(CNSNews.com) – A church-state separation group touting its access to Defense Department officials is taking credit for the removal of a painting from an Idaho Air Force base on Friday that featured a Bible verse within an hour of making the demand.
The organization, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has called for the court martial of military personnel for “proselytizing,” having met with Pentagon officials in the past. The group is citing this victory in Idaho as proof of its influence over the U.S. military.
The painting in the Wagon Wheel dining hall at the Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho showed a modern-day police officer standing in front of a medieval knight holding a flag that morphs from a medieval coat of arms into the flag of the United States of America.
The word “Integrity” is stenciled over the image, and the verse referenced is Matthew 5:9, which says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, called the Pentagon, demanding the painting’s removal, according to a posting from the organization on Huffington Post that was headlined, “The Pentagon Most Certainly is Listening to Mikey Weinstein.”
“Mikey gave the Air Force an hour to take action,” the Huffington Post piece by Chris Rodda, senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and author of the book “Liars for Jesus,” said Friday.
“By the time Mike talked to the Wing Commander at the base a few minutes later, the Wing Commander had already been contacted by the Pentagon. Fifty-six minutes after his call to the Pentagon, the image of the crusader, with its odious melding of the crusader flag with the American flag, had been removed from the dining hall,” it said.
Though Weinstein’s group is claiming an instant response from the Pentagon, Congress is still waiting for a response from the Defense Department after writing a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressing concerns about free religious expression. So far, only a letter acknowledging the letter’s receipt and advising of a forthcoming response has been issued.
The Pentagon public affairs office referred calls to the Mountain Home Air Force Base.
Phillip Davis, spokesman for the Mountain Home base, confirmed the picture was removed on Friday, but was not aware if this resulted from the MRFF’s demand.
“The commander was made aware of complaints about the picture in the morning, and it was taken down in religious neutrality accordance,” Davis told CNSNews.com.
Davis is unaware how long the painting has been up, but said, “I don’t think it has been a controversy.”
Weinstein told CNSNews.com where the decision came from was not as important as taking down the picture.
“I spoke to the Pentagon, and I spoke to the wing commander [at the Mountain Home base],” Weinstein said in an interview. “The wing commander informed me that he had already been in communication with the Pentagon. We don’t care where it came from. My first thought was to alert headquarters, the Air Force and the Pentagon to this egregious situation.”
Weinstein added that the painting harmed the military.
“It seems to indicate that we are the inheritors of and we are the latter day crusaders,” Weinstein said. “When you appear to be a fundamentalist Christian crusader army, it does three things: It emboldens our Islamic enemies. It enrages our Islamic allies, and it eviscerates order and good discipline in our own ranks,” he said.
In the article, Rodda asserted that Weinstein was acting on behalf of service members – most of whom she said were Christians.
“This morning, the MRFF was contacted by a non-commissioned officer (NCO) from this Air Force Base, who was acting as the spokesperson for a group of twenty-two airmen who wanted this repugnant piece of artwork removed,” Rodda wrote. “Were these airmen a bunch of militant atheists who seek to rid the military of all vestiges of religion? Well, no. Seventeen of the twenty-two are Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.”
Ron DiCianni of Tapestry Productions is the artist of the painting titled, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Tapestry Productions President Grant DiCianni issued a statement Tuesday.
“It is our belief that this message is one that the modern day military should be proud to embody – the idea of integrity in the service of peace,” DiCianni said. “Having known many military service members over the years, I have never encountered one that enjoyed the idea of war.
“Every war fought has been to pave the path back to peace. Hence, the military is an embodiment of the ultimate peacemaker, a pursuit blessed in scripture. It would seem this is a message that the Air Force should be willing to foster, not censor,” DiCianni added.
The statement continues, “We have yet to be contacted by anyone at the Pentagon or Mountain Home Air Force Base in regard to this issue, despite our repeated requests. “This act of religious censorship appears to reflect the assurances that senior Pentagon officials provided to anti-Christian activist Mickey Weinstein, during a recent meeting at the Pentagon, that they would begin enforcing regulation against religious expression in the military, at all levels.”
The Washington Post, on April 26, quoted Weinstein complaining about religious expression among military members saying, “This is a national security threat. What is happening [aside from sexual assault] is spiritual rape. And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason. It should be punished.”
The Post reported on a 27-page document of regulations from the Air Force that said, “Leaders at all levels must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to preferential treatment for any religion.” The document even suggested that noncompliance could result in court-martial, according to the Post.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, expressed concern in a statement Thursday, about Weinstein’s growing clout.
“We recently learned that the Obama Department of Defense is meeting with and heeding the advice of Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” Perkins said.
“The fact that military leaders even meet with him should concern every American. There is no question: These are dangerous times for those who believe our nation’s Founders got it right for those who agree with Jefferson and Madison, who led the charge for religious liberation to position it as paramount the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution,” Perkins added.
A May 13 letter from 72 members of Congress to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cited examples such as “a power point presentation used in equal opportunity training to an Army reserve unit in Pennsylvania” that included “evangelical Christians, Catholics, Mormons, Sunni Muslims, and some Jews on a list of religious extremist groups alongside groups like Al Qaeda and Hamas,” and prohibited Bibles from the Walter Reed Army hospital.
“Congress deliberately included religious freedom protections in the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] to address this growing pattern of hostility and to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right of religious freedom for our service members and chaplains,” the letter first circulated by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said.
“Upon signing the NDAA into law, President Obama said the conscience protections were ‘unnecessary and ill-advised.’ This statement, coupled with recent events, raises concerns that the military is developing a culture that is hostile to religion,” the letter added. It was made public May 3 and after circulation was sent to Hagel on May 13.
In his Jan. 3 signing statement, Obama said, “Section 533 is an unnecessary and ill-advised provision, as the military already appropriately protects the freedom of conscience of chaplains and service members. The Secretary of Defense will ensure that the implementing regulations do not permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”
On May 30, Air Force Col. Daniel Blake, wrote to members who signed the letter.
“Thank you for your May 13, 2013 letter to Secretary Hagel expressing your concerns regarding Mr. Michael Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” Blake wrote.
“Secretary Hagel has requested that Secretary Donley prepare a response on his behalf. We are currently reviewing your letter and will ensure you receive detailed response as soon as this review is complete,” Blake added.