Last week, the Marine Corps canceled a training session about the Battle of Gettysburg because the instructor is — get this! — a Christian who takes his faith seriously. Air Force veteran Jay Lorenzen, who taught political science at the Air Force Academy for 12 years and currently directs the High Ground at Gettsyburg Conference, had previously given trainings on Christian leadership. The militantly secular Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) sent a letter complaining about the training, and the USMC immediately caved.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told Fox News he was “appalled” by the USMC’s “willingness to quickly cave to [MRFF President] Mikey Weinstein’s atheist demands to eradicate Christianity from our military.”
“While the Department of Defense has a long history of willfully ignoring the religious freedom of its service members, banning a former Air Force Academy professor from leading a Marine Corps training because of his Christian beliefs is absolutely unconscionable,” Collins added.
The USMC had invited Lorenzen to speak at an annual training for Judge Advocate General (JAG) reservists on Friday, July 24, but MRFF sent a demand letter claiming the training violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After just 64 minutes, the USMC told Mikey Weinstein the training had been canceled. Weinstein insisted that the quick cancellation proved his legal arguments correct.
“The fact that the Marine [senior] leaders called back on my personal cell phone 64 minutes later and simply said ‘done’ following up with that confirming email makes it QUITE clear that the senior leadership in Washington agreed with us 100%,” Weinstein told Fox News.
He then added that the officials involved in planning the event should receive “visible and aggressive punishment” for perpetrating a “complete disgrace in violation of the constitutional prohibition against establishing religion.”
The USMC acknowledged the cancellation but did not provide a reason.
“A virtual battlefield tour of Gettysburg using a video from the National Park Service was scheduled as part of the annual training. Some of the participating Marines raised concerns about a former military officer who volunteered as an outside virtual presenter,” Capt. Joseph Butterfield, a communication strategy and operations officer, said in a statement. “In response to the concerns, the leadership of the unit decided to keep the virtual training internal to the Marines.”
MRFF provided a class itinerary in which Lorenzen was scheduled to give three “leadership” presentations. The presentation titles — “Leadership Principles Drawn from the Physical Battlefield that Have Application to Other Areas” and “Leaders Learn the Language of Leadership” — give no hint of any religious focus.
While the document does not indicate any religious angle to the trainings, Weinstein focused on a biography that mentioned Lorenzen’s work with Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru). The bio links to a separate event, “Life and Leadership: Reflections from a Lazy River,” in which Lorenzen tours Gettysburg and offers a Christian perspective on leadership. That event was clearly Christian, but it does not prove Lorenzen’s training would have been religious.
First Liberty Institute, a law firm representing a JAG reservist who opposes the cancellation, claims that the canceled event would not have included religious elements.
“That’s a class this guy does on his own time as a free citizen. This isn’t what the Marine Corps hired him to do,” First Liberty Counsel Jeremy Dys told Fox News.
Dys expressed fears that the military is caving to “cancel culture” and might eventually exclude Americans from service based on their beliefs.
“From Article VI of the U.S. Constitution to cases like Trinity Lutheran to numerous DOD policies, the law is clear: the government cannot require a religious test for office, nor insist that religious people be excluded from benefits—like teaching to a class of Marine Corps JAG’s—because they are religious,” Dys insisted. “Americans expect their military to prepare for battle, not cater to the cancel culture.”
Dys’s anonymous client claimed he and others were “furious that the Marine Corps would cancel what was anticipated as one of the highlights of our reserve duty.”
The JAG reservist argued that the “cancellation was based on a false allegation. We’re here to become better Marine officers by studying one of the most important battles in American history. And that was stolen from us by a lie.”
Both Dys and Weinstein argued that their clients faced potential retaliation for their views.
Weinstein told Fox News that he had no problem with Lorenzen’s faith, but argued that the Christian speaker’s invitation represented a violation of the First Amendment.
This argument seems reminiscent of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) 2017 claim that evangelical Christians like Russell Vought — who was recently confirmed as director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — can have religious freedom, they just can’t serve in government.
During a hearing on Vought’s confirmation to become the OMB deputy director, Sanders launched an inquisition. He read from a 2016 article Vought wrote in The Resurgent in which Vought claimed that “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Sanders attacked this view as “Islamophobic,” but it represents the small-o orthodox Christian perspective on salvation. Since Muslims do not accept Jesus Christ, who is God’s path to salvation, they will not go to heaven when they die. This does not make them any less American citizens and this attitude should not prevent Christians like Vought from treating Muslims with respect and dignity, but Sanders declared that Vought “is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
Sanders doubled down on his comments later in June 2017. The senator said, “one of the great parts of our Constitution is to protect freedom of religion. You practice whatever religion you want, you do, I do, Mr. Vought does, that’s what it’s about.” Even so, he said Vought’s religious views disqualify him from public service. He argued that it should be “unacceptable” to have “a high-ranking member of the United States government essentially say Islam is a second-class religion.”
Weinstein and Sanders are applying a similar standard. They give lip service to religious freedom, but they work to remove evangelical Christians from government positions or military trainings because of their faith. Sanders suggested that Vought could not be trusted to apply the law equally for Muslims because he thinks they do not go to heaven. Weinstein suggested that Lorenzen could not be trusted to train Marines because he gave Christian trainings in the past.
It does not matter that both of these Christians have sworn to abide by the Constitution and have promised to treat people equally. It does not matter that — according to First Liberty — Lorenzen was not going to use Christian principles in his Gettysburg training. According to MRFF, the former Air Force Academy professor cannot be trusted, simply because of his faith and history.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.