"That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time."

(2nd paragraph, Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, composed by Thomas Jefferson in 1777, enacted into Virginia law on January 16, 1786)

Image Copyright 2015, Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
All Rights Reserved

“Get this U.S. Army and get it well: The United States armed forces may surely fight and kill "for Country” and our legitimate national security interests. But our troops do NOT fight and kill for ANYONE’S “God” or related supernatural deity. In the preparation of this Op Ed, I exposed a number of senior active duty U.S. military leaders to the photo of this poster, including several active duty chaplains. To a man and woman, they were collectively ALL aghast that it was actually real and being used to lure young Americans into the Army’s special forces.”

C’mon, seriously? That freaking picture just says it ALL.

What an abysmal affront to “National Religious Freedom Day” which is to be celebrated tomorrow, January 16, 2015.

Having headed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) for nearly a decade, we’ve been exposed to all sorts of unholy, unconstitutional cocktails inextricably mixing the intoxicating aroma of fundamentalist religion (almost always a wretched thing called “Dominion Christianity”) with the dense and deep-pocketed foundations of the State. However, even WE at MRFF were hardly prepared for the stunning, unconstitutional disgrace we confirmed from client reports as recently as yesterday.

There it was; an in-your-face, proselytizing, U.S. Army officially-approved (goarmy.com) recruiting poster on prominent display at an Armed Forces Career Center in Phoenix, Arizona. That outrageously ghastly graphic encapsulates precisely that which we’ve been ceaselessly calling the attention of the American people to for all this time. The poster astoundingly displays the shoulder tabs of the U.S. Special Forces (i.e. Green Berets), Rangers and Airborne troopers accompanied by the seethingly sectarian slogan “ON A MISSION FOR BOTH GOD AND COUNTRY.”

(Wait a damn minute. Phoenix? Arizona? Army Special Forces? “Mission For…...God”? My first thoughts were of Pat Tillman.)

Excuse me? “GOD and country?” Ahem, well, just WHOSE “god” might that be, U.S. Army?

Let me fairly go out on a limb here and gamble that it is neither the god of Islam nor the god(s) of Hinduism? No way it’s Buddhist, Sikh, Shinto, Native American Spiritualist or The Flying Spaghetti Monster. I believe it’s a very safe bet to presume that the Army is pretending to refer to the “Judeo-Christian” god, and by THAT worn out and duplicitously deceptive label, of course, I really mean what the Army REALLY means; only the “Christian” god, Jesus. Unfortunately, as the experts will tell you, there are literally multiple tens of thousands of distinctly separate denominations of Christianity in existence. So, once again, the question is begged as to exactly WHICH “God” the U.S. Army Special Forces are boldly, publicly and eagerly recruiting for?

The military chaplaincy’s motto is “Pro Deo et Patria” (Latin, meaning “For God and Country”) but, hey, that’s for noncombatant chaplains. THIS revolting Army recruiting poster is VERY specifically designed for the elite Special Forces universe of Green Berets, Rangers, Delta Force, Airborne etc. These recruiting targets populate the far, far end of the Army universe, indeed light years away, from the recruitment of non-weapons carrying chaplains.

It has consistently been MRFF’s experience through the many years that there is always a greater population of Constitution-breaching, fundamentalist/Dominionist Christians in the special forces of the DoD; Navy SEALs, Air Force PJs, USMC Force Recon and the Army’s designated recruiting targets of this very poster. (Remember the international controversy about those VERY same words being spoken by the Navy SEAL who shot Bin Laden in conjunction with “Geronimo, Geronimo”?)

Even the Pope himself has decried on multiple occasions the reprehensible, medieval idea that one can kill in God’s name – even going so far as to say that the concept, “simply, is blasphemy”.  Yet here we have the most lethal killing machine devised in the history of humankind proudly extolling the virtue of what can only be described as "Holy Wars."

This unconstitutional catastrophe comes at a time, no less, when world leaders as diverse as Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu are marching together, arm in arm, in Paris and uniting behind the values of secular respect, religious tolerance, freedom of the press and all related basic civil rights. However, this incomprehensibly STUPID, and brazenly sectarian poster of American religious dominance at Marine Corps Recruiting Substation Paradise Valley universally destroys any credibility that the United States government is wholly devoted to these very basic democratic and human values.

