Religion has always been a divisive factor in the United States and, indeed, the world. Mikey Weinstein, an attorney, businessman and political activist, has labeled it a threat to the military as well – specifically the Air Force Academy. His book, With God On Our Side, delineates his viewpoint on the incursion of evangelicals into the Academy. The exact point of his polemic is unclear at times, but Weinstein’s feelings are never in question.
Ostensibly, Weinstein’s point is that there is an overwhelming evangelical Christian influence at the Academy. Freedom of religion is a tenet of this society, he says, yet cadets are pressured to accept the Christianity being forced upon them; they are not being allowed to make a choice about their beliefs. To be sure, he’s not the only one who feels that this type of freedom is being restricted in the Academy. Former chaplain Melinda Morton and Krista Leslie of Yale also feel this way, along with some other Academy graduates.
Weinstein also took up this battle in response to anti-Semitism his son was exposed to in the Academy. A father should do what he can to protect his family against threats. If the claims in this book and in other reports is accurate, this religious intolerance is a disturbing trend that needs to be solidly and bravely addressed and resolved. Weinstein and company are taking an important stand. And when the book touches on this issue and on the history of the Academy it is an effective treatise.
But all too often the spotlight falls squarely on Weinstein and not this issue of religion. It praises him at every single opportunity and this becomes tiresome. Constantly, the reader is told how Weinstein is “about to do” this and that and take on the powers that be and wreak all sorts of havoc, yet these things are not completely fleshed out. These buildups are almost always followed by some “important” event in Weinstein’s own life, not the development of a strategy to combat the powers that be. A scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail comes to mind: Lancelot is running across a field to Swamp Castle. The scene cuts to the guards watching him. Back to Lancelot, running from the exact same place. Back and forth, back and forth this goes, with Lancelot going nowhere. Weinstein steps into Swamp Castle now and then, but mostly he runs up to it.
Weinstein is to be applauded for defending his children. However, it is revealed late in the book that Weinstein himself was the object of violent anti-Semitism at the Academy. He knowingly let his children go to the same institution and now acts surprised and outraged at their treatment. Whether he likes it or not, Weinstein’s revelation of these events that happened to him – and how they were neatly handled by some very powerful people – does much damage to the stance he’s taking on this issue. It just seems like he’s getting back at those who mistreated him and not really solving a major problem.
Weinstein has since founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Some of the directors of the Foundation are quoted in the book and their goals all seem to be disparate. Some want religion out of the military altogether, some seek tolerance, some rail against anti-Semitism. The whole thing became just a “he-said-she-said” battle of dogma. Sticking strictly to the problem of religious intolerance in the military, instead of directing all the attention to Mikey Weinstein and his endless array of clichés, would have better suited this book.