A PolitiFact Ohio reader suggested that we look into claims found on a mailer that appears to question the patriotism of Democratic House District 37 candidate Casey Weinstein.
So we obliged.
"Casey Weinstein: No faith in our military," reads one side of the flier, which was paid for by the Ohio Republican Party. On the opposite side: "Casey Weinstein sued the U.S. military. When some of our cadets wanted to watch a religious film, Casey Weinstein sued the U.S. military. Sued our soldiers? Vote no on Casey Weinstein."
We wanted to know more about the story behind this claim, so we reached out to the Ohio Republican Party.
Though the flier literally reads, "Casey Weinstein: No faith in our military," Ohio’s GOP spokesperson Brittany Warner told PolitiFact Ohio, "Under no circumstances is this written to imply that Mr. Weinstein has no faith in the service of our men and women in uniform."
The candidate’s military background makes the words in this ad all the more puzzling. Weinstein, 34, is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is an Air Force Reserve captain currently separated from active duty.
His father, his brother, and his wife are also graduates.
Turns out, "no faith in our military" is a paraphrase of Weinstein’s stance in a 2004 lawsuit against the Air Force Academy. The lawsuit asked for renewed enforcement of the constitutional separation of church and state on the military campus.
The lawsuit was filed by Weinstein’s father, Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force officer. Four cadets at the Air Force Academy, including the candidate Casey Weinstein, joined the suit, and claimed that the Air Force Academy imposed a hostile environment by pushing Christianity on the non-Christians in their ranks.
One of the incidents detailed in the suit was an Air Force Academy-promoted screening of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. (Weinstein is Jewish, and Gibson’s movie has been criticized for portraying Jews as enthusiastic participants in the crucifixion of Jesus.) The movie screening was not the plaintiffs’ only example of pervasive religious activities occurring on duty.
We contacted Mikey Weinstein, who wanted to be clear that his participation in this fact-check is not an endorsement of his son nor an opinion on the race.
The elder Weinstein is the founder and president of the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation , dedicated to restoring "the obliterated wall separating church and state in the most technologically lethal organization ever created by humankind: the United States armed forces." He is a 1977 graduate of the Air Force Academy who went on to serve for ten years in the Judge Advocate General Corps (as a "JAG" officer), and as legal counsel to President Ronald Reagan's administration in the White House.
Mikey Weinstein pointed out that the campaign flier gets the "sued our soldiers" claim wrong on two points. First, it implies that the suit targeted individuals for their individual acts, which is not accurate. A lawsuit filed against a military branch and its highest civil servant -- in this case, the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force -- is an action against the institution, not the individual.
Secondly, the servicemembers of the U.S. Air Force are referred to as airmen and airwomen, not soldiers. "Soldiers" applies to members of the Army.
Mikey Weinstein said that his organization has represented over 48,000 service members across every branch of the military and any faith (or lack thereof).
As for the lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, it was dismissed by a federal judge after Weinstein and his co-plaintiffs graduated, losing their legal standing against the institution. An internal Air Force investigation later substantiated the claims brought by the Weinsteins’ lawsuit and prompted the issuance of new religious tolerance policies.
A GOP-funded campaign flier stated, "Casey Weinstein: No faith in our military," and, "When some of our cadets wanted to watch a religious film, Casey Weinstein sued the U.S. military. Sued our soldiers? Vote no on Casey Weinstein."
The mailer twists many facts about a lawsuit to present Weinstein, an Air Force reservist from a military family, as hostile to the armed forces.
There is an element of truth in that Weinstein did sue the Air Force Academy, asserting that the institution unconstitutionally promoted the evangelization of Christianity by its leadership and cadets on duty. His lawsuit did not target fellow "soldiers," but the institution itself (also, Air Force members are not called "soldiers").
The flier further capitalizes on the two possible interpretations suggested by the phrase "no faith in our military." A cursory read of the flier could easily leave voters with the impression that Weinstein was critical of the armed forces.
For manipulating the real narrative, we rate the claims in the mailer Mostly False.
Email interview, Brittany Warner, Ohio GOP spokesperson, Nov. 2, 2016