Since the repeal of DADT, the stakes in the battle over religious freedom for our men and women in uniform have become much higher, and as the stakes have gotten higher, the lies have gotten bigger.
As has been widely reported, Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), under the guise of "religious liberty," introduced an amendment to the FY14 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that, in reality, is designed to officially grant permission to anti-gay service members to freely discriminate against and harass LGB service members, despite the fact that DADT has been repealed and DOMA has been overturned. As Huffington Post Deputy Politics Editor Mollie Reilly very succinctly explained, what Fleming's amendment would do is take away the ability of military commanders to stop anti-gay discrimination within their ranks.
On July 9, Rep. Fleming, joined by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), and the leaders of a newly formed coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations calling themselves the "Restore Military Religious Freedom" coalition, held a press conference on Capitol Hill in support of Fleming's amendment. As usual, the main message of this who's who of fundamentalist bigots was that it is Christians who are facing persecution, and it's all Obama's fault. Only Rep. Fleming's 'permission to discriminate' amendment can save anti-gay Christians in the military from the horrors of their imagined religious persecution.
MRFF has responded to Rep. Fleming's amendment, lies, and press conference in a video, which can be found at the end of this post.
As I've previously written as this insanity has been developing, Rep. Fleming has made it no secret that his amendment is in response to the success of one man -- Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Fleming has made this clear not once, but twice, on the House floor. In addition to Fleming's amendment, a second amendment to the NDAA, introduced by Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), is also designed specifically to stop Weinstein. Huelskamp made this very clear in his press release titled "House passes Huelskamp Amendment and Rebukes Anti-Christian Zealot Mikey Weinstein."
Not surprisingly, Catholic League president Bill Donohue also supports the Fleming amendment, putting out a press release yesterday about Fleming's July 9 press conference, in which he said:
Yesterday, Tony Perkins and a coalition of allies urged support for Rep. John Fleming's military religious freedom amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The Catholic League joins with them. But we are doing more than that: I am calling attention today to the way Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has smeared Evangelicals.
In his press release, Donohue referenced the following ridiculous letter he sent to Mikey Weinstein last month:
June 10, 2013
Dear Mr. Weinstein:
On May 2, 2013, you told Bill O'Reilly that "we represent over 33,000 members of the U.S. military; 96 percent of them Catholics like you. ..."
Could you please provide me with evidence regarding the two figures you cited?
William Donohue, Ph. D.
First of all, Mikey Weinstein did not say that 96 percent of MRFF's clients are Catholics. He said that 96 percent of MRFF's clients are either Catholics or Protestants. Weinstein's sentence did not end where Donohue ends it. (I find it mind-boggling that these people will actually misquote a person in a letter to the person they are misquoting! Do they not think the misquoted person will realize they are being misquoted?)
Because Bill O'Reilly is a Catholic, Mikey, when telling him that 96 percent of MRFF's clients are either Catholic or Protestant, interjected the words "like you, Roman Catholics," in between Catholics and Protestants. This is what Weinstein actually said, as you can see for yourself in the video of his appearance on The O'Reilly Factor:
"We represent over 33,000 members of the U.S. military, 96 percent of them Catholics -- like you, Roman Catholics -- and Protestants who are victims of religious oppressions."
Despite the constant lies and propaganda from the right-wing media, MRFF is not an atheist organization. MRFF represents people of all religions as well as people of no religion. 96 percent of the service members who come to MRFF for help are Catholics and mainline Protestants who, to the fundamentalist and dominionist Christians, aren't Christian "enough" or the "right kind" of Christians.
As of this writing, the number of clients represented by MRFF has just gone over 34,000. Of this number, 8,171 (24 percent) are Catholics and 24,493 (72 percent) are Protestants. The remaining four percent are a combination of non-theists and members of minority religions.
In his press release, which is now making its way into newspapers and other outlets, Donohue wrote the following of Weinstein's failure to respond to his letter:
On June 10, 2013, I sent Weinstein a letter [click here] asking him to provide evidence for his remark that he represents "over 33,000 members of the U.S. military," and that "96 percent" are Catholics. He has not replied. That's because it is simply not true. If 96 percent of his "clients" are Catholics, and if they are blasting Evangelicals for discriminatory behavior, the Catholic League would know about it.
No, Mr. Donohue, the Catholic League would not know about it. Why? Because you do not represent a majority, or even a significant percent, of Catholics, any more than Tony Perkins, Ron Crews, or the leaders of any of the other fundamentalist organizations in the so-called "Restore Military Religious Freedom" coalition represent a majority of evangelicals or any other Christians. It is MRFF that Catholics come to when they need help to combat the discrimination waged against them by the fundamentalist and dominionist Christians that you support! You, Mr. Donohue, might have a bigger mouth than any other Catholic in America, but you represent only the small minority of far-right Catholics who have aligned themselves with the far-right, fundamentalist Protestants -- the same fundamentalist Protestants who consider Catholics to be unsaved heathens. But, as the old saying goes, "Politics makes strange bedfellows."
