Deconstructing hysteria: how the ongoing misstatements of military policy began
by Charles McCalpin
On Sunday, BizPacReview continued spreading the hysteria begun last week when Fox News, Breitbartcom, and the Family Research Council distorted the facts around military policy on religious neutrality.
The BizPac article, about Rear Admiral William Lee who vows not to back down on his ‘Constitutional right to share his faith,” contains many of the false themes that have are being echoed by outraged and misinformed conservatives across the internet. To hear Lee tell it, Christians are being persecuted daily just for being Christians. He boasts that he as broken the law many times by “sharing his faith” with those of lesser rank.
Each generation of blog and news stories seems to further embellish earlier misstatements of fact. The internet is awash with claims that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has allied with the Obama Administration to rid the military of any Christian influence. The MRFF is said to be an atheistic and anti-Christian organization. Its leader, Mikey Weinstein, is said to be an anti-Christian Jew who has been hired by the administration and given the unofficial title of ‘tolerance advisor.’ Allegedly, he and Obama will use this position to implement new policies of Christian persecution. The beginning of that process is the Pentagon’s recent “ban on religious proselytization.” Christians who profess their faith will be court-martialed, according to sites like Fox News, Breitbart.com, the Christian Post (since partially retracted) and countless blogs.
All of these claims are demonstrably untrue, but that makes no difference to those who continue to spread them as fact. Is this just a misunderstanding? How have these bizarre claims come to be accepted as truth by so many thousands of enraged Christians? Given below is an analysis of where these false statements began and how they were spread.
Part 1: The excuse
The excuse for this latest round of hysterical persecution fantasy seems to have been an April 23 meeting between military leaders and three military experts, one of whom was Weinstein. Attending the same meeting were former ambassador Joe Wilson and Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell. This meeting was no secret; Sally Quinn discussed the pending meeting in her April 26 article in the Washington Post.
Weinstein and the others pressed the military leaders about threats to military cohesiveness. These threats included actionable instances of misogyny, Islamaphobia, anti-semitism, sexual assault, and officers proselytizing those of lesser rank.
In the Washington Post article, Weinstein said something which has generated a number of misquotes and misrepresentations in the days that followed. Speaking of all of the problems raised,“This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.”
Weinstein and the others urged enforcement of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.11. (PDF download here.)
For many, it will be difficult to imagine how section 2.11 could be controversial. Written in August, 2012, it emphasizes the rights of all service members to express their religion or lack thereof, but it insists that they do so in accordance with the Constitution and respect for other people’s rights. In particular, it gently emphasizes that service members must be especially mindful not to use their authority to pressure those of lesser rank. The entire section is quoted below for context.
“2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.”
The clarity of the language makes the resulting hysteria inexplicable. The Washington Post article was received as an attack by some conservative religious bloggers in the days that followed, but then a series of troubling coincidences began to arise in conservative coverage of the April 23 meeting.
On April 30, Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio published an article with a headline that was itself a false statement. “Pentagon: Religious Proselytization Not Permitted”
Starnes also started the article with a statement that managed to imply several different falsehoods. “Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to “rape” and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.”
This one sentence managed to convey at least four false impressions. The word “vetting” suggested the purpose of the April 23 meeting was to allow Wilkerson, Weinstein and Wilson to edit military policy. In reality, the policies were already established, and Weinstein was just frustrated that they were not being enforced.
Starnes’ lead also misstated the use of the word “rape” to ignore that the term “spiritual rape” also referred to the psychological impact of misogyny, Islamophobia, homophobia, AND service members taking advantage of their rank to proselytize and otherwise religiously pressure those of lesser rank.
While it’s true that Weinstein considers predatory use of rank and authority to be a form of spiritual rape, that is not the same as comparing all evangelism with rape. Starnes demonstrated elsewhere in the article that he fully understood the difference.
“He said there is a time and a place for those in uniform to share their faith,” Starnes said of Weinstein “– but he took issues with fundamentalism that he says is causing widespread problems in the military.” It is therefore difficult to believe it was an accident that Starnes’ wording ignored the rank-specific component of admonitions against proselytization.
And all of this was in his first sentence. He took it much further in the rest of the article, and he also brought in the Family Research Council (FRC) and the Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) to further distort the facts.
READ FULL ARTICLE at The Examiner including point by point refutations.
