U.S. Navy sailors are being labeled as part of an “extremist” Christian sect for including a Bible and a placard about the sustaining faith it represents on a Prisoner of War/Missing in Action display at a naval hospital in Okinawa, Japan.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, founded by former Air Force officer Michael Weinstein, filed a complaint with Rear Adm. Paul D. Pearigen, the San Diego based commander who ultimately oversees U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
The complaint — filed on behalf of 26 service members of Defense Department employees or their families — alleges that military leaders on March 26 placed a Bible on the “Missing Man” display in the public lobby of the hospital.
Additionally, a placard told visitors in English and Japanese that the religious book “represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God.”
The MRFF complaint says the Bible’s inclusion and the placard represent an unconstitutional mingling of church and state.
“The statement on the exhibit’s placard is nothing more than an illegal, unconstitutional proselytization from an extremist, fundamentalist Christian sect. It ignores all followers of other religions and totally ignores all those who subscribe to no religion — all in blatant violation of (Department of Defense) and (Department of the Navy) regulations,” wrote Donald G. Rehkopf Jr., the Rochester, N.Y., attorney representing MRFF.
Rehokpf received a response via e-mail from Pearigen’s headquarters on Friday stating, “we are investigating the matter now” and would have “more information to follow.”
Weinstein told the Tribune, “This should’ve been simple. We’ve engaged many times on this issue everywhere, and it’s taken care of quickly. Here, they translated a phrase into Japanese in order to proselytize the Japanese. This might’ve violated our treaty with Japan.”
Weinstein said his organization is calling for the Bible and the placard to be removed and those responsible for placing it to be disciplined.
The 1977 Air Force Academy grad made headlines in 2005 when he sued his alma mater for allegedly failing to stop cadets from being proselytized by Christians on campus. The case was dismissed by a federal district court judge, who wrote no plaintiffs in the suit offered proof of their own constitutional rights being impinged.
Weinstein has brought multiple actions against the different branches of the military over religious issues since that time period.
In 2016, he filed a complaint with the United States Military at West Point, after a video was posted showing an Army football coach leading his team in prayer.
Later that same year, Weinstein contacted the Air Force Academy after a football coach used his Twitter account to post religious quotes.
The Union-Tribune reported last year, Weinstein and the ACLU forced officials at San Diego’s Marine Corps Depot to stop displaying a Christian nativity scene on the grounds.
General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the occupation of Japan at the end of War War II, clearly did not share the concerns raised by Weinstein’s foundation.
The late general encouraged Christian proselytizing on the islands reasoning, “The more missionaries we can bring here, and the more occupation troops we can send home, the better.” MacArthur also asked the Pocket Testament League if they would distribute at least 100,000 Bibles to the Japanese. They responded by distributing over 10,000,000.
In a 1951 speech, the former supreme allied commander in the Pacific said he recognized it would be inappropriate to try to force Christianity on the Japanese, but hoped to lead them toward its ideals.
“If the historian of the future should deem my service of some slight reference, it would be my hope that he mention me not as a Commander engaged in campaigns and battles, even though victorious in American arms,” he stated, “but rather as one whose sacred duty it became, once the guns were silenced, to carry to the land of our vanquished foe the solace and hope and faith of Christian morals.”
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