You will shortly be receiving a couple of letters, Mr. Donohue, if you have not already received them, from some of those Catholics whom you in no way represent.
One of these letters will be from a Catholic woman named Jean Baas, the mother of a former female cadet at the Air Force Academy. Mrs. Baas will tell you who helped her and her family after her daughter fell prey to one of the most egregiously aggressive fundamentalist Christian ministries at the Academy -- a ministry that ripped her family apart by brainwashing her daughter into thinking that she could have no contact with her family because they were Catholic, which, in the opinion of this Air Force Academy sanctioned military ministry, made them unsaved heathens.
This is Mrs. Baas's letter:
Dear Mr. Donohue,
We are CATHOLIC, and Mikey Weinstein, president of Military Religious Freedom Foundation, was the ONLY individual who listened to our pleas for help in July 2010. Without his intervention and guidance, our family unit would have never survived the nightmare that had unfolded before us.
Our daughter was "spiritually raped" by an Evangelical Christian group while attending the United States Air Force Academy. Her personal and professional life was being dictated by the leaders of this group. Both the superintendent and head chaplain vehemently denied any proselytizing taking place and allowed this outside "religious" group to operate on campus. With the help of MRFF, they were no longer permitted to continue their proselytizing efforts on campus.
Mr. Donohue, if you could feel the pain our family suffered as a result of Evangelicals victimizing Catholics, you would think twice about supporting the military religious freedom amendment. To this day, our family continues to slowly find the daughter and sister we once knew. Religion is a very personal decision and should never be intertwined with the military as history has proven.
Mr. Weinstein is not smearing Evangelicals, or fabricating a "crisis" in the military. He is also not seeking to divide people on the basis of religion, and threatening the religious liberty of men and women in the armed forces in in the military academies. He is, however, fighting to protect military personnel from the "evils" of proselytizing which we have come to know first hand.
In closing, we contacted the Dioceses of Denver in September 2010 for assistance in this matter. It was out of their jurisdiction and it was recommended we seek help through neighboring Colorado Springs. I find it peculiar they did not direct us to the Catholic League as a valuable resource in our time of need.
And here's another letter you'll be receiving, Mr. Donohue, from another of those Catholics whom you in no way represent:
Dear Mr. Donohue,
I find your support for the Family Research Council's ill-informed and unprincipled attack on the work of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation appalling. And your personal attacks on the MRFF founder, Mikey Weinstein are,... well. unchristian.
I was raised Catholic and have attended Mass in the highest cathedrals of Europe and America and under a tent in the red mud of Khe Sanh, Vietnam. I have served my nation through 200 air combat missions for which I now wear the Silver Star and Purple Heart. I earned two graduate degrees from Oxford University, England that I attended as a Rhodes Scholar where the Catholic Chaplain had been awarded the Victoria Cross for combat in North Africa.
I understand real war and recognize phony political wars used to bilk the innocent out of hard-earned funds. And that is what the FRC and your effort is all about. As a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and one of the earliest supporters of MRFF, I can attest to the extremely serious threat unconstitutional proselytizing presents in today's military. By contrast, any anti-Catholic bias is trivial., and it is not coming from MRFF.
I support MRFF and its efforts to defend the constitutional rights of our servicemen. If you think their efforts impinge on anyone's constitutional rights, I suggest you think again.
Richard L. Klass
Colonel, USAF (retired)
Oh yeah, and, last but not least, you'll also be receiving a letter from MRFF's legal counsel demanding a retraction of your lies.
So, who really supports religious freedom for Catholics in our military? Is it Bill Donohue, who is aligning himself with and supporting the very people who are the source of anti-Catholic bigotry? Or is it Mikey Weinstein and MRFF?
I want to end with an example of what the so-called "Restore Military Religious Freedom" coalition considers to be the outrageous persecution of Christians in the military. This example came from Ron Crews, representing Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty, during the question and answer segment of Rep. Flemings's July 9 press conference:
Just last night I got a call from a senior military person -- I'm not gonna identify the branch because I don't want him to get into trouble -- but a senior military person who is right now facing a conscience conflict, in that he is now being asked, as the senior officer for his unit, to authorize benefits for same sex couples, and he says that's a violation of my conscience of what I believe to be marriage to be. If I don't sign, I will lose my command and possibly be judicially punished for disobeying a direct order.
Oh, the horror! The utter persecution! This officer is actually going to have to sign a form approving benefits for icky gay people! What's next? Benefits for animals?
I ask everyone reading this to please compare Ron Crews's tale of fundamentalist Christian woe with the story of the Baas family mentioned above, who came to MRFF at a time of real crisis. As you'll see, there is no comparison.
MRFF's response to Rep. Fleming's amendment, lies, and press conference: