activist, Civil Rights; Founder; Foundation, President of the Military Religious Freedom (16 April 2013). "Fundamentalist Christian Monsters: Papa's Got A Brand New Bag - Huffington Post".
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-01.
- Mikey's Mission, Colorado Springs Independent, March 2, 2006
- "Marching as to War". Washintonpost.com. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- Losey, Stephen. "Exclusive: Nonprofit CEO cashes in on religious freedom campaign". militarytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
- Losey, Stephen. "Exclusive: Nonprofit CEO cashes in on religious freedom campaign". armytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-09-30. Retrieved 2014-08-21.
- "CHARITY NAVIGATOR, 2013 Charity CEO Compensation Study" (PDF). Charitynavigator.org. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- "Charities Must Battle Myths About Overhead". Philanthropy.com. 14 September 2012. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- "An Open Letter to Mikey Weinstein". Jewsingreen.com. 17 October 2008. Retrieved 2016-10-17.
- Randi Kaye, "Atheist soldier sues Army for 'unconstitutional' discrimination," July 9, 2008, Cnn.com, accessed June 13, 2012]
- The New York Times: Neela Banerjee, "Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats," April 26, 2008, accessed June 13, 2012
- Washington Post: Kimberly Winston, "Military atheists get ready to 'rock beyond belief'," March 14, 2012, accessed June 3, 2012
- Los Angeles Times: Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan, "Not so fast, Christian soldiers," August 22, 2007, accessed June 13, 2012
- The Netion: Stephen Glain, "Backward, Christian Soldiers," February 28, 2011, accessed June 13, 2012
- The Guardian (UK): Matthew Harwood, "Evangelical grunts," June 27, 2008, accessed June 13, 2012
- TIME: David Van Biema, "Pentagon: Hold On, Christian Soldiers!," August 3, 2007, accessed June 13, 2012
- Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay, With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military (Thomas Dunne Books, 2006)
- Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay, No Snowflake in an Avalanche (Rare Bird Books, 2012)