Legal watchdog Judicial Watch has filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) demanding the U.S. Department of Defense turn over all records of communications between Pentagon officials and controversial anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein.
Weinstein is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an organization that aggressively seeks to curtail the rights of Christians in the military. Religious liberty advocates are concerned that Weinstein’s unfettered access to the Pentagon’s most senior leadership, including Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, unduly influenced military policies and threatens the freedom of religious expression.
Judicial Watch initiated the FOIA request in May after an April 23 private meeting with Hagel and a number of other top officials concerning an update to an official Air Force policy document containing guidance on religious tolerance. The Pentagon has failed to respond to the FOIA request.
Air Force Instruction 1-1 (AFI 1-1) was certified by General Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff at the time, and a friend of Weinstein’s. The language of Paragraph 2.11 of the instruction, “Government Neutrality Regarding Religion,” is largely identical to a September 2011 memo issued by Schwartz that was published at Weinstein’s insistence.
The instruction states that Air Force personnel “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.”
Weinstein was disappointed that the language of the original Schwartz memo and the subsequent AFI 1-1 didn’t go far enough. At the time the memo was released, he stated on his website, “While this letter may not be a home run, it is a damn good line drive single to potentially start a rally of constitutional religious freedom compliance, which has been scandalously lacking in the entire Defense Department for decades.”
But by the time AFI 1-1 was published in August 2012, Schwartz was retiring and Weinstein was furious at his friend for failing “to protect countless USAF men and women from the fundamentalist religious predators within USAF ranks.”
A “home run” for Weinstein would be a demonstrated willingness on the part of senior Air Force officers to punish commanders and chaplains whom he believes are violating the “clear mandates” of the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even if such punishments include court martial.
The documents for which Judicial Watch has sued the Pentagon may be able to shed light on how a single individual with such a stridently anti-Christian animosity could gain such unprecedented access to the highest levels of the Pentagon and become one of the “100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense” according to DefenseNews.