Get this U.S. Army and get it well: The United States armed forces may surely fight and kill "for Country” and our legitimate national security interests. But our troops do NOT fight and kill for ANYONE’S “God” or related supernatural deity. In the preparation of this Op Ed, I exposed a number of senior active duty U.S. military leaders to the photo of this poster, including several active duty chaplains. To a man and woman, they were collectively ALL aghast that it was actually real and being used to lure young Americans into the Army’s special forces.

In fact, this Poster of Shame lends incredible and irrefutable credence to what MRFF has been insisting from our very inception, which is that there exists a brutal, sectarian, Christian fundamentalist reign exercised within the United States Armed Forces, constituting a de facto Dominionist fifth column. In fact, it’s often so brazen that it’s not even very “fifth columny” anymore. Facts have borne out this assertion, in absolute spades. For example, we’ve seen the distribution of millenarian Left Behind video games to active-duty troops serving in Iraq. We’ve heard the anguished cries of servicemembers forced to attend hokey “Christian Rock” concerts on pain of “lockdown” and other forms of military retribution.  We’ve seen the so-called “Jesus Rifles” which MRFF blew the whistle on, where Trijicon riflescopes were inscribed with specific New Testament Bible references engraved into the metal casings on nearly a million high-powered rifle sights. Oh, and if “Jesus Rifles” isn’t enough of a bafflingly bizarre and contemptible example, there was the “Jesus Loves Nukes” mandatory indoctrination course that was used to train USAF nuclear missile launch officers at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Time and time again, we’ve been forced to go toe-to-toe with the United States Air Force Academy administration over its practically countless, savage offenses against the United States Constitution. Likewise, a recurring battle of ours has been one waged against the persistent usage of “Crusader” symbolism, evoking the brutal Western Christian colonization and merciless subjugation of Muslim nations during the Middle Ages. Our foundation submitted a very comprehensive accompanying document when I testified before the House Armed Services Committee in the United States Congress this past November. Our MRFF testimony unequivocally shows that all of the unconstitutional wickedness above is just a mere taste, indeed only the nuanced tip of a very large and exceedingly precarious iceberg of colossal, national security dangers. 

Does our aggressive fight against fundamentalist Christian extremism, triumphalism and supremacy in our nation’s armed forces, as so vividly displayed in this official Army recruiting poster, infuriate those who promote such bloody rancor and discord? Always and of course. Comes with the territory. You can decide whether it’s worth it because we at MRFF already have decided that it most assuredly IS.

Yet here we find ourselves, ignominiously once again, faced with a disgracefully sectarian message of religious exceptionalism bearing the official U.S. Army stamp of approval. This painfully pathetic poster will no doubt serve, generally, as a red flag of limitless propaganda and, more specifically, as a recruiting bonanza of unbridled proportions for precisely those villains whom the world has united against in Paris, i.e. the Salafi-Jihadists such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian PeninsulaIslamic State, and myriad other backwards fundamentalists. As if immeasurably emboldening our Islamic enemies wasn’t bad enough, this deplorable poster will enrage our Islamic allies and eviscerate our own service members’ unit cohesion, good order, morale, discipline and military readiness.

Long story short, the poster at the Phoenix armed forces recruitment hub is an absolutely abominable slap in the face of everyone who’s ever taken the time to digest, understand, and swear the servicemembers’ sacred oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution, let alone those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the values, rights, and protections contained therein.

And speaking of “ultimate sacrifice,” I wonder what Pat Tillman would have said about that stinking poster of unconstitutional malfeasance in his beloved city and state of Phoenix, Arizona? Somehow, I don’t think he’d agree that he was on a “Mission For God” when he courageously gave his life for his country in combat as a proud member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.

Unfortunately, on the other hand, what might another Arizonan do about this; Senator John McCain, the brand new Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee? Don’t hold your breath for him to lift a finger of even tepid protest against this recruiting poster. If anything, he’d likely applaud.

The world trembles in shock over the horrific crimes of murderous, fundamentalist, Islamic religiosity in one part of the globe. What of our own House here in America? Here in the States, we should spare no effort to aggressively investigate and ferociously uproot the vast legions of fundamentalist (Dominionist), Christian extremists who seek to smother our OWN secular, constitutional, American republic in the blood-drenched, theocratic “Crusader” memes of a once dark and distant era.

