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Nearly a week after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's Mikey Weinstein called out the AFA for offensive links on a Web site, the AFA has not corrected the problem — and others within the school are joining Weinstein in calling for immediate action.
"MRFF is now making a specific demand to [Lt. Gen.] Mike Gould, the superintendent, to take down the link," Weinstein says, calling the offending site "pernicious, homophobic, and clearly misogynistic."
Weinstein says if his demands are not met by 5:30 p.m. Thursday, his organization will take action. He refused to explain what that meant, but in the past, MRFF has advertised its causes on billboards.
Weinstein says he is pursuing the issue on behalf of 22 AFA staff members, faculty and cadets who are offended by the links. One of those clients is now announcing his opposition publicly. (A bold move, given that of the MRFF's 397 Air Force Academy clients, he is only the second to go public.)
Steven Samuels, Professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership and a 20-year employee, has written a letter to Weinstein for publication.
It is as follows:
Dear Mr. Weinstein
I am writing you after trying to solve this issue at the lowest level twice, only to be ignored and rebuffed. When MRFF first brought up the troublesome link for the Fast of Esther (http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm), I was glad the issue had been pointed out. I know Rabbi Narrowe and believed it was not his intention to misrepresent the positions of the Jewish community or hurt the LGBQ community. I have taken Jewish cadets to West Point and worked with Spectrum [an LGBQ and allies group at the AFA] cadets to create safe environments for all, and I saw the rabbi as an ally. The rabbi even visited a Spectrum meeting recently to convey his openness to supporting every cadet.
Imagine my surprise then, when I heard of this link. The site is in no way reflects mainstream Judaism, which is a shame since there are so many mainstream and even secular (e.g., About.com, Wikipedia, etc.) that could have been used. I was truly horrified that someone at USAFA who wanted to know about Judaism would use this site, and embarrassed that they might think I shared those views. While you have already addressed the tragic (and completely unscientific) statements equating homosexuality to kleptomania, there are other pages that are equally offensive. For example, while we constantly battle sexism, this site suggests that, “women are for the most part seen as separate but equal” (http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm). We know how well that worked out in this country, and none but the most Orthodox Jewish communities follow this idea.
After contacting the rabbi directly by email, and having a brief phone conversation, I let him know that such a link would almost certainly cost him credibility (and thus approachability) from the cadets at Spectrum. Additionally, I felt very hurt knowing the severe problems with this website. While he said he didn’t agree, he did say he understood what I was saying. And I assumed the link would be changed immediately.
To quote the above, “imagine my surprise” when the link was still not changed! I honestly could not believe it; such a small thing that hurt so many people that could be so easily fixed. This was Leadership 101 with regard to taking care of your troops, not to mention the mission of the chaplaincy. So I immediately called the rabbi back and made it explicitly clear that if the link was not removed within 24 hours, I would escalate the issue. I also took it to my boss who said he would call the rabbi’s boss in the chaplaincy. I said the rabbi is already talking to him.
I actually gave him well over 24 hours and have still not heard back; they did not even contact me to let me know they had considered the issue. At this point, I do not have faith (literally) that the chaplaincy has any intention of taking care of the people they supposedly serve. This is too easy a fix and they have known about it for too long for me to assume anything but the worst of intentions. While this is very sad for me, it is much worse for the cadets in my care who have to face the repercussions: LGBQ cadets who are being told they are kleptomaniacs, women who are being told they can be separated but still be equal, and Jewish cadets who have to explain that this radical form of Judaism is not how they celebrate their faith.
Anything you can do to help end this micro-aggression against me and my students would be very much appreciated. After 20 years at USAFA, this is honestly the most frustrated I have ever been. Worse things have happened in the name of religion, but never when there was so easy a fix to be had.
Steven Samuels, PhD
Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership
Weinstein says he has also received several supportive e-mails regarding the policy. Weinstein released the following edited e-mails:
To: Mr. M. Weinstein and the Staff of the MRFF
Fm: C/XX XXXXX X. XXXXXX (all other ID info withheld0
Sub. USAFA Chaplain Website
Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF, I am one of the MRFF's clients regarding the current situation with the USAFA Chaplain's website's disparagement of LGB human beings. I am a cadet in the Class of 20XX and am in Cadet Squadron XX. I do not have much time as I have to get to class. But I wanted to thank you and MRFF for standing up for those of us who are LGB here at USAFA. I am gay, female and Jewish. I am not "out" either as a gay person or a member of the Jewish faith. Because if I was, life here would be much harder than it already is. It would be brutal. That's messed up but that's the way it is. My future in the Air Force would be clouded forever. No matter that DADT is now officially gone.That website used by the USAFA chaplains to "explain" Judaism is so terrible, speaking again as a gay person and a Jew. I may have a choice about being Jewish but I have no choice about my sexuality. I was born "that way" and am not ashamed. Saying that I am like a "kleptomaniac" because I am gay is so low that it does not deserve a reply by caring people. Thak you and the MRFF for taking up this fight.
