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Defense bill targets religious freedom group run by Jewish veteran

It’s an attempt ‘to assassinate a well-respected large civil rights organization,’ said the group’s founder

A nonprofit founded by a Jewish veteran to stop the U.S. military from promoting or favoring any particular religion is the target of an amendment in the annual defense authorization bill. 

The amendment, which could be voted on as soon as Friday by the House, would bar the Department of Defense and its staff from communicating with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which was founded by its president, Mikey Weinstein.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, inserted the amendment seven years after the MRFF forced the removal of a Christian Bible from a POW-MIA table at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Weinstein said that Turner after that incident became intent on passing legislation to thwart his group. Staff at Turner’s Washington office said he was not available for comment.

The Senate version of the defense authorization bill does not include any language about the MRFF. But if Turner’s amendment, which was adopted by the House Armed Services Committee, remains in the final bill that becomes law, it will prohibit a military commander from making a decision in response to an email from the nonprofit, or to answer emails or phone calls from it.

“This amendment is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Weinstein, a lawyer and former Air Force officer.  “It takes away from members of the military the right of free speech.” 

Turner, he added, is trying “to assassinate a well-respected large civil rights organization.” Weinstein said more than 900 people — almost all volunteers — run the MRFF.

The MRFF has drawn the ire of conservative Christian groups for its efforts to bolster the division between church and state. Among Weinstein’s wins: He has convinced the Navy to remove Bibles and other religious materials from its guest lodges and pushed the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to take down a massive picture of Jesus protecting a lifeboat of sailors. 

Turner’s amendment singles out Weinstein. It states that the military may not “communicate with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, its leadership, or its founder.”

It also stipulates that it’s forbidden to “take any action or make any decision as a result of any claim, objection, or protest made by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation without the authority of the Secretary of Defense.”

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