Sadly today, given our enormous arsenal of WMDs, even darker. And not so “distant” anymore.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

The fire chief of Atlanta, GA, Kelvin Cochran, was just dismissed because of a self-published book he wrote which was viewed as homophobic. According to Think Progress:
 

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (D) announced Tuesday that he has fired Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who had previously been suspended for publishing and distributing a book condemning homosexuality..

  . . . Since Cochran’s suspension last month, he has become a bit of a martyr for conservatives, who believe he has been persecuted for his religious beliefs. J. Edgar White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, suggested that Cochran was among those “who are punished or marginalized for their faith” and called on Christians to purchase his book and support him.
 Reed was adamant during Tuesday’s press conference that Cochran’s religious beliefs were not the reason he was fired. His book, Who Told You That You Were Naked?, was published in violation of Atlanta’s Standards of Conduct, which requires approval from the Ethics Officer and the Board of Ethics. According to Reed, Cochran’s “actions and decision-making undermine his ability to manage our fire department” because employees need to feel that they are “a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment.


That's the story before conservatives and the religious right will attempt to make Cochran the newest martyr of the concept of  'religious liberty.'   'Religious liberty' is a phrase these individuals have coined to claim that those who practice their version Christian faith in America are supposedly being persecuted because of their objections to homosexuality and marriage equality. To them, "persecution" is a wide and loaded term which includes being forced to serve gay customers or, as we see with the above situation with Cochran, not being allowed to "voice objections" to homosexuality in places where such objections aren't exactly conducive or appropriate to the environment.

It is a concept which is gaining speed now that marriage equality is becoming more accepted and swiftly the law throughout the country.  'Religious liberty' has gained support from the "fire and brimestone" sect, who see persecution behind every bush, to the concern trolls who clamor that since gays are gaining the right to marry, we should "be nice and respectful" to those who oppose our general equality.

In other words, "religious liberty" is a load of nonsense.  It's equivalent to a good paint job a bad car salesman puts on an busted up clunker in a sad attempt to cover that it's stinker.

First of all gays were not given the right to marry. It was a right which should have been ours from the start and one which we earned by slowly slogging through the trenches and terrain of this ridiculous so-called culture war.

Then there is the second point. At what point are rights given in "tit-for-tat" compromises? Just where is it said that since gays are winning the right to marry, we have to forfeit our dignity, respect, and rights as taxpayers?  Since when is there a right for businesses treat gays like second-class citizens even though our tax dollars help to keep these businesses safe? Since when is there a right to   minimize our lives to a concept or a "lifestyle" so one can pretend that he or she is not denigrating human beings, even if that denigration is done on the job and, in the case of Cochran, by our bosses?

And why do gays have to deal with such treatment under the guise of "religious liberty" when no other group of Americans have to? Cochran's book also denigrated women and people of the Jewish faith. If there were no words about gays in his book, would there be any controversy regarding "religious liberty" with regards to his firing?

You can call it "religious liberty" all you want. I call it homophobia and it's worst kind, too. It's practiced by folks who are too self-righteous to step down from that nonexistent stairway to Heaven they think they are building for themselves.

America just celebrated the season of giving with Hanukkah and Christmas presents, year-end charity donations and soup kitchen volunteering. It is a time when Americans demonstrate the generosity, caring and kindness that define them as a people.

Now, however, Americans may suffer the season of GOP taking. Republicans already insisted on taking away a key protection in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Now they’re intent on taking health insurance from millions of Americans who got it under the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a manifestation of Americans’ concern for each other’s welfare. Americans felt it was intolerable for so many of their friends, neighbors and relatives to be uninsured in the richest country in the world, to be bankrupted by medical bills, to die for lack of medical care. So they found a way to do something about it. That is the ACA. Among other benefits, it extends Medicaid and provides subsidies enabling the working poor to afford insurance. But the GOP is all against it. Republicans tried to repeal the law, appealed to courts to overturn it and refused its expansion of Medicaid. As they become the majority party in both houses of Congress this month, Republicans will intensify their campaign to take health insurance from millions who got it through the ACA.

Just as the employer mandate requiring large businesses to offer health insurance finally goes into effect, Republicans will try to eliminate insurance for those newly-covered workers.

