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Marching as to War

Mikey Weinstein
Mikey Weinstein is suing the Air Force over alleged proselytizing. (Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)

More than 70 members of Congress have urged President Bush to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of military chaplains to pray "in the name of Jesus" at mandatory ceremonies attended by service members of all faiths.

The National Association of Evangelicals and the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group, also have filed motions to intervene in the suit on behalf of Christian chaplains and service members. They argue that the injunction Weinstein is seeking would infringe on their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion.

"I consider my constitutional right to discuss my faith without censorship or fear of retribution as valuable to the military and the future of our nation as the aircraft, bombs and bullets I am trained to employ," Air Force Capt. Karl Palmberg, one of the would-be interveners, said in an affidavit.

Judge James Parker, who is hearing the case, has not yet ruled on the preliminary motions. As a result, the Air Force has not yet had to respond to the substance of Weinstein's allegation that it has a pervasive, unconstitutional bias in favor of evangelical Christianity.

Weinstein has amended his lawsuit, filed last October in U.S. District Court in New Mexico, to add several active-duty officers (including his older son, First Lt. Casey Weinstein) as co-plaintiffs. He is girding for a long legal battle, which is why he has formed a foundation with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and traveled from Albuquerque to Arlington on a recent weekend to raise money.

When the Air Force allows superior officers to evangelize their subordinates, Weinstein contends, it is doing something that no private company would allow. "Imagine if your boss were constantly coming by your desk to talk about his faith and invite you to his church," he says. "When it's your superior officer, it's much worse."

"I don't care what the admirals and generals say anymore," he says in an interview a few hours before the fundraiser, which took in about $20,000. "I'm done with the politicians. What I say to the Pentagon, and to George Bush, and to the people on Capitol Hill, and to all these mega-evangelical church folks, is just five simple words: Tell it to the judge. Because we're in federal court now."

The Field General

Fellow members of the Air Force Academy's Class of 1977 say Weinstein was always like this. His nicknames at the academy, where he graduated in the top 15 percent of his class, were "Motor Mouth" and "Ticktock," for his loquacity and his hurry. He is perpetually on the move, talking fast, driving fast. He just traded in his yellow Dodge Viper, an $85,000 roadster, for an even more exotic Lotus.

"There's this line where Meat Loaf in 'Bat Out of Hell II' says: 'We were born out of time.' That's my attitude exactly," Weinstein says. "In archaeological time, we're already dead. We're only here a nanosecond. You got to make it count."

If half of Weinstein's persona is Clint Eastwood, however, the other half is Rodney Dangerfield. The combination, more surprising and appealing than either of its parts, is his real charm, his unique shtick.

When his wife, Bonnie, takes one of his favorite See's chocolates, he reminds her of the label given him by a mega-church in the southeastern United States.

"I'm the Field General of the Godless Armies of Satan!" he says. "You can't just steal my candy like that."

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