TAM Editors note - see also:
A Father’s Love for Son and Country — how the ‘false prophets’ are deceiving good Christians about military religious freedom http://www.goddiscussion.com/109434/a-fathers-love-for-son-and-country-how-the-false-prophets-are-deceiving-good-christians-about-military-religious-freedom/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Accommodating Faith in the Military, PEW Forum http://www.pewforum.org/Church-State-Law/Accommodating-Faith-in-the-Military.aspx
Air Force Academy Cites Progress In Tackling Religious Intolerance, Whitney Jones http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/02/air-force-academy-cites-p_n_777937.html
Air Force Academy Leader Admits Religious Intolerance at School http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/04/national/04airforce.html
Air Force rules limit size of tattoos, role of gospel, Kari Huus http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/22/13397843-air-force-rules-limit-size-of-tattoos-role-of-gospel?lite
Air Force Statement on Religious Proselytizing and Religious Materials on Desks http://wthrockmorton.com/2013/05/air-force-statement-on-religious-proselytizing/
Anti-Jewish, Anti-Gay Comic Book Distributed By U.S. Military Chaplains?, Bruce Wilson http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/anti-jewish-anti-gay-comic-book-distributed-by-u.s.-military-chaplains
Backward Christian Soldiers: Jesus Not Only Saves, He Shoots, Nina Burleigh http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/backward-christian-soldiers-jesus-not-only-saves-he-shoots
Bloggers say Pentagon may court-martial Christian soldiers http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/may/06/blog-posting/bloggers-say-pentagon-may-court-martial-christian-/
Catholic soldier says her Muslim-sounding name made her a target for harassment in US Army http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/05/08/catholic-soldier-says-her-muslim-sounding-name-made-her-target-for-harassment/#ixzz2Spkzk52N
Christian Right Default: Blame the Jews, Frederick Clarkson http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/05/04/1206743/-Christian-Right-Default-Blame-the-Jews
The Crusaders : “The Christian Taliban Is Running the Department of Defense”, Robert Koehler http://www.truthout.org/article/robert-koehler-the-christian-taliban-is-running-department-defense
Deconstructing hysteria: how the ongoing misstatements of military policy began, Charles McCalpin http://www.examiner.com/article/deconstructing-hysteria-how-the-ongoing-misstatements-of-military-policy-began
Department of Defense Statement on Religious Proselytizing http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/dr-warren-throckmorton/can-christians-in-the-military.html
Do Bible Verses on Military Rifle Scopes Represent Christianity?, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/bible_verses_on_rifle_scopes
Evangelical Christian missionaries embedded with American combat troops in Afghanistan, Mikey Weinstein http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/evangelical_christian_missionaries_embedded_with_american_combat_troops_in_/
Federally Mandated National Day of Prayer Unconstitutional http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/national_day_of_prayer
The First Casualty of Religious Wars Is Truth , Tom Carpenter http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-carpenter/the-first-casualty-of-religious-wars-is-truth_b_3220945.html
Fox News falsely blames Obama for Pentagon rule against religious proselytizing in the military http://www.augustagazette.com/article/20130504/BLOGS/305049984
Sean Hannity Validates Todd Starnes’ Bogus War On Christians Whine http://www.newshounds.us/20130507_sean_hannity_validates_todd_starnes_bogus_war_on_christians_whine
Hearing set on motion to stop USAFA’s Unconstitutional National Prayer Luncheon http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/hearing_set_on_motion_to_stop_usafas_unconstitutional_national_prayer_
Intolerance Found at Air Force Academy, Josh White http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/22/AR2005062200598.html
Is it treason for soldiers to share their faith? Uh, no., Kay Campbell http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/05/military_religion.html
Is the American Military Too Christian? http://www.aolnews.com/2010/02/19/religious-incidents-raise-concern-about-military-proselytizing/
Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military, Jeff Sharlet http://www.harpers.org/archive/2009/05/0082488
The Lies You’ll Probably Be Hearing About MRFF and the Military Bibles, Chris Rodda http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the-lies-youll-probably-be-hearing-about-mrff-and-the-military-bibles
Military Disservice: Fundamentalists On The March In America’s Armed Forces, Rob Boston https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/military-disservice-fundamentalists-on-the-march-in-americas-armed-forces
