What: Mikey Weinstein speaks about religious freedom in the military
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Math 100 on the CU campus
Cost: Students attend free with ID, non-student tickets are $10
He’s been called Satan. He travels with a bodyguard.
But Mikey Weinstein, a former military attorney and legal counsel for the Reagan-era White House, will tell you he has bigger things on his plate. As the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), he aims to “restore the obliterated wall” between church and state, especially when it comes to military issues.
The U.S. military says religious indoctrination has never been part of their training, but Weinstein said he has seen countless examples of officials forcing Christian beliefs on military personnel.
In his recent book, “No Snowflake in an Avalanche,” he said military religious fanaticism has dire consequences.
“It’s not a problem, issue or challenge. It’s a true security threat,” he said.
Weinstein will speak about his work and sign his book starting 7:30 p.m. Friday March 2 in Math 100 on the CU campus. Students may attend free with an ID. Tickets for non-students are $10. The CU Secular Students and Skeptics Society and Boulder Atheists sponsor the event.
Weinstein never expected to found MRFF. He started off as an honor graduate from the U.S. Air Force Academy, spent 10 years as a JAG military attorney and served as Ross Perot’s general counsel during his presidential campaign. But his shiny career had troubling undertones.
While at the Air Force Academy, he said fellow cadets twice beat him unconscious because he reported their anti-Semitic threats against him. As his career progressed, he heard more and more accounts of military personnel forced to take part in prayer meetings and other religious practices.
In response, he founded MRFF. The organization now represents over 27,000 service personnel — the overwhelming majority of which are Christians, he said.
“A lot of them are Christians being told they are not Christian enough, and that they lack integrity and character” because of it, he said.
Critics have called MRFF an anti-religion organization, but Weinstein said MRFF’s aim is to keep religion from oppressing people in an organization that is supposed to uphold the separation of church and state.
“It’s hard to speak truth to power,” he said, adding that many of MRFF’s clients are not in positions where they can report abuses to their superiors.
Weinstein said the job requires incredibly thick skin and a willingness to yell loudly.
“We tried to be Mr. Goodbar at first, but nobody listens when you do that,” he said. “You have to kick ass and take names. That’s all the military understands,” he said.
Shock value is one way to wake people up, he said. He peppers his speeches with curse words and likens military religious indoctrination to a form of terrorism. The cover of his book is splattered with blood.
His tactics have worked in some cases: he has persuaded his alma mater, the Air Force Academy, to adopt religious tolerance classes and has persuaded military higher-ups to watch for abuses of power. MRFF is currently protesting a military base outside of Kandahar, Afghanistan that had been named “Aryan.”
Yet he’s made plenty of enemies. Critics said his work is blatantly anti-Christian, overblown and unfairly critical of the military. His house has been vandalized with swastika graffiti and broken windows.
“My family typically gets eight to 12 death threats a week, but I got 12 already today,” he said.
As a result, his talks garner a noticeable security presence, and a spokeswoman for his book tour said CU police were expected to attend his on-campus talk.
Weinstein said he shrugs off the criticism because there is too much to do. Instead, he lives by one rule: “Don’t be a bystander,” he said.
For more information, visit militaryreligiousfreedom.org.