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Religious intolerance at Air Force Academy

Reactions to the Interim Guidelines.
Why in Colorado Springs?
Problems still remain in 2009.

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Reactions to the Interim Guidelines:

bulletFamily Research Council: Tony Perkins discussed the Interim Guidelines in his Washington Report for 2005-AUG-30. He had sent a letter to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, expressing concern that there might be a backlash against "those of faith at the Academy."

He wrote in his Washington Report under the heading "Air Force buckles under pressure:"

"New guidelines released yesterday seem to indicate that the overreaction we feared is exactly what has happened. The new guidelines reportedly discourage public prayer at official functions and urge commanders to avoid personal expressions of religious faith in a wide variety of settings. The Air Force seems to be fighting perceived religious intolerance with actual religious tolerance [sic] -- ultimately telling the military chaplaincy how to pray. ...Free expression of religion for all peoples is what the U.S. military has fought for since its inception; that concept should not be denied to those who have taken on the task of protecting our freedoms." 1

bulletAnti-Defamation League: Abraham Foxman, head of the New York-based  ADL commented that the guidelines "...say all the right things. They address all the issues that were raised as problems at the Air Force Academy. The major question is, how will be they become a reality? A lot of the people implementing this are the people who violated it."
bulletMikey Weinstein, a graduate of of the Academy who has two sons there said: "The Air Force's official policy remains that the Air Force reserves the right to evangelize anyone in the Air Force that it determines to be unchurched." 2 During an an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said:

"It's a declaration of war, as far as I'm concerned, on the Constitution. I hope everybody comprehensively and joyously celebrates whatever religion that they want ? or no religion ? but they cannot engage the machinery of the state."


During an interview with the Colorado Springs Gazette, he said:

"These guidelines do nothing more than contribute to what appears to be an imperious, fascistic contagion that is sweeping throughout this country through evangelical Christians trying to infuse their religious thought into the machinery of the state." 3

Weinstein later organized the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to combat religious oppression in the military. 4

Why Colorado Springs?:

Captain Melinda Morton, a Lutheran, is the second most senior chaplain at the school. She told the task force that she was fired because she had spoken up about religious intolerance among cadets and staff -- including allegations that Evangelical Christians there wield too much influence. When she was asked why she thought the problem was concentrated at the Air Force Academy and not at the other academies, she pointed to nearby Colorado Springs, CO, the home of many influential conservative Christian organizations.

Tom Minnery, spokesperson for Focus on the Family, arguably the most influential Evangelical Christian para-church organization in the U.S., disagreed that Evangelical Christians are the problem. He claims that "anti-Christian bigotry" was infecting the academy. 5 He said that Americans United is on a "witch hunt here. They will not rest until religion is eradicated from that campus."

According to National Public Radio, Colorado Springs, "...for the past decade has been recognized as a center for evangelical Christian organizations." 6 Over 100 groups are located there, of which Focus on the Family is the largest. Others include the New Life Church, the Navigators, Mission of Mercy, Global Action, and the International Bible Society.

Religious freedom still under attack in 2009:

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) was created by Mikey Weinstein to promote individual soldiers' constitutional rights to religious freedom. Their website 7 discusses an article in Harper's Magazine by Jeff Sharlet titled: "Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military." 4

The MRFF states:

" 'Every man and woman who joins our military swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and it is unforgivable that many continue to dictate how, when and to whom a soldier can pray while in uniform,' said Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).  'The Harper's Magazine report by Jeff Sharlet exposes shocking new instances of bigotry and evangelical proselytization within our nation's military that emboldens our enemies, endangers our soldiers on the battlefield and threatens the core of our country.  Equally disturbing is Mr. Sharlet's revelation that despite President Obama's well-publicized efforts to show the Muslim world that this is not a war against Islam, numerous offending officers and military professionals responsible for these actions continue to serve in high-ranking and influential positions, and many of them stand to be promoted'."

Some news items from the Harpur's Magazine article are:

bulletAn Easter Sunday raid on Iraqi insurgents in 2004. Special Forces Officers, inspired by a showing of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, wrote the words "Jesus Killed Mohammed" in Arabic on their Bradley Fighting Vehicle and shouted the saying in both English and Arabic to entice Muslim soldiers into the open before embarking on an attack to put down the insurgency.
 
bulletA meeting of an underground all-male, cadet-led prayer group at the U.S. Air Force Academy where members discuss, among other things, the deceptions necessary for missionary work in China. The author attended the group's meeting under the promise that he would not publish the group's name out of fear that: 'Those who do believe in separation of church and state might interfere with its goal of turning the world's most elite war college into its most holy one, a seminary with courses in carpet bombing'."
 
bulletInterviews with Lieutenant Colonel Bob Young in which he defends and shows no remorse for stating that it would be better for a black to be a slave in America and know Christ, than to be free and not know Christ.
 
bulletA speech given by Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg Metzgar before the Officers Christian Fellowship -- a group with 15,000 active members at 80 percent of military bases -- in which he stressed: "Christian soldiers must always consider themselves behind enemy lines, even within the ranks, because every unsaved member of the military is a potential agent of 'spiritual terrorism'."
 
bulletExcerpts from a book published in 2005 by Lieutenant Colonel William McCoy, Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, which describes an "anti-Christian bias" in this country he seeks to counter by making the case for the "necessity of Christianity for a properly functioning military." McCoy's book was endorsed by General David Petraeus, who said: "Under Orders should be in every rucksack for those moments when soldiers need spiritual energy." General Petraeus, while claiming his statement was not meant for the public, has never recanted his statement. 4

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tony Perkins, "Washington Update," Newsletter, Family Research Council, 2005-AUG-30.
  2. "Air Force releases prayer guidelines," Associated Press, 2005-AUG-30, at: http://www.foxnews.com/
  3. Ted Olsen, "Air Force issues religion guidelines," Christianity Today, 2005-AUG-30. at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/
  4. The website of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is at: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org
  5. "Chaplain says she was fired. Claim comes amid inquiry into alleged intolerance at AFA, " Associated Press, 2005-MAY-13, at: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/
  6. Jeff Brady, "Colorado Springs a Mecca for Evangelical Christians," NPR, 2005-JAN-17, at: http://www.npr.org/
  7. Jeff Sharlet, "Jesus killed Mohammed: The crusade for a Christian military," Harper's Magazine, 2009-MAY. Excerpt online at: http://www.harpers.org/

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Copyright © 2005 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-MAY-14
Latest update: 2009-APR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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