They’ve promised to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act – again. None of their previous 50 votes to do that succeeded. Failure is likely again, too, since they won’t get 60 ayes in the Senate and President Obama won’t sign a repeal. So they’ve said they’ll next try killing the law piece by piece.

Unlike their congressional votes, Republicans have been tragically successful with lawsuits in denying Americans health insurance. The first of those suits that went to the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t kill the law outright but empowered Republican governors to prevent poor constituents from getting health insurance through the law’s Medicaid expansion. Millions are suffering as a result.

New statistics show that if the Supreme Court had not made expansion of Medicaid optional,   more than 3 million people would have gained health insurance in the 24 states where Republicans refused the program. These 3 million are working Americans struggling on the financial edge, people whose income is less than $16,105 a year.

A new Republican-pushed lawsuit could take insurance from 5 million more. These are residents of states that decided to use the federal health insurance exchange instead of creating marketplaces of their own. People who now buy insurance on an exchange, state or federal, may receive subsidies to help them afford it if their income is up to four times the federal poverty level.

In the lawsuit, King v. Burwell, Republicans argue that language in the Affordable Care Act means that only people who buy their insurance on a state-run exchange qualify for the subsidies. The GOP wants to discriminate against people who get their insurance through the federal marketplace. They want to deny the ACA’s financial help to the working poor in 36 states without their own exchanges.

New federal information shows that 87 percent of those who buy their insurance on the exchanges receive subsidies. And a review by the private consulting firm Avalere Health showed that, on average, the subsidies paid for three-quarters of the purchaser’s insurance premium.

If the Supreme Court hands Republicans a win in this case, millions will lose their insurance because they can no longer afford it. These are people who got insured with the help of the ACA, and who will lose it on the demand of the GOP.

In another lawsuit, 36 Republicans in Arizona are trying to take Medicaid away from poor residents who got coverage in the expansion pushed through by Gov. Jan Brewer – yes, a Republican. Like several other Republican governors who accepted the expansion, Brewer was swayed by doctors and hospitals that prefer to treat insured patients rather than deny care or provide it for free.

But the three dozen Arizona Republicans, represented by the conservative Goldwater Institute, contend the expansion is illegal because it will be partially paid for by a levy on hospitals. Last week, the state Supreme Court said the case could proceed. If the GOP wins, it will take insurance from a quarter million Arizonians.

Maine is just the opposite. There, low income people never benefitted from Medicaid expansion because Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it. Five times.

The most recent Congressional session was the second least productive in the modern era—exceeding the previous poor record by one piece of legislation. Now, however, with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, a new low is promised.

Instead of passing positive or helpful or useful legislation, the GOP has pledged to take from the American people. It vows to take away a basic necessity – health care, to ensure the uninsured suffer.

That’s a promise that Americans must ensure is broken. For their own health. For their neighbors’ well-being. And for preservation of Americans’ self-image as caring and kind people. 

 

 

 

1. We will stop referring to ourselves as a "civil rights" organization that defends "human rights." It is a sacrilege to people actually killed or harmed by civil and human rights abuses.

 

2. We will stop pointing at Chicago and saying gun laws don't work. We will admit the majority of Chicago crime guns are trafficked from states and counties with loose laws.

 

3. We will stop saying "the government is going to take your guns" to block federal laws. The confiscation we announced 7 years ago never happened.

4. We will stop blaming "mental health" problems for U.S. gun violence. We admit every country in the world has mental health problems but they don't have Newtowns and Virginia Techs.

 

5. We admit fighting universal background checks arms criminals and that armed criminals sells more guns to "good guys." Ka-ching.

 

6. We acknowledge that "outlaws" don't have guns in the 28 EU countries, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and other countries with strict gun regulations. We also admit, grudgingly, they are not "tyrannies."

 

7. We will stop our insulting comparison of guns to knives, hammers, cars and swimming pools--none of which kill when used as directed. On the same day as the Sandy Hook massacre, 20 Chinese school children were attacked with a knife and none died.

 

8. We accept responsibility for the armed vigilante movement popularized by George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn. We admit "concealed carry" laws are the biggest revenue infusion since "Obama is going to take your guns."

 

9. We will stop defending sales to civilians of non-defensive weapons like TrackingPoint's "can’t miss" sniper rifle. We admit they are ready-made for insurrectionists, terrorists and hate groups.

