As the old saying goes, politics makes strange bedfellows, and one of the big political issues currently making these strange bedfellows is the issue of gays in the military. We now have the right-wing Catholics joining forces with some of the most anti-Catholic Protestants in the country. This ‘strange bedfellows’ alliance has become tantamount to a nineteenth century Catholic champion like Bishop John Hughes joining forces with the anti-Catholic nativist party!
I, along with other journalists and bloggers, have previously written about what’s going on here, so, before diving into the latest chapter, here’s a quick synopsis for those who haven’t been following this escalating story:
Several amendments regarding religion in the military have been introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The real purpose of one of these amendments, introduced by Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), is not “religious liberty,” as Fleming and his cohorts claim. Its real purpose is to allow the discrimination against and harassment of LGB* service members to continue, with the official sanction of Congress, in a post-DADT and post-DOMA military. In a nutshell, what Fleming’s amendment would do is take away the ability of military commanders to stop anti-gay discrimination and harassment within their ranks.
(*”LGB” is not a typo. The repeal of DADT does not apply to “T”s.)
For those who want more details, Huffpost Deputy Politics Editor Mollie Reilly wrote a very succinct explanation a few weeks ago of what the Fleming amendment would really do. Huffpost blogger Tom Carpenter has also been following the story, and has written several insightful pieces about it.
As for myself, I have been thoroughly drawn into this story, not only writing about it but being a part of it. Rep. Fleming and Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who introduced a separate so-called “religious liberty” amendment to the NDAA, have made it no secret that these amendments are intended to stop one man, my boss, Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), from fighting for real religious liberty in the military. To read more about both amendments, and to see a video of Rep. Fleming’s lie-filled rants about Weinstein on the floor of the House of Representatives, see my last two pieces here and here.
On July 9, Rep. Fleming, joined by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), and the leaders of a newly formed coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations calling themselves the “Restore Military Religious Freedom” coalition, held a press conference on Capitol Hill in support of Fleming’s amendment. This coalition of fundamentalist Christian organizations also put out a report on the alleged persecution of Christians in the military, titled “A Clear and Present Danger: The Threat to Religious Liberty in the Military.”
Rep. Fleming’s amendment and the coalition of fundamentalist Protestants who support it now have the backing not only of Bill Donohue and his one-man band called the Catholic League (which is to be expected), but also the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese for the Military, with Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio putting out a press release on July 11 in support of both the Fleming amendment and the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom” coalition.
While Donohue is just a loudmouth who has no actual authority or influence over what goes on in the military, Archbishop Broglio, as the head of the official endorsing agency for Catholic chaplains, does, and Archbishop Broglio wants to make sure everybody knows that. In fact, because of the last piece I wrote, the Archdiocese for the Military put out a second press release exerting its authority. The story was then picked up by the National Catholic Register
Now on to the latest chapter of this story.
What would lead any Catholic to join forces with with some of the most virulently anti- Catholic organizations in the country? Why, the gays, of course! And right-wing Catholic leaders, both official like Archbishop Broglio and unofficial like Bill Donohue, apparently find the battle against gay rights to be more important than religious freedom of Catholics. If the Fleming amendment passes, not only will the discrimination against and harassment of gays be officially sanctioned in the military, so will the discrimination against and harassment of Catholics. But with the majority of American Catholics now supporting same-sex marriage, the right-wing, anti-gay Catholic leaders and pseudo-leaders have decided to throw the average mainstream Catholics in the military under the bus.
The question here isn’t who officially represents the Catholic Church in the military; it is who the average Catholic in the military is going to turn to when they need help. Are they going to turn to Bill Donohue and his Catholic League? Are they going to turn to the military Archdiocese? Of course not! Both of these groups have publicly sided with the very people who are causing the problems that today’s military Catholics have to deal with! When faced with harassment or discrimination in the military, the average mainstream Catholic is going to turn to MRFF, as over 8,000 already have, either individually or as members of one of the many groups of service members who have come to MRFF for help in resolving a religious freedom issue.
For example, a few years ago, MRFF was contacted by Air Force Master Sgt. Jeffrey L. Thompson, a Catholic airman stationed in Europe, when a Catholic colonel sent an email containing a link to an “inspirational” video to everybody in the wing she commanded. Master Sgt. Thompson, speaking on behalf of a group of airmen, many of whom were also Catholic, found the email sent out by this officer to be highly offensive and inappropriate. It wasn’t the video that these airmen were offended by, and their primary complaint wasn’t even that this officer was directing her subordinates to a religious website that promoted her religion. It was that the website linked to by this officer in her email was a far-right Catholic website whose content included things such as an image of President Obama dressed as Hitler and an article in which Obama was called “a veritable forerunner of the Antichrist.” Let’s get real here. Would Master Sgt. Thompson and the other Catholic airmen who objected to their commander promoting this website to her subordinates have even considered for a minute reporting this incident to Bill Donohue? Of course not! It is quite well known among Catholics (at least those Catholics who have even heard of the Catholic League) that Donohue and his Catholic League support the far-right agenda promoted by this website, and would probably have applauded the officer for linking to it in her email rather than condemning her clearly inappropriate behavior. It was MRFF that Master Sgt. Thompson and the other mainstream Catholic airmen turned to, and it was MRFF who forced the officer to apologize to her entire wing.