C/XX XXXXXX X. XXXXXX (all other ID info. withheld)
Dear Mr. Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation,
We are the very concerned parents of one of the Air Force Academy cadets you are representing in the current matter of the anti-gay "jewfaq.com" website reference currently being used by the Air Force Academy's Chaplains Dept. to apparently "explain" the totality of the Jewish faith on line. Our son (or daughter) happens to be gay. He (or she) is not "out" at the Academy for fear of the consequences that would occur if this fact was made known. This is his (or her) decison and we respect that. We are Jewish and belong to a conservative synagogue in (city and state withheld). Our rabbinical staff does not believe that "being gay" is a sin or unnatural. We have told them of this matter and they are as shocked at what the Academy has done as we are. Our child was Bar (or Bat) Mitvahed there and confirmed as well. Our child is a person of great integrity and dignity. And he (or she) does not deserve to have his (or her) sexuality compared to that of a "kleptomaniac". We do not understand why the Academy's Chaplains are refusing to replace that debasing website with one of the many which do not exhibit bigotry towards anyone else? Our child is under enough stress as is our whole family over this incident. We love our child and want to eliminate the source of this official Academy-sanctioned shame. Can you please tell us what you and MRFF can do to help us? It's clear that the Academy will do nothing in this regard. Our home phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx. Please call after 5 pm ( time zone withheld).
(USAF Academy cadet's parent's indentifiers all withheld)
——- UPDATE, THURSDAY, FEB. 14, 1:05 P.M. ——-
Air Force Academy Spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan says he's not sure how or why the offensive links were included on the Air Force website.
But he says he imagines it was simply an oversight.
“I know that nobody does things maliciously here,” he said.
Bryan added that the AFA has made strides in recent years to be more inclusive.
Gen. Mark Welsh also took the time to respond to Weinstein's e-mail, writing:
From: "Welsh, Mark A III Gen MIL USAF AF/CC"
Subject: RE: EXTERNAL: MRFF Demand Letter (Feb. 13, 2013) to USAF Chief of Staff
Date: February 13, 2013 9:03:33 PM MST
To: Mikey Weinstein
Cc: "Harding, Richard C Lt Gen MIL USAF AF/JA"
, "Gould, Mike C Lt Gen USAF USAFA USAFA/CC"
Thank you Mr Weinstein. I appreciate you making me aware of this. I will
ask USAFA leadership to look into this. My JAG will get back to you when we
have more information. r/mark
——- UPDATE, WEDNESDAY, 6:53 P.M. ——-
The founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who has stirred many a controversy over the years, is now attacking the Air Force for links on a website. The Air Force site gives information about religious holidays, but for the Jewish religion it connects to a Web site that is fiercely homophobic.
The Air Force has yet to respond to calls from the Indy seeking a response.
Weinstein's letter is as follows:
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
General Mark A. Welsh III
Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670
Transmitted via email and UPS Overnight Delivery
Re: [USAFA] HCX NOTAMs Religious Accommodation For the Period: February 2013
Dear General Welsh,
It is with profound bewilderment, shock, and no small amount of disgust that I write this letter to bring to your immediate attention a recent "Notice to Airmen" (NOTAM) of Religious Accommodations that was circulated by the Chaplainʼs office of your alma mater and mine, the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). Contained within the February, 2013 Religious Accommodations NOTAM are links to a virulently anti-gay website known as “Judaism 101,” or www.jewfaq.org. This reprehensible act represents either a regrettable gross error in judgment and scrutiny or a wretchedly intentional offense only further establishing the already universally known fact that the religious climate at USAFA remains hostile, unwelcoming, and adverse. On behalf of 21 lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) USAFA cadets, faculty members, and staff who comprise its clients for this current matter, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF: www.MilitaryReligiousFreedom.org) firmly protests this foul act and demands immediate remedial action and swift punishment for all of those responsible. The NOTAM in question is meant to inform cadets and faculty of the major religious holidays occurring in a given month, and what these holidays signify. Each holiday description is accompanied by a link to a non-governmental website. Every Jewish holiday contains a link to “Judaism 101.” To quote the USAFA NOTAM (http://www.usafa.edu/hc/NOTAMs%20Feb%202013%20fpd.pdf):
Fast of Esther (Taʼanit Esther) — (21 February 2013, Thursday): Jewish:
Taʼanit Esther commemorates Esther's three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king.
a. Website: http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday9.htm
b. POC: Ch, Maj Joshua Narrowe
At a glance, this website that bills itself as an “online encyclopedia of Judaism” appears to be a no-frills resource offering basic information on the Jewish faith. While the website contains information about various Jewish holidays, a cursory perusal of the websiteʼs contents indicates the perniciously hateful predilections and prejudices of its bigoted and virulently homophobic author.