 

9. We regret our work to help suspected domestic abusers keep their guns while under orders of protection. We admit this costs many women's lives and that our sleazy sales pitch to tell women to arm themselves too just makes things worse.

 

HYPERLINK "http://gunvictimsaction.org/"

National Gun Victims Actions Council is the U.S.' largest gun victims groups. Join our HYPERLINK "http://www.operationsideline.org/"effort to get corporate America to take a stand against gun violence. When corporations want sane gun laws, we will have sane gun laws. @GunVictimsAct

 

homeless_baby_girl
Homeless people have shelters to go to, a common belief comforting those who don’t know better. 

Having just come from the community-based shelter where my friend and colleague Pat LaMarche works, having run shelters for 15 years myself, having seen shelters across the country for the past 9 years of my HEAR US traveling, I find myself seething at the perverted reality of what our shelter “system” is in this affluent country.

Pat’s shelter is probably average (no offense!). It’s in a middle-income borough in sort of central PA. Hundreds of similar communities dot the Keystone State. This community is quite unusual, with 3 shelters—one in a fixed site, this one which rotates to different places of worship—and a Salvation Army shelter for families. Shari Bellish, Carlisle Cares founder, fights hard to keep this meager operation going, knowing that 55 people a night will have a safe place to sleep. 

I listened as Pat answered one of many phone calls she and other staff get during the day. “I’m sorry, we’re full,” was the gist of it. The caller, a woman staying in her car. It’s below freezing tonight. Pat referred her to a neighboring community’s rotating site “shelter” program. At least she has a car, and gas is cheaper. Maybe she’ll get a spot to sleep.

Many shelters operate on paltry budgets, forcing them to creatively get around the lack of space and staff by setting hours that minimize the operations’ expenses. Pat’s shelter busses people to the night site which opens at 9:30 p.m. Everyone has to be out by 7 a.m., bussed back to this modest base so everyone can go on their way.

Imagine life for school kids—to bed by 10 if they’re lucky, up at 6:30, on a bus at 7 to go back to shelter headquarters to wash up and grab breakfast before heading out to school. Not a lot of quality time for homework, much less sleep and normalcy. The pads on the floor squeezed together don’t allow for privacy, or sleep. 

Volunteers and a skeleton staff make this emergency arrangement possible. And it’s much better than everyone cuddling up on the street. In Phoenix, the county is contemplating shutting down their overflow shelter—a bleak warehouse that offers nothing but a place on the floor for hundreds of desperate men.

Reading Bill Moyer’s post on homelessness, I found myself torn. His valid perspective is tainted by the use of wildly-delusional statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD’s official report to Congress, which determines funding for homelessness programs, was that 578,424 people were homeless last year.  

This extremely narrow enumeration hardly counts homelessness at all. It’s a one-night point-in-time count that, despite sincerely stalwart efforts by professionals and volunteers, documents a mere drop in the vast sea of people—adults and kids, oldsters and babies and those in between—with no place to go.

Case in point, the U.S. Department of Education reported that almost 1.3 million students without homes were identified in the 2013 school year, a staggering 72% increase since 2006. T America’s Youngest Outcasts reports over 2.5 million CHILDREN are homeless, not including parents or single adults. So, HUD’s report…just a tad under-representing the crisis.

I left as Pat headed down the garbage bag-lined hallway, holiday clothing donations. Folks were quietly waiting at tables. If you’d could ask, you’d hear about boredom, frustration finding housing or jobs, regrets about burned bridges and family alienation, and gratitude that at least they have some place to turn to on this cold Pennsylvania night where they’ll be safe. 

It’s perverted that they should feel grateful. It’s perverted that many communities have no shelters. It’s perverted that HUD is pushing “Housing First” with inadequate resources to help those who need it, and we’ll see the perverted action of the 114th Congress, which doesn’t begin to have a clue as to the staggering scope homeless Americans, as they likely slash spending for human needs.


homeless_baby_girl
Homeless people have shelters to go to, a common belief comforting those who don’t know better. 

Having just come from the community-based shelter where my friend and colleague Pat LaMarche works, having run shelters for 15 years myself, having seen shelters across the country for the past 9 years of my HEAR US traveling, I find myself seething at the perverted reality of what our shelter “system” is in this affluent country.