Military Mistake Mitigated: Recruit Processing Centers Told To Discontinue Gideon Evangelism https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/military-mistake-mitigated-recruit-processing-centers-told-to-discontinue
Military winks at religious intolerance, Robyn Blumner http://www.adn.com/2008/05/02/393576/military-winks-at-religious-intolerance.html
The Military’s Policy on Proselytizing Is Not New and Is Consistent with Federal Law http://wthrockmorton.com/2013/05/the-militarys-policy-on-proselytizing-is-not-new-and-is-consistent-with-federal-law/
MRFF Advisory Board Member Rev. Dr. Jonathan J. Etterbeek on the Importance of MRFF’s Fight http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/mrff-advisory-board-member-rev-dr-jonathan-j-etterbeek-on-the-importance-of-mrffs-fight/
MRFF and the Center for Inquiry Send Joint Demand Letter to the Pentagon In response to the recent incident at Fort Eustis in Virginia where soldiers were punished for not attending an Evangelical Christian concert http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/mrff_and_the_center_for_inquiry_send_joint_demand_letter_to_the_pentag
MRFF Commends Long-Overdue U.S. Military Order to Eliminate Anti-Islam Training Materials http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/mrff-commends-long-overdue-u.s.-military-order-to-eliminate-anti-islam-trai
MRFF Demands Immediate DoD Corrective Action on Anti-Semitic “Manga Messiah” Comic Books http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/mrff-demands-immediate-dod-corrective-action-on-anti-semitic-manga-messiah
Not God’s Army: The Front Lines of the Fight Against Proselytizing in the U.S. Military, Candace Chellew-Hodge http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6364/not_god%E2%80%99s_army%3A_the_front_lines_of_the_fight_against_proselytizing_in_the_u.s._military/
Not so fast, Christian soldiers, Mikey Weinstein and Reza Aslan http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-oe-aslan22aug22,1,2971273.story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=5&cset=true
Onward Christian Soldiers, Max Blumenthal http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2003/04/15/in_touch/index.html
Questionable Quiz: Why The Military’s ‘Spiritual Fitness’ Test Flunks, Rob Boston https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/questionable-quiz-why-the-military%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98spiritual-fitness%E2%80%99-test-flunks
The Rapture Came on Groundhog Day: News of Pentagon Meeting Prompts a New Threat of Armageddon, Blake Page http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blake-page/military-christian-persecution_b_3216533.html
Religion and Its Role Are in Dispute at the Service Academies, Neela Banerjee http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/25/us/25academies.html?fta=y
Religious Civil Rights: Why Have the Washington Times and the Air Force Academy Savaged Them?, Mikey Weinstein http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/religious_civil_rights_why_have_the_washington_times_and_the_air_force
Religious discrimination in the military http://secular.org/issues/chaplains/position
Religious intolerance is rampant in today’s Army, Air Force and Navy, Mikey Weinstein http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/religious-intolerance-is-rampant-in-todays-army-air-force-and-navy/2012/02/08/gIQAAwAxzQ_blog.html
Soldiers in Afghanistan given Bibles, told to “hunt people for Jesus” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/04/soldiers-in-afghanistan-g_n_195674.html
Todd Starnes Gets His Persecuted Christian Story Facts Wrong - Again! http://www.newshounds.us/20130509_todd_starnes_gets_his_persecuted_christian_story_facts_wrong_again
Thou shalt not bear false witness http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/quigley/2013/05/08/18643-thou-shalt-not-bear-false-witness
USAF Academy Promotes Reprehensible Homophobic Website as Source for Jewish Holiday Information http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/usaf-academy-promotes-reprehensible-homophobic-website-as-source-for-jewish
Video Proves Proselytization Rampant at U.S. Military Bases, Mikey Weinstein http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/video_proves_proselytization_rampant_at_us_military_bases/
West Pointer Quits Over Proselytizing http://www.military.com/daily-news/2012/12/04/west-pointer-quits-over-proselytizing.html
Where is the U.S. Government Getting It’s Information on Islam and Muslims?, Sheila Musaji http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/where_is_the_u.s._government_getting_its_information_on_islam_and_musl
Wingnut Persecution Complex of the Day: The Military Is Threatening to Court Martial Christians!, Charles Johnson http://littlegreenfootballs.com/article/41948_Wingnut_Persecution_Complex_of_the_Day-_The_Military_Is_Threatening_to_Court_Martial_Christians!