by JewsOnFirst.org, May 29, 2007
Last-minute intervention by constitutional watchdog organizations forced the Army and Air Force to drop their sponsorship of a right-wing evangelical Christian event.
The event, "Salute to the Troops," at Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta ran without official government sponsorship. Planned military involvement in the three-day Memorial Day weekend event was also greatly reduced after Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) wrote to the secretaries of the Army and Air Force.
Nevertheless, Mikey Weinstein<, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said he is planning to sue the Pentagon over the event.
The Salute to the Troops event was advertised locally as having official Army and Air Force sponsorship. It was to have featured official military displays and speakers, most notably Army parachute jumps and hourly Air Force flyovers -- until Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation learned of it.
Americans United wrote to the secretaries of the Air Force and the Army, confronting them with evidence of their services' official invovlement in the event.
In its May 23rd letter, AU exposed the services' invovement and forced both Army and Air Force to make statements backing away from their endorsements and to greatly tone down their official participation. AU quoted a Robins Air Force Base publication calling the Stone Mountain event an "official" Air Force event. The URL AU cited, "http://www.robins.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-070504-20.pdf," appears to have been taken down.
Task Force Patriot USA
The Salute's main sponsor was Task Force Patriot USA, a suburban Atlanta group whose website says:
Task Force Patriot exists for the purpose of sharing the fullness of life in Jesus Christ with all U.S. military, military veterans and families. The outreach is to those in need of gaining new growth and balance in their lives.... as they assist others, while serving Him.
According to a local paper, the Gwinnett Daily Post, TFP has ambitions to expand across the country.
This super show is not a one-shot deal. Salute to the Troops is on the calendar for the next 10 years, and Task Force Patriot is planning similar events in other major cities.
But weekend celebrations are only a minor detail. The group’s main task is to set up military support groups like theirs all over the nation.
Co-sponsors and participants from the Christian right
Along with Task Force, the Air Force and the Army, event co-sponsors included LifeWay Christian Resources, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) which produces and retails Christian products, and Holman Bible Outreach International, a Lifeway entity which ran a Bible giveaway during the event. Their military Bible is pictured here.
Speakers, most notably former SBC President Dr. Bobby Welch, author of You, The Warrior Leader were well known right-wing evangelicals.
Stone Mountain Park describes its workforce as "a team committed to working in a manner consistent with Christian values," suggesting at least an implied religious litmus test for employment.
In a May 24th statement noting the Stone Mountain event's saturation with Christian right groups and individuals, AU Executive Director Rev. Barry Lynn termed it "an over-the-top mixing of government and religion." Demanded Lynn: "Shouldn’t the military spend its resources on defending the country, not promoting evangelical Christianity?"
"A wretched insidious pervision"
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, announced last week that he plans to file a comprehensive lawsuit against the Pentagon that would include issues relating to the Stone Mountain event.
Speaking with JewsOnFirst by telephone today, Weinstein called the Army and Air Force involvement in the Stone Mountain event "a wretched, insidious perversion of the Constitution and a felony against democracy of the first order."
Weinstein signaled that he intends to subpoena evidence of the military's involvement in the Salute, saying in an interview with TruthOut.org, "I'm advising the DOD to save all their emails and all of their correspondence relating to the planning of this event." He told TruthOut the Pentagon had better not "try and pull a Karl Rove and get rid of any of these emails. If that happens, we will move forward with obstruction of justice charges."
Asked by JewsOnFirst what he expected he might find in the DOD's correspondence, Weinstein replied, "I expect to find something worse than the Pentagon papers."
Weinstein is also considering suing over a Junior ROTC study guide distributed by the Pentagon, the Forward reported last week in a feature on the former White House lawyer. The guide recommends reading an article that calls into question Thomas Jefferson's support of church-state separation.
Last week the Los Angeles Jewish Journal also published a feature on Weinstein, who is a member of JewsOnFirst's advisory board.