At a luncheon today, Americans United will present awards to two people who have worked hard to preserve religious freedom for all.
Corwyn Schultz will receive AU’s Religious Liberty Award. As a high school senior last year, Corwyn had the courage to stand up to official, coercive forms of prayer at his graduation ceremony. A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order striking down the prayers, but unfortunately a higher court overturned it. The case, which is sponsored by Americans United, is ongoing.
Corwyn and his family ended up skipping the ceremony because they didn’t want religion imposed on them at a public school event. Acting as lead plaintiff in the case didn’t make Corwyn the most popular guy in town. He was willing to stick his neck out, and AU is pleased to be able to honor him for that.
Our second awardee is Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). Mikey will receive AU’s Person of the Year Award, an honor we’ve never given before. He richly deserves it.
For years, Mikey has been battling an entrenched military culture to ensure that the religious liberty rights of all service personnel are respected – including those of minorities and non-believers. His list of accomplishments is impressive, but you might have seen him in the news over the weekend because of an important MRFF win.
The Air Force Academy had planned to partner with evangelist Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse to collect gifts for poor children at Christmastime. Cadets were being asked (read: pressured) to donate time and money to the cause.
There are two problems with this program: Graham uses it to evangelize children into his narrow version of fundamentalist Christianity, which means it’s inappropriate for any arm of the government to assist. Secondly, Graham has openly espoused religious bigotry.
Graham is notorious for Muslim bashing. He had called Islam “wicked and evil.” He even seems to believe that President Barack Obama is a secret Muslim.
Graham’s views on Hinduism are just as narrow. He once remarked, “None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it's all going to get better in this world. It’s not going to get better.’”
For his trouble, Weinstein has received a barrage of hate mail and has been attacked by radio hate-mongers Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
I’m all for disadvantaged kids getting gifts at Christmas. The Air Force Academy can do this without working alongside a divisive extremist like Graham. In fact, Academy officials might look at a model run by another branch of the service that sponsors a highly successful toy drive every year: The U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots program.
Against abuse and attacks, Mikey and Corwyn stood up and made a difference. Thanks to their courage, our liberties are more secure. Americans United is proud to salute them today.