In the news
Recently there has been a media flurry surrounding Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Megyn Kelly, of Fox News, along with James and Shirley Dobson went on a verbal assault of Mikey and MRFF. Claiming that Mikey was an atheist (he’s not) and the MRFF was an atheist organization (it’s not) .
Now is this a problem? That all depends upon context.
‘Atheist’ is not defamation
Before you can make an argument as to whether or not referring to someone as an atheist in the head of an atheist organization is defamation there needs to be discussion of what defamation really is – in the legal sense. Defamation is not merely one getting their feelings hurt. It is not . It doesn’t even mean that the statement in question is offensive. An untrue statement can be defamatory and not be offensive. That’s what many atheists are upset over. They think Mikey is offended by being called an atheist! It isn’t offensive to be called an atheist. It isn’t offensive to be an atheist organization. What is defamatory is this:
The law defines defamation as a (1) published statement that is (2) false and (3) injurious to a person’s reputation.
Megyn Kelly’s statements were made on-air on April 24th. This constitutes a published statement (1).
I am an atheist. My friend Mikey Weinstein is not. Calling me an atheist would be a statement of fact. Calling Mikey Weinstein an atheist is false. This constitutes a false statement (2).
Finally, a person’s reputation depends upon the perception of the public, not upon their own personal beliefs. I know that Mikey Weinstein holds no personal prejudice or negative beliefs regarding atheists. But again, reputation is a matter of public opinion and the public at large holds extreme prejudices against atheists. Public polls have consistently shown that atheists are the most distrusted minority in the United States. The inescapable conclusion is that these statements constitute an injury to Mikey’s public reputation (3).
So we have established that Megyn Kelly’s on-air claim that Mikey is an atheist is both false and injurious to his reputation among a prejudiced American public. This constitutes the legal definition of defamation of character, specifically slander. The law does not require Mikey himself to consider atheism a negative trait. To take offense and accuse Mikey of maligning atheists is irrational and unbecoming of a demographic that prides itself on objectivity and reason.
- Dustin Chalker, MRFF Atheist Affairs Advisor
What Megyn Kelly and the folks at Fox News did was the intentional dissemination of disinformation in order to undermine the efforts of an organization like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Calling the Military Religious Freedom Foundation an “atheist organization” is very defamatory if you take into account the law.
And yet it goes even further than that…
To further understand why this statement reaches the level of defamation the broad public must be made aware of a few things. The military culture is not representative of the country at large. It is a sub-culture that is entirely different from the populace that they are protecting. These statements are defamatory in regards to the structuring of the fight against religious liberty in the US Military.
Contrary to what many think there is actually a war on Christians in the US Military. They are in this monumental struggle the same as we atheists. The radical extremist Christians are now attacking them the same as they are us. They are silencing and debasing the liberal Christians who are, themselves, fellow secularists. And, unfortunately, many of those Christian victims do not understand their legal rights and the regulations of the military in regards to religion. So when these non-radical Christians come under attack from these theocrats who are actively trying to transform our military into the military arm of their version of Christianity to whom should they turn for help? It appears to me that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is the only organization that is available as a means to defend their Constitutional rights.
It goes deeper than that. MRFF has been so successful in the past few years that these Christo-fascist groups have formed a coalition called the Military Freedom Coalition. They have mirrored their website to appear as if they are fighting to defend religious liberty when in actuality they are the same theocratic groups that help to undermine the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Here is their website www.militaryfreedom.org
In addition to this you have to take into account the structure and society within the military culture. On every US Military base throughout the world we are inundated with only ONE news source: Fox News. That’s it. That is all the command structures place within chow halls, coffee shops, gyms, MWR facilities, etc. The military has a majority conservative base and anyone that openly and publicly steps outside that to request that someone “change the channel” is shunned and treated like garbage. I know – personally. With these programs running 24 hours a day slamming Mikey and MRFF for being an “atheist organization” when do you think service members will hear the truth that he and MRFF are not solely dedicated to atheism?
MRFF was designed to protect and defend the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution regardless of religious preference. When Christians who are being persecuted hear rumors of MRFF being an atheist organization they will not turn to that organization to defend their rights. They will find another one – in this case presumably the The Military Freedom Coalition, which as previously noted is dedicated to keeping the status quo, and also attempting to circumvent religious equality in the military. Their complaints will fall on deaf ears and will ultimately result in these people who are seeking help to be misled with lies about their own religious rights.
This is a coordinated effort by these theocratic groups against the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. MRFF has a long-standing history with the atheist and secular movement and its various organizations. If you withdraw support and do not understand the deep and far-reaching ramifications of what is being conducted then it will be a small victory for these theocrats. I am an atheist working for Mikey and, having lived the life inside that military culture, understand the need and purpose for him to rightfully distance himself from being called an atheist, as well as an atheist organization. He is a Constitutionalist, a Jew, and military JAG. No one is better equipped to fight our common enemy in the military than Mikey and MRFF. No one! I say that emphatically.
The statements are defamatory in a legal sense because it undermines the effort of the organization and causes service members of all faith backgrounds to turn away from MRFF when that is the one organization they can and SHOULD turn to. It ruins the ability of MRFF to conduct the mission that it was created for: To defend the military religious rights of anyone in uniform, including atheists. With 10 second soundbites running across Fox News, where the majority of the military get their news from, do you truly believe that Mikey will be given the time to intellectually refute the statement like you propose? Absolutely not! The only way to fight back is in a combative style that will get noticed and picked up once again by Fox News.
We are a group of intellectuals and constitutionalists fighting against an ignorant horde of theocratic Christian supremacists who are brain-washed through sound bites. It is impossible to fight a fair fight of words in such an environment. We must use strong words of rebuttal in order to be noticed. If we lived in a society of people who had an attention span greater than 120 characters or 10 second sound bites, then I would agree with you.