Religious liberty groups have grave concerns after they learned the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to "rape" and advocated that military personnel who proselytize should be court martialed.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is calling on the Air Force to enforce a regulation that they believe calls for the court martial of any service member caught proselytizing.
President Mikey Weinstein and others from his organization met privately with Pentagon officials on April 23. He said U.S. troops who proselytize are guilty of sedition and treason and should be punished – by the hundreds if necessary – to stave off what he called a "tidal wave of fundamentalists."
"Someone needs to be punished for this," Weinstein told Fox News. "Until the Air Force or Army or Navy or Marine Corps punishes a member of the military for unconstitutional religious proselytizing and oppression, we will never have the ability to stop this horrible, horrendous, dehumanizing behavior."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fox News he was stunned that the Pentagon would be taking counsel and advice from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
"Why would military leadership be meeting with one of the most rabid atheists in America to discuss religious freedom in the military," Perkins said. "That's like consulting with China on how to improve human rights."
The FRC has launched a petition drive urging Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel to protect the religious freedom of troops "and not to proceed with the purge of religion within the ranks called for by anti-Christian activists."
Pentagon officials met with Weinstein and his group to discuss a policy called "Air Force Culture, Air Force Standards," published on Aug. 7, 2012.
Section 2.11 requires "government neutrality regarding religion."
"Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual's free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion," the regulation states.
Military leaders were admonished not to use their position to "promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion."
Weinstein said it's time for the Air Force to enforce the regulation – with zeal.
"If a member of the military is proselytizing in a manner that violates the law, well then of course they can be prosecuted," he said. "We would love to see hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage of fundamentalist religious persecution."
He compared the act of proselytizing to rape.
"It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators," he told Fox News.
He said there is a time and a place for those in uniform to share their faith – but he took issues with fundamentalism that he says is causing widespread problems in the military.
"When those people are in uniform and they believe there is no time, place or manner in which they can be restricted from proselytizing, they are creating tyranny, oppression, degradation, humiliation and horrible, horrible pain upon members of the military," he said.
Perkins said the military regulations have "Weinstein's fingerprints all over it."
"It threatens to treat service members caught witnessing as enemies of the state," he said, referring to a Washington Post article highlighting Weinstein's meeting with Pentagon officials. "Non-compliance, the Pentagon suggests, even from ordained chaplains could result in court-martialing on a case-by-case basis."
The Pentagon confirmed to Fox News that Christian evangelism is against regulations.
"Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense, LCDR Nate Christensen said in a written statement. He declined to say if any chaplains or service members had been prosecuted for such an offense.
"Court martial's and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases," he said.
Ron Crews, the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, warns that the Air Force policy would "significantly impact the religious liberties of Air Force personnel."
"Saying that a service member cannot speak of his faith is like telling a service member he cannot talk about his spouse or children," Crews said. "I do not think the Air Force wants to ban personnel from protected religious speech, and I certainly hope that it is willing to listen to the numerous individuals and groups who protect military religious liberty without demonizing service members."
In an interview with the Washington Post, Weinstein called proselytizing a "national security threat."
"And what the Pentagon needs to understand is that it is sedition and treason," he told the newspaper. "It should be punished."
Perkins said it was troubling the Obama Administration would place so much trust in someone like Weinstein.
"Unfortunately, it appears our military is on a forced march away from the very freedoms they are sworn to protect," he said. "This language from Weinstein that Christians who share their faith or offer comfort to others from their faith in Jesus Christ is "sedition and treason" is a treasonous statement in and of itself."
But Weinstein said they count thousands of Protestants among their ranks – and said they are simply going after fundamentalists.
"As soon as we find a fundamentalist Muslim, atheist, Jewish person or anybody else, we will be happy to fight them – but so far they have been few and far between," he said.
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, an executive vice president with the Family Research Council, told Fox News that he's deeply concerned by what he call a pattern of attacks on Christianity within the military.
"Mickey Weinstein has a very visceral hated of Christianity and those who are Christians," he said. "He'd like to see it eliminated from the military entirely."
If the Air Force policy is implemented, Boykin said Christians who speak of their faith "could now be prosecuted as enemies of the state."
"This has the potential to destroy military recruiting across the services as Americans realize that their faith will be suppressed by joining the military," Boykin said.
In the meantime, Weinstein and his group said they would continue to push for the Pentagon to fully implement its ban on proselytizing.
"There is a time, place and manner in which proselytizing is not only allowed, but it's something we support among our Christian clients," Weinstein said. "However, you can't scream fire in a crowded theater and you can't scream Jesus in a crowded theater at certain times, places, and in certain manners."