A Christian bookstore at a military base in North Carolina is drawing controversy after an activist called for its removal, alleging its presence is a violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, requiring a separation between church and state. The activist has vowed legal action if the base's commanding general does not take action to close down the store.
In September 2022, Josh Creson and his family opened Fairth2Soar, a Christian book and gift store, at a mini-mall on North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, now known as Fort Liberty. Once a captain, Mr. Creson served nearly nine years with the U.S. Army and deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division to Iraq in 2003.
For nearly a year, Mr. Creson said, “Nothing went on in terms of negativity or questions or concerns about our bookstore’s presence on [Fort Liberty].” But that quickly changed with the ring of a phone call at roughly 2:55 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2023.
“The caller threatened me, began to criticize me, and cursed at me, telling me to leave our soldiers alone,” he said.
Mr. Creson suspects the caller may have been tipped off by, or even been behind a Facebook post on the store’s social media page earlier that morning. Someone posted a question, asking if the store sold Muslim, Jewish, or other religious products.
Mr. Creson’s wife offered a short response explaining that the bookstore does not provide religious products associated with Islam or the other named religions. However, it does provide a Messianic Jewish Literal Translation of the New Covenant Scriptures.
According to Mr. Creson, this response was followed by a post by Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder and president of the Military and Religious Freedom Foundation nonprofit, demanding that the “Christian nationalist ‘Faith2Soar’ store be removed from Fort Liberty PX mini-mall.”
Mr. Weinstein told The Epoch Times that he does not have a problem with a Christian bookstore per se. The problem, he said, is its location. “The government, the Department of Defense, is sponsoring this store,” he said.
“I understand [Mr. Creson’s] trying to convert people to Christianity, and that’s fine,” he said. “But there are other faiths out there and we don’t care what they believe in.” Rather, he said, “We only care about the time, place, and manner in which they feel they have the right to deploy their faith."
For him, Fort Liberty is not one of those places. “Allowing the post exchange to exclude all other faiths, from our perspective, is an absolute violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution,” he said.
Out of concern over the Christian bookstore’s location on Fort Liberty, Mr. Weinstein said, “211 soldiers have come to us about this. 165 of them are Christians themselves.”
“Soldiers came to us about the store there, because they were fearful of going up their chain of command because they feared reprisal, revenge, retaliation,” he said.
Mr. Creson said he has been “completely surprised” by the turn of events. He was contacted by Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which provides goods and services through stores at U.S. Army and Air Force installations around the world. The unit arranged a visit to Mr. Creson’s store, and while there has yet to be an official response, he said it does not appear that the military exchange service has a problem with his store.
Mr. Weinstein has reached out to Lt. General Christopher T. Donahue, commanding general XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Liberty, demanding the store be removed. To date, Lt. Gen. Donahue has not taken a position publicly.
“The demand that we made to General Donahue and to the Army is that, before we go into federal court, you have the chance to fix it,” Mr. Weinstein said. “We’re exhausting all administrative remedies first, meaning we’re filing Inspector General (IG) and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints to give them a chance to [address the problem].”
“We’re giving the Army a chance through the IG and EEO process, then we can go into federal court if we have to,” he added.
Despite this legal threat, Mr. Creson has no intention of closing the store.
“The encouragement we’ve received on the military installation from men and women in uniform, their families, and also veterans who have repeatedly said thank you or conveyed appreciation is why I have no plans to pack up and leave,” he said. “Customers, or anyone who sees our story, should be reminded to stand firm and hold fast to their Christian beliefs.”
Mr. Creson's attorney Mike Berry, senior counsel at First Liberty Institute, told The Epoch Times that Mr. Weinstein "has a long history of threatening service members of faith; what Mikey fails to understand is that faith has always been a force multiplier for our troops.”
According to Mr. Berry, “Our client has every right to run his business in accordance with his religious beliefs and values, even on a military base.” While Mr. Weinstein may make legal threats, Mr. Berry suspects he would lose a battle in court. “[First Liberty] is proud to stand with Josh and his business as he provides inspiration and hope to our men and women in uniform,” said Mr. Berry.
Fort Liberty Public Affairs office did not return an inquiry from The Epoch Times.