Pat’s shelter is probably average (no offense!). It’s in a middle-income borough in sort of central PA. Hundreds of similar communities dot the Keystone State. This community is quite unusual, with 3 shelters—one in a fixed site, this one which rotates to different places of worship—and a Salvation Army shelter for families. Stephanie, the shelter founder, fights hard to keep this meager operation going, knowing that 55 people a night will have a safe place to sleep. 

I listened as Pat answered one of many phone calls she and other staff get during the day. “I’m sorry, we’re full,” was the gist of it. The caller, a woman staying in her car. It’s below freezing tonight. Pat referred her to a neighboring community’s rotating site “shelter” program. At least she has a car, and gas is cheaper. Maybe she’ll get a spot to sleep.

Many shelters operate on paltry budgets, forcing them to creatively get around the lack of space and staff by setting hours that minimize the operations’ expenses. Pat’s shelter busses people to the night site which opens at 9:30 p.m. Everyone has to be out by 7 a.m., bussed back to this modest base so everyone can go on their way.

Imagine life for school kids—to bed by 10 if they’re lucky, up at 6:30, on a bus at 7 to go back to shelter headquarters to wash up and grab breakfast before heading out to school. Not a lot of quality time for homework, much less sleep and normalcy. The pads on the floor squeezed together don’t allow for privacy, or sleep. 

Volunteers and a skeleton staff make this emergency arrangement possible. And it’s much better than everyone cuddling up on the street. In Phoenix, the county is contemplating shutting down their overflow shelter—a bleak warehouse that offers nothing but a place on the floor for hundreds of desperate men.

Reading Bill Moyer’s post on homelessness, I found myself torn. His valid perspective is tainted by the use of wildly-delusional statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD’s official report to Congress, which determines funding for homelessness programs, was that 578,424 people were homeless last year.  

This extremely narrow enumeration hardly counts homelessness at all. It’s a one-night point-in-time count that, despite sincerely stalwart efforts by professionals and volunteers, documents a mere drop in the vast sea of people—adults and kids, oldsters and babies and those in between—with no place to go.

Case in point, the U.S. Department of Education reported that almost 1.3 million students without homes were identified in the 2013 school year, a staggering 72% increase since 2006. T America’s Youngest Outcasts reports over 2.5 million CHILDREN are homeless, not including parents or single adults. So, HUD’s report…just a tad under-representing the crisis.

I left as Pat headed down the garbage bag-lined hallway, holiday clothing donations. Folks were quietly waiting at tables. If you’d could ask, you’d hear about boredom, frustration finding housing or jobs, regrets about burned bridges and family alienation, and gratitude that at least they have some place to turn to on this cold Pennsylvania night where they’ll be safe. 

It’s perverted that they should feel grateful. It’s perverted that many communities have no shelters. It’s perverted that HUD is pushing “Housing First” with inadequate resources to help those who need it, and we’ll see the perverted action of the 114th Congress, which doesn’t begin to have a clue as to the staggering scope homeless Americans, as they likely slash spending for human needs.

 

From BP's catastrophe to this week's  spill in the Black Sea near the port of Tuapse, the oil industry continues its assault on the environment

The U.S. Senate has courageously just stood up to the Christian-supremacist bullies in the House of Representatives. Oh yes, the Senate has just completely ripped away from their religiously bigoted, House counterparts a would-be treasured bible-thumping bonanza of immeasurable, unconstitutional proselytization.  This erstwhile prize of legislative plunder had been specifically designed by these Congressmen and Congresswomen from the House, in nefarious collaboration with their legions of fundamentalist Christian parachurch allies, to be embedded deep within the confines of the 2015 Pentagon authorization/funding act.

Fortunately, the plan by these Christian crusader Members of the House failed. Please let me briefly explain, my friends.

For nearly a decade we at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) have fought night and day against the noxious trespasses of the Religious Right upon the rights of the brave men and women in our United States armed services. It’s been a bruising fight, no doubt, one filled with angry words, violent threats, as well as lies, damned lies, and hideous distortions lifted straight from the era of McCarthyism. Many of the vicious battles MRFF has engaged in have involved commanding officers, senior NCOs and chaplains operating on the assumption that it is their uncontestable and absolute right, if not their divine duty pursuant to The Great Commission (see Mark 16:15 or Matthew 28:19), to relentlessly proselytize the un-churched (or those who aren’t “the right type of Christian) and use their superior military rank as a bully pulpit from which to hammer in the "Good News". As if the unique set of pressures our servicemembers undergo isn’t enough, these fundamentalist Christian monsters have piled insult upon injury, mercilessly forcing their weaponized version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon their helpless military subordinates while hypocritically claiming to do so under the banner of “religious freedom.” However, those of us who’ve been fiercely combating this ongoing war of attrition waged by Christian extremists and triumphalists against the U.S. Constitution have received a truly surprising holiday gift of sorts. 