A more recent example, and one that is currently being wildly distorted into an example of Christian persecution by Rep. Fleming and the supporters his so-called “religious liberty” amendment, is the Air Force’s removal of a Just War Theory presentation from its nuclear missile officer training. According to the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom” coalition, in its “Clear and Present Danger” report, the Air Force removed this training presentation simply because “It included texts from the Bible and materials related to just war theory by Saint Augustine.” No, this presentation, which you can view for yourself here, was not pulled simply because of its references to the Catholic Saint Augustine or because it contained a few Bible verses. The presentation, which has been around since the 1980s but only became infused with religion around 2001, had come to be known among the missile officers as the “Jesus Loves Nukes” speech, not a surprising nickname considering its slide after slide of Bible verses, culminating with a passage from the Book of Revelation that says “Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior.” But this was not the only objection to the presentation. Another was that it cited former Nazi and SS officer Wernher von Braun, not as a scientific expert, but as a moral authority.
Of the sixty-eight Air Force nuclear missile officers who came to MRFF for help in putting a stop to the Air Force’s use of this presentation, twenty-two were Catholics — a higher than usual percentage of Catholics, who typically make up about a quarter of any group that comes to MRFF as a group. The higher than usual percentage of Catholics in this case, however, is easily explainable given this presentation was particularly offensive to Catholics, not only because of the content of the presentation slides themselves, but because the officers were being told, according to one officer who had been through the training, that “the American Catholic Church and their leadership says it’s ok in their eyes to launch nukes,” a statement that is completely contrary to the American Catholic Church’s position on nuclear weapons. Again, it was MRFF that these Catholics counted on, and MRFF who got the offensive presentation removed from the training. It wasn’t the military Archdiocese or Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, both of which are now supporting the fundamentalist Protestants who are lying about the reasons that the presentation was stopped to make it sound like an egregious case of Christian persecution by the military.
In addition to specific individual incidents of Catholics turning to MRFF, such as the two above, there are also recurring issues that send Catholics to MRFF in droves. One of these is Ash Wednesday, the busiest day of the year for Catholics contacting MRFF. Ash Wednesday, of course, is the one day of the year on which practicing Catholics are easily identifiable, and in the military this visible identification of Catholics makes for a big surge in the harassment of Catholics by fundamentalist Protestants — the very same type of fundamentalist Protestants that Bill Donohue and Archbishop Broglio are in bed with.
Lest anyone think that I’m exaggerating about how virulently anti-Catholic these fundamentalist Protestant bedfellows of Bill Donohue and Archbishop Broglio are, let me give you a few examples.
Bryan Fisher of the American Family Association, one of the members of so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom” coalition that Donohue and Archbishop Broglio are so staunchly supporting, actually opposes a path to citizenship for Catholics and thinks that Latino Protestants should be given a preference. Why? Because “57% of Latino Catholics in California support homosexual marriage” but “just 22 percent of Latino Protestants support gay marriage.” Yes, folks, Catholic champions Bill Donohue and Archbishop Broglio have no problem supporting someone who doesn’t even want Catholics to have equal immigration rights!
This same American Family Association that Bill Donohue and Archbishop Broglio are standing so firmly in solidarity with also sponsored and paid for Texas Governor Rick Perry’s big 2011 “The Response” prayer rally, an event that featured C. Peter Wagner, a man who considers Catholicism to be idolatry, as he explained in his book, Hard-Core Idolatry: Facing the Facts, lumping statues of Catholic saints in with other items that “honor to the spirits of darkness,” such as Ouija boards and pornography:
“So the evening before the evangelistic crusade, all the city’s believers came together for prayer. The leaders explained how important it would be to do spiritual housecleaning in their homes before they came to the meeting. They began mentioning the kinds of material things that might be bringing honor to the spirits of darkness; pictures, statues, Catholic saints, Books of Mormon, pictures of former lovers, pornographic material, fetishes, drugs, Ouija boards, zodiac charms, good luck symbols, crystals for healing, amulets, talismans, tarot cards, witch dolls, voodoo items, love potions, books of magic, totem poles, certain pieces of jewelry, objects of Freemasonry, horoscopes gargoyles, native art, foreign souvenirs, and what have you.”
While Archbishop Broglio is relatively new to the collaborationist game, Bill Donohue has a much longer history of turning a blind eye to the blatant anti-Catholic sentiments of his political allies and throwing his bloviating self behind their causes.
Back in 2005, Donohue both endorsed and spoke at “Justice Sunday,” a major event organized by Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, which is also one of the leading organizations in the so-called “Restore Military Religious Freedom” coalition. Speaking alongside Donohue at this event was Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has made blatantly anti-Catholic statements like:
“As an evangelical, I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a false church. It teaches a false gospel. And the Pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”
In a press release titled “Catholic League backs ‘Justice Sunday,’” Donohue’s own organization said that “William Donohue was the lone Catholic to speak at the event.” Yeah, maybe that should have told you something, Mr. Donohue!
Donohue has also allied himself with John Hagee, a man whose anti-Catholic statements, such as calling the Catholic Church “the great whore” and the “anti-Christ,” were so extreme that John McCain had to denounce his endorsement in the 2008 presidential campaign because of the backlash from Catholic republicans.
Donohue, who initially siding with his fellow Catholics in calling Hagee an anti-Catholic bigot, quickly changed his tune and became the best of friends with Hagee when an alliance between these two bigots of different stripes became politically expedient, with Donohue saying to Hagee:
“Pastor, you are my friend from this point forward and nothing’s going to change that. We have our theological differences but we Catholics and Evangelicals need to work together — that is the liberals worse nightmare.”
And now we have both Donohue and the military’s Archbishop Timothy Broglio joining forces with this coterie of anti-Catholic bigots, because their common anti-gay bigotry obviously trumps everything else.
By supporting the Fleming amendment, Bill Donohue and Archbishop Broglio are nothing short of Judases, supporting a measure that, in its primary purpose of officially sanctioning the open harassment of gays in the military, would also inflict the collateral damage of officially sanctioning the open harassment of Catholics in the military. Way to go, guys!