A series of media reports that allege the Pentagon could start court-martialing soldiers for their Christian faith has been debunked by the fact-checking website PolitiFact and even the Pentagon itself.
But that didn't stop Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., from sending out a fundraising email Monday asking supporters to sign a "Protect Religious Freedom in the Military Pledge," along with a plea for donations to her campaign so she can "have the funds necessary to continue fighting for religious liberty and our troops."
Now, the man at the center of the court-martial allegations, Mikey Weinstein, says he may sue Bachmann for "propagating complete and utter lies."
It was Weinstein, a former Reagan administration lawyer and founder of the civil rights advocacy group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who allegedly influenced the Pentagon to punish Christians who pushed their faith on other members of the military, according to media reports. Weinstein met privately with Pentagon officials to discuss religious issues in the military in April.
In her pledge, Bachmann calls Weinstein "radical" and "anti-Christian."
"We are caucusing with our legal counsel to consider the most expeditious course of action we can take in a federal court to stop these bald-faced lies," Weinstein tells Whispers of Bachmann's email and pledge. Bachmann's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment. "About 96 percent of our members [at MRFF] are Protestant or Roman Catholic... of our unpaid volunteers, at least well over 80 percent are Christian... I say [to Bachmann]: Tell it to the judge."
Josh Glasstetter, research director at the progressive People For the American Way, which was founded in the early 1980s to counteract the rhetoric of televangelists, says he also believes Bachmann's petition is misleading.
"Bachmann doesn't seem to understand the difference between practicing one's faith and forcing it on someone else," Glasstetter tells Whispers. "The Pentagon has been very clear that American service members have religious freedom and can evangelize. But the military draws the line at 'unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others.' We agree."
In a statement responding to the alleged court-martials, the Pentagon said it would never single out a particular religious group and that service members could share their faith as long as they didn't force it upon others.
But Weinstein, who claims he isn't anti-Christian but has made inflammatory comments about Christians in the past, is the one being viewed skeptically by some in the religious and civil rights community.
Jay Sekulow, a top litigator of free speech and religious liberty cases, says Weinstein has made "horrific" statements about Christians before, including after the death of televangelist Jerry Falwell, when Weinstein said he was "very glad he's dead."
"If you're trying to get into a credible debate on faith within the military, asking Mikey Weinstein is very alarming," said Sekulow, who noted that members of Congress are planning to send a letter to the Pentagon asking for an explanation of its private meeting with Weinstein.
Whispers was not able to independently confirm that letter, but other members of Congress, such as Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., have already joined Bachmann in asking questions about the reports of alleged Pentagon court-martials.
Weinstein tells Whispers that such a letter would be evidence of Congress "trying to find red meat to throw to the gutless mindless throngs that are out there," and said he wouldn't rule out legal action against other lawmakers.