It turns out that sometimes miracles DO happen, and not just on 34th Street but on Capitol Hill, too.

In what we can only describe as an amazing early holiday present for servicemembers, Constitutional loyalists, and those who value the separation of Church and State, an obscure, but extremely detrimental amendment to the House-passed H.R. 4435 version of the bill “miraculously” disappeared from the final version of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (FY2015 NDAA). If the House had its way, next year’s Federal roadmap for America's armed forces would have included the following painfully ugly provision designated as "Section 525” in the Hoped-for House version:
 

“…if called upon to lead a prayer outside of a religious service, a military chaplain may close the prayer according to the traditions, expressions and religious exercises of the endorsing faith group.”

One needn’t rack one’s brains to read between the lines and see where such a course may lead. For those of you imagining a chaplain shouting “Takbir!” with Quran in hand followed by nervous soldiers chanting “Allah Akbar,” think again. No doubt about it, Section 525 would have amounted to a precious, blank check for every wannabe missionary comprising the sectarian Dominionist/fundamentalist Christian fifth column in the U.S. military. Hordes of these religious predators unfortunately can be found lurking throughout the ranks of the military chaplaincy. In fact, it’s an open secret that the military chaplaincy hardly matches the diverse cross-section of faith (and non-faith) groups represented in our armed forces. Instead the chaplaincy has been transformed largely into a clearing-house for evangelizing zealous zombies. For these chaplains, the military isn’t a place for Constitutionally mandated pluralism, religious respect and mutual tolerance. On the contrary, these missionizing maniacs see their government-paid chaplaincies as an inexhaustibly fruitful proselytizing venue and unlimited, open season “mission field”. Thus, a chaplain would be permitted to end all MANDATORY military gatherings with such standard patriarchal, monotheistic benedictions as “Thank you Father God for your blessings upon us in Jesus’ name, amen.” Or any other seething sectarian permutations of the same such as “I pray that our troops assembled here today come to understand that they must utterly surrender themselves to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ before they die or ELSE.” Cue the “burning in hell for all eternity” music.

As I have said many times in many places for many years, in the U.S. armed forces you may have mandatory formations and you may have religious formations but you CANNOT have mandatory, religious formations.

Luckily for us, the United States Senate took the side of the U.S. Constitution, its construing Federal and state case law in conjunction with DoD directives, instructions and regulations. Further, the Senate obviously and carefully considered U.S. national security as well as the compelling governmental interest in optimizing the unit cohesion, mission readiness, good order, morale, and discipline of our valued armed forces members. 

In the end, it turned out that not only could the Lame Duck Senate fly, but upon taking wing it was able – just barely – to avoid the evangelical, fundamentalist Christian buckshot being fired in its direction. 

And for that proud and rare occasion, we should all be truly thankful.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.

Michael L. "€œMikey"€ Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the 7-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the "Iran-Contra"€ Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of "With God On Our Side"€ (2006, St. Martin'€™s Press) and "€œNo Snowflake in an Avalanche"€ (2012, Vireo).

Earlier this month, in the sparsely populated Kentucky county that’s home to Bowling Green, officials voted to convert the place into a right-to-work (for less) sinkhole.

The county officials did it at the bidding of big corporations. They certainly didn’t do it for their Warren County constituents because employees in right-to-work (for less) states get smaller paychecks than those in states that support the right to unionize. They did it at the demand of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation, both of which are corporate owned and operated.

They did it despite the fact that there’s no evidence they have any legal authority to create an anti-union bastion on the county level, which means they’ve subjected the residents of Warren County to substantial costs for a legal battle that Warren is likely to lose.