Worse yet, the website isnʼt even owned or managed by a remotely recognized Jewish organization or authority on theological matters of the faith, but by a mere private citizen who appears to be wholly and officially unaccredited in such definitive matters. On his “About the Author” page (http://www.jewfaq.org/author.htm), Mr. Tracey Rich states clearly that he does “not claim to be a rabbi or an expert on Judaism; I'm just a traditional, observant Jew who has put in a lot of research.” In other words, the “encyclopediaʼs” scribe is an admitted hobbyist and dilettante on the matter. This travesty would in itself be innocuous enough if not for the mocked-up authoritative presentation of utterly hate-filled material on his ostensibly “encyclopedic” website.
Taken as a whole, this outrage is in essence no different from USAFA linking a Ramadan description to the website of an extremist Muslim, self-appointed “expert” on Islam. Indeed, an equivalent move would be to link the descriptions of Christian holidays, from a Baptist denominational perspective, to the website of Pastor Fred Phelpsʼ utterly despicable Westboro Baptist Church! The material on Richʼs website includes suggestions that homosexual males should be put to death as per the Torah. Additionally, it includes a speciously hideous comparison of the originating cause of homosexuality to that of kleptomania. This disgrace is an open slap in the face to all lesbian, gay, and bisexual USAFA cadets, faculty, and staff. Additionally, the website contains the absurd and perverse notion that males who masturbate should have their hands chopped off. Quoting just a portion of Mr. Richʼs barbaric explanation of sexuality in regards to the Jewish faith:
Sexual relations between men are clearly forbidden by the Torah. (Lev. 18:22). Such acts are condemned in the strongest possible terms, as abhorrent. The only other sexual sin that is described in such strong terms is the sin of remarrying a woman you had divorced after she had been married to another man. (See Deut. 24:4). The sin of sexual relations between men is punishable by death (Lev. 20:13), as are the sins of adultery and incest….I have seen some modern Orthodox sources suggest that if homosexuality is truly something hardwired in the brain, as most gay activists suggest, then a man who acts upon that desire is not morally responsible for his actions, but I am not sure how wide-spread that opinion is. In any case, it is not quite as liberal a position as some would have you believe: essentially, it is equivalent to saying that a kleptomaniac would not be held morally responsible for stealing.
Jewish law clearly prohibits male masturbation...Jewish law takes a very broad view of the acts prohibited by this passage, and forbids any act of ha-sh'cha'tat zerah (destruction of the seed), that is, ejaculation outside of the vagina. In fact, the prohibition is so strict that one passage in the Talmud states, "in the case of a man, the hand that reaches below the navel should be chopped off." (Niddah 13a)
- Judaism 101: Kosher Sex (http://www.jewfaq.org/sex.htm)
General Welsh, I hope you are as thunderstruck as I am about this debacle of debasement. This webpage ironically notes a specific warning that its viewers should “please exercise appropriate discretion,” something the USAFA chaplainʼs office completely and miserably failed to do when it circulated links to this vile website. Considering the shockingly hateful nature of this "USAFA-approved" website's material, and the fact that Mr. Rich openly admits that he's not a Rabbi or any other type of accredited or recognized expert on Judaism, one must seriously question why an allegedly esteemed academic institution such as the United States Air Force Academy chose to use this heinous website as a definitive and comprehensive, universal reference for that particular faith? This perversity is like the 13th stroke of a crazy clock that casts grave doubt not only upon that 13th hour but also every hour that preceded it. Indeed, the inclusion of the jewfaq.org links calls into very serious question the dubious professionalism and/or intentions of the NOTAM compilers, as well as the "wisdom" of the Chaplainʼs office, recently honored as USAFA's "Team of the Quarter" (Q4, 2012) for its heavily criticized, exclusionary 2012 "Religious Tolerance and Diversity Conference." This disingenuous and transparent propaganda event abjectly refused to invite non-theists, despite having invited them just two years prior — the only other time such a "religious diversity" conference has been held at USAFA. But it hardly stops there. This very same quantum of suspicion and mistrust is also directed at the administrators and commanders at USAFA, and the entire USAF chain of command leading up to your very own office, General Welsh, at the Pentagon. Given the substantial “unconstitutional train wreck” history of the oppressive religious climate at USAFA and the gross indecency of the nefarious published content on the website, MRFF fervently and immediately demands that links to the website no longer be used forthwith as educational reference points for matters of the Jewish faith. Furthermore, MRFF demands that those parties responsible for this ignominious disaster face swift and decisive corrective measures of punishment for their world-class malfeasance or misfeasance.
There is a saying, General Welsh: "Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is completely indistinguishable from malice."
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq.
Founder and President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Michael B. Donley, Secretary, United States Air Force
Lt. Gen. Richard C. Harding, Judge Advocate General (TJAG), United States Air Force
Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, Superintendent, United States Air Force Academy
Maj. Gen. Howard Stendahl, Chief of Chaplain, United States Air Force
Edith A. Disler, Lt. Col. (USAF) Ret., MRFF Director for LGBT Affairs