Air Force Major General Jack Catton is in a bit of hot water. The service has launched an inquiry over an appeal that General Catton sent from his official e-mail account, urging fellow Air Force Academy classmates to contribute to the Congressional campaign of another academy graduate.
Catton currently serves as Director of Requirements at Air Combat Command Headquarters, located at Langley AFB, Virginia. He sent the fund-raising e-mail last Thursday to about 200 former classmates, many of whom are still on active duty. Federal laws--most notably, the Hatch Act--prohibit federal employees from using their position to solicit campaign contributions, or votes for a particular candidate. Military regulations contain similar prohibitions. An Air Force spokesman told the Washington Post that "appropriate officials are inquiring into the facts surrounding these e-mails."
In his e-mail, General Catton urged his classmates to support Bentley Rayburn, a retired Air Force general now running for Congress from the Colorado Springs area. Rayburn is seeking to replace retiring Colorado Republican Joel Hefley, who has represented the district for the past 20 years. Hefley's district includes the Air Force Academy, two Air Force bases and thousands of active duty and retired personnel. Catton told fellow academy grads that "we are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress."
The Post obtained its copy of Catton's e-mail from another Air Force Academy graduate, Mike L. "Mikey" Weinstein of Albuquerque, New Mexico. If the name sounds familiar, it should be. Weinstein, an attorney and businessmen, has been in the news over the past couple of years, who is suing the Air Force over what he contends is extensive proselytizing by evangelical Christians. Weinstein contends that his sons have endured anti-Semitic remarks and discrimination while attending the Air Force Academy. One of Weinstein's sons graduated last May; the other is still a member of the cadet corps.
Predictably, Weinstein's crusade has made him something of a folk hero among the seperation of church and state crowd, the liberal left, and other assorted secularists. He's even found a second career as a professional speaker, offering his thoughts on the "Showdown in Colorado Springs," and "The Fight to Keep Church and State Separate."
We've written extensively about Weinstein's campaign, which have helped formulate an overblown religious "crisis" at the Academy, and created an unwelcome diversion away from the institution's primary mission, training future Air Force officers. Thanks (in part) to Weinstein's efforts, the academy has imposed faith sensitivity training for all assigned personnel, military and civilian. The academy also turned to the Yale Divinity School--no friend of conservative Christians--for an assessment of its religious "atmosphere" and ways to improve tolerance. Not surprisingly, the Yale team sided with Mikey Weinstein.
Make no mistake: the Air Force (and the academy) should never tolerate religious bigotry or discrimination. And there are effective ways of dealing with anti-Semitic slurs and proselytizing--including the cadet honor code and the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). But those techniques won't satisfy critics like Mr. Weinstein, his friends in the MSM, or at groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Ironically, this campaign to ensure religious freedom at the academy has actually produced a backlash against evangelicals--on a campus where 90% of the cadets identify themselves as Christians.
But the fallout from Weinstein's crusade has produced than sensitivity sessions. At least one officer, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, the former academy Commandant of Cadets, has seen his career derailed because of the "scandal." Weida's transgressions? Failing to rein in those pesky evangelicals (who papered the cadet dining hall with flyers for a screening of The Passion of the Christ), and delivering an address to the cadets in which General Weida said an officer's first responsibility is to his "god." Note the small "g." Weida, a self-described, born-again Christian, never told cadets to pray in the name of Jesus, Mohammed, Budda or anyone else. But that was enough to incur the wrath of Weinstein and his fellow activists. Weida left the academy last summer, his name was removed from the promotion list for Major General, and he's now in a relatively back-water position at Wright-Patterson AFB, in Ohio.
Now, Major General Catton is in the cross-hairs. Admittedly, Catton did a very dumb thing, and he probably deserves an administrative slap on the wrist. But if recent history is any indicator, Weinstein and his crusaders won't be satisfied until Catton is removed from his position, and his career is effectively ended. So much for tolerance.
There's one more angle to this story that merits further inquiry, IMO. General Rayburn is a 1975 graduate of the Air Force Academy; Catton graduated in 1976, Weinstein in 1977, and General Weida received his degree and commission in 1978. In other words, all four were in the cadet wing at the same time. Obviously, the wing is a large organization, typically, more than 2,000 cadets, scatterd across multiple squadrons and groups. As at a civilian university, it is quite possible to spend four years at military academy and be unfamiliar with scores of classmates.
But the wing is also a surprisingly intimate environment, where reputations are made, friendships established, and rivalries formed umder tense, demanding conditions. It would be interesting to know what relationships--if any--existed between Rayburn, Catton, Weinstein and Weida during their days in Colorado Springs. As earlier graduates, Rayburn and Catton would have been in a position to help supervise the Weinstein's Basic Cadet Training, the grueling summer orientation program for new arrivals. Did a grudge from more than three decades ago, play a role in Weinstein's crusade against the academy, and his former classmates?