Moving right-to-work (for less) from the state to the county level is the latest tactic in the relentless campaign by CEOs and corporations to reverse gains made by workers in the 1930s New Deal. With laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress slightly moved toward workers the lopsided balance of power that heavily favors corporations. Over the next several decades, the middle class thrived and income inequality decreased substantially. Now, however, income inequality is back up to the point where it was in the robber baron days because CEOs and corporations have stuck their fat thumbs back on the scale.

The FLSA created the 40-hour work week by mandating time-and-a-half pay beginning at the 41st hour worked. Before the law, managers could force employees to labor 50, 60 even 70 hours a week at no extra pay. During the Great Depression, bosses could fire those who dared complain and easily replace them. Corporations had all the power. FLSA gave a little of that muscle to workers by enabling them to demand extra pay for extra work. As a bonus, FLSA encouraged businesses to hire rather than pay overtime, which increased employment.

The NLRA provided workers with a pathway to unionize. It established standards for employees to form a union at a workplace and for employers to recognize that union as the collective bargaining agent for the workers. Before the NLRA, Pinkertons, police and national guardsmen all too frequently killed striking workers. After the NLRA, unions multiplied, and collective bargaining achieved better wages, benefits and pensions for workers.

But from the day these laws passed, corporations and lackey groups like ALEC and the Heritage Foundation fought to reverse them. They wanted all power and wealth to remain with the one percent.

They invented right-to-work (for less) laws to do that. When a majority of workers at a factory vote to be represented by a union, federal law requires the union to work for all of them, to negotiate agreements that cover all of them, to file grievances for any worker wronged by management. That costs money. And that’s what union dues pay for.

What right-to-work (for less) laws say is that workers who receive these benefits don’t have to pay for them. Federal law requires unions to continue representing workers who are freeloaders. Unions may even have to pay to hire lawyers to represent freeloaders in grievances. That handicaps the union and strengthens the corporation.

And it’s a big part of the reason that employees in right-to-work (for less) states earn less. They lack bargaining power.

In the case of Kentucky, ALEC, the Heritage Foundation and other anti-worker groups resorted to seeking anti-worker legislation from counties when they failed in November to secure a Republican majority in the House of Representatives to provide it on the state level. They’re pushing this new scheme even though federal law gives right-to-work (for less)  legislative authority to states and territories, but not to counties

The anti-worker groups formed a new organization to help persuade counties to pass the laws. It’s called Protect My Check. Its purpose is to defend the compensation of CEOs. Right-to-work (for less) legislation means fewer dollars in workers’ paychecks and more in CEOs’, so clearly the role Protect My Check is to pad CEO pay.

Similarly, CEOs are grabbing for themselves the overtime pay that workers once received. Workers are laboring more and more hours, and fewer and fewer of them are getting paid overtime. That’s because the level at which federal law requires overtime pay hasn’t kept pace with inflation. It’s $23,660 a year. An employer who claims fry cooks are supervisors and sets salaries at one dollar more ­– $23,661 – doesn’t have to pay time and a half for 10, 20, even 30 hours worked above 40.

In 1975, Republican Gerald Ford raised the threshold significantly to account for inflation, making 65 percent of salaried workers eligible for overtime pay. Now, only 12 percent qualify. Studies by the Economic Policy Institute have shown that if the threshold had kept pace with inflation since then, it would be $50,440 a year – more than twice the current level.

In the meantime, corporate demands for overtime work have increased. A Gallup poll of workers in August found 60 percent laboring more than 45 hours a week. Sixteen percent said they worked more than 60 hours.

Last spring, President Obama proposed raising the wage under which corporations would have to pay overtime. Immediately, anti-worker groups protested. Daniel Mitchell, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, said, for example, “If they push through something to make a certain class of workers more expensive, something will happen to adjust.” He suggested that would be pay cuts or layoffs.

A certain class of workers has grown extraordinarily more expensive. That is CEOs. The pay for the top 1 percent rose 31.4 percent in the three years from 2009 to 2012, according to research by Emmanuel Saez, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. Income for the bottom 99 percent of workers was stagnant, rising only 0.4 percent.

Cato’s Mitchell is right. A certain class of workers is more expensive, and the thing that happened is that 99 percent of workers are suffering for it.

President Obama is trying to rebalance this gross inequality by raising the overtime threshold. But to more permanently tip the scales closer toward equality for workers, he should take measures to support workers’ right to form unions and collectively bargain for a fair share of the profits derived from the sweat of their brows.