NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – The head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is praising the first two female graduates of the U.S. Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., but blasting a chaplain who gave the invocation and alerted everyone beforehand he would be praying in Jesus' name.
Mikey Weinstein, an atheist and Air Force Academy graduate, said in an opinion editorial Aug. 24 that Americans should be proud 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Capt. Kristen Griest had "irreversibly shattered one of the many heretofore glass ceilings" in the military by passing the grueling, two-months long infantry course that focuses on small unit, special operations tactics.
It is the first time in the school's 60 year history that women have been allowed to attempt the course.
Weinstein said "only a misogynistic fool" would argue that their inclusion in the course and their passing was a mistake for the future of the American military. But he reserved his harshest criticism for those who took "a giant leap backwards over the wall separating church from state, perhaps landing these very same Rangers in the vicinity of Jesus Camp."
"Jesus Camp" was a 2006 documentary that focused on the "brainwashing" of Christian children. The camp closed shortly after the documentary aired.
Why the response? According to Weinstein, Brigade Chaplain (Maj.) Mark Winton prayed over the graduates in the name of Jesus. According to Weinstein, "an event happily thought of by many as a 'GI Jane'-style celebration of achievement" instead bore what Weinstein called the shameful marks of "GI Jesus Tourette's Syndrome."
"The aforementioned disease being an all-too-common symptom of the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian cancer metastasizing throughout the broad totality of the U.S. Military," Weinstein writes.
The "cancer" of Christianity in the military, Weinstein writes, broke into the Ranger Training Battalion when Winton said, "I invite you to join me in prayer and I will be praying in Jesus' name."
The chaplain then prayed (at 40:40 in the video of the event):
"Almighty God, it is right for us to thank you this morning, for you have created life in such a way, and demonstrated through the life of your own son that nothing worthwhile in life comes without a price. We know that this is true in our nation's history and this is true for these Rangers today.
"These Rangers have indeed persevered, and overcome obstacles such as scrutiny, illness, deprivation, and even lightning strikes. We praise you for creating these Rangers and sovereignly working in their lives, that you would knit within the very fabric of them the attributes and competencies necessary to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission.
"Their mission has just begun to be ready to lead American soldiers in combat. Keep them ever-dependent upon you and one another that they might continue to live as more elite soldiers in every aspect of their chosen professions – physically, tactically, and morally.
"We thank you for the Ranger cadre who did more than evaluate their performance, but exemplified and instructed what it means to live as a Ranger. We commit those Rangers who are fighting the good fight even now, and those Rangers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and all of their families, to your powerful and personal care.
I pray in Jesus' name, amen."
Weinstein wrote in the editorial that the prayer violated the First Amendment to the Constitution, as well as the Fourth and Fifteenth Amendments and the "religious test" clause of Article VI. He also said the prayer would give other nations a reason to hate the United States.
"It is an appalling fact that this very same brand of unrelenting, religious Christian extremism seems to flourish most in our military's Special Forces; Green Berets, Delta Force, Navy SEALs, USMC Force Recon, USAF PJs, and Army Rangers," Weinstein wrote.
"The altogether scandalous, shameful and absolutely deleterious nature of this bigoted invocation was underscored by the fact that the entire globe, from the Arab world to the former Soviet Union, was eagerly watching.
Indeed, the Army made it quite clear to the fervently observing world just how MUCH it craves and adores its unabashed drug addiction to militaristic Christian supremacy. The adverse implications for critical American national security should be obvious to all: this travesty is a propaganda bonanza bounty of unparalleled proportions for our Islamist foes, and a callous spit in the face of our Muslim allies."
Weinstein claims in his editorial that the act or prayer by the chaplain was not only improper – it was "a despicable and asinine act of Constitutional defiance and criminality."
"In America, The Great Constitution trumps The Great Commission," Weinstein wrote. "The Army's senior leadership MUST expeditiously punish those shameless religious zealots and extremists who enabled such a fundamentalist Christian invocation of insuperable dominion and dominance, which deliberately and permanently marred what would have been an otherwise immensely proud moment in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces."
Weinstein, however, failed to cite current Army regulations which make clear Chaplain Winton did not violate policy.
"Chaplains will perform their professional military religious leader ministrations in accordance with the tenets or religious requirements of the RO [religious organization] that certifies and endorses them (see DODD 1304.19)," the Army regulation states.
Army regulations also state:
"Chaplains will not be required to perform a religious role (such as offering a prayer, reading, dedication, or blessing) in worship services, command ceremonies, or other events, if doing so would be in variance with the tenets or practices of their religion. Chaplains will coordinate to provide for required ministrations which they cannot personally perform."