Actually, calling Mikey Weinstein an atheist IS Defamation!

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

Actually…

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.

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About Paul Loebe
  • Walter Warren

    I could have stopped at “Fox News” and known that it was a smear campaign, riddled with falsehoods and outright conservative Christian fear-mongering, but I kept reading out of interest…

    I couldn’t agree more with you Paul, but as we all know, it is not only within the subculture of the military life that this horrid defamation is occurring. Many groups fighting for religious equality are being targeted and falsely labeled as atheist organizations or worse simply because they are accepting of people of all faiths, as well those, like us, of no faith at all.
    It’s the pseudo-Christian fanatics that give the “peaceful” Christians a bad name. I’ve met my fair share of believers who I’ve had intelligent, open-minded, non-judgemental conversations with, but I’ve also come across a few that were so Bible headstrong that I’ve had to walk away, and sometimes run, because they were dead-set on “saving me”.

  • Mike Challman

    My irritation with the tactics of Fox News and the Dobsons stretches beyond the fact that it is deceitful to say something about Mikey/MRFF that is untrue (and which they know is untrue)…

    I’m even more frustrated that they do so in order to control the narrative of the story — and they do so very effectively.

    What this SHOULD be about is a debate focused on the Establishment Clause. But by turning the narrative toward a bogus “War on Christianity”, they’ve made it into a Free Exercise issue and everyone winds up talking about the red herring and not the real issue.

    Even more so, I’d suggest that they’ve turned the focus further still, to a supposed “War on Religion” by deceptively parsing their explanation of who can “attend” the Task Force event, as opposed who is welcome to truly “participate” (which is very much limited to a very thin slice of professed Christians — the 9% or so that the Dobson’s and their cronies consider to be the only “true” Christians.)

    I find their tactics entirely unacceptable, distasteful and dishonest (and I say that as a Christian myself, even if the Dobsons don’t think I am)…. but I also begrudgingly acknowledge that they execute their tactics very well.

  • Priscilla Parker

    All these networks do this. Unfortunately Mr. Weinstein is a limited-purpose public figure so his protection of defamation is limited due to free speech based on public perception and it would have to be shown the statements made were done so in malice, which is determined by it’s use in context. Whether Weinstein or MRFF are atheist is irrelevant because public perception by some is they are because of their affiliations. For example, when the organization has outed foxhole atheists that officially represent it such as your-self and Mr. Chalked or tries to get nativity scenes removed on behalf of atheist service members, that plays into public perception and at that point his organizations reputation is up for debate.

    Also, and this may be trivial but, military facilities don’t just air Fox News. They play CNN, ESPN, HLN, MSNBC, etc. Fox isn’t an official broadcasting channel in the military.

    All of this seems reactionary and while it’s absolutely true that MRFF has a right not to be misrepresented by the media so do other organizations and people like conservative Christians being labeled and then accused of being a national threat.

    • Paul Loebe

      Those service members that got the nativity scene removed were Protestant and Roman Catholic. Get your facts straight.

      • Priscilla Parker

        Oh FFS, and I get an email saying you reply, a month later?! Let it go man. You tried at RBB and the whole ‘I’m a social media activist’ like Weinstein did and all you’ve succeeded in doing was getting a fan base of nobodies. Is that what you do it for Paul? Just let it go. RBB was fun while it lasted but it’s over with now. Move on, please. It’s just boring.

  • Matt Hurley

    I’ve served in the military since entering the AF Academy in 1986. I’m still on active duty as a Colonel, and I’ve spent most of my time as an intelligence analyst. I’ve also been a graduate-level instructor and earned two master’s degrees and a PhD. So call me a dummy, but I would trust RT or Al-Jazeera more than Fox if I were looking for accurate, informative, and “fair and balanced” reporting on any issue regarding our country and genuine interests. Fox News has intentionally fashioned itself into an entertainment program. That’s their choice, but it isn’t a very good one.

  • Matt Hurley

    And in re: Priscilla’s comments, it wasn’t atheists who demanded the removal of Nativity scenes at GTMO; they were mainly practicing Christians. Also, while it’s true I might see ESPN or CNN, etc., on a military base, I’d estimate at least 80% of commanders’ TVs are tuned in full-time to Fox News. Based on experience. So, what’s Private Smith or Lieutenant Jones supposed to think regarding acceptable sources of news? Perception matters in the military, too, especially when emanating downward from the higher ranks.

    • Priscilla Parker

      I didn’t realize Commander’s had televisions in their offices to be playing Fox News 80% of the time or that privates and Lieutenant’s hang out in Commander’s offices’, but ok.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    We need organizations like the MRFF to keep working to ensure a level secular playing field, and a big part of that is that people of any faith feel free to go to them for help whenever they are being discriminated against for their religious beliefs or practices. Spreading the outright lie that MRFF is an exclusively atheist organization not only proves injurious to the group’s reputation, but actively detracts from their laudable mission, one which we atheists should continue to support.

  • satanaugustine

    By your logic, Paul, calling a non-Jew a Jew is defamation since so many people are still deeply hateful of Jews. And calling a non-Muslim a Muslim would be an even better example of defamation since even more people hate and fear Muslims. I.e., being called a Jew or a Muslim hurts the public reputation of the individual being incorrectly labeled a Jew or a Muslim. The same would hold true when calling a non-gay person gay. All of which should result in the same vehement response as Mikey and Chris Rhodda did when he was referred to as an atheist.

    If you are to be consistent in your claims about defamation then you must agree that the above examples are exactly on par with Mikey being called an atheist.

    And this “To take offense and accuse Mikey of maligning atheists is irrational and unbecoming of a demographic that prides itself on objectivity and reason.” insult is merely the result of you having convinced yourself that you are correct and that your conclusion is the result of rationality, objectivity, and reason, but is it not at all possible that you are unable to be fully objective because you work for MRFF and Mikey (great and very necessary organization and amazingly strong and resilient man, respectively)? Are you certain that your conclusion is correct? No confirmation bias at all? And are you not maligning those atheists who have taken offense to a non-atheist being called an atheist and justifying this as defamation? In a case such as this, claiming certainty smacks of arrogance because this is far from cut and dried. Is going down the path leading to labeling anyone a member of an unpopular group as defamation really a rational and reasonable direction towards which we want to lead society? In my opinion, such reasoning smacks of absurdity.

    • Paul Loebe

      You are correct. Calling someone a Jew in a derogatory sense when they are not Jewish is indeed defamatory.

      It shouldn’t be if the world were perfect and individuals were accepting of others but that’s the not the world we live in.


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