Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Religious Intolerance

The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) is under fire--again. Two years after a major rape scandal rocked the academy, the institution is being attacked again, this time for supposed religious intolerance.

According to an AP report, there have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination filed at the academy over the past four years. In one case, a Jewish cadet was reportedly called a "Christ killer" by one of his classmates. A 1977 Jewish academy graduate claims one of his sons (now a cadet at the USAFA has been called a "dirty Jew" on several occasions). Other cadets contend that Evangelical Christians wield too much influence at the academy, and the public endorsement of Christianity by senior officers has created a climate of fear at the institution.

Clearly, religious bigotry should never be tolerated, and academy officials are addressing the problem. The academy recently started a 50-minute, mandatory course on "religious tolerance." Academy officials have also put an end to other practices, such as holding commissioning ceremonies at local churches.

Does this sound like overkill? Yes. The USAFA has a rigid discipline code. Cadets who engage in religious discrimination or bigotry should be punished--immediately. Sensitivity training on a massive scale won't solve the problem--it never does.

But there's something more disturbing at work here. Religion in the U.S. military is increasingly under attack, and officers and NCOs who identify themselves as born-again believers are the target. Consider the example of Brigadier General Johnny Weida, the USAFA's Commandant of Cadets. General Weida has been criticized for a 2003 statement, when he told the cadets that their "first responsibility was to God."

Imagine that. A senior leader in the U.S. military tells future officers that they have a responsibility to a higher power. You'll note that General Weida (a born-again Christian) never defined "God," leaving plenty of room for theological flexibility. Sounds like a good foundation for future leaders to me. More than a few military leaders have been men (and women) of faith, but in today's PC climate, any suggestion of the diety is simply not allowed. Never mind that 90% of the academy's cadets identify themselves as Christians, nor that they live in a country founded on Judeo-Christian principles, nor the fact that any cadet at the academy is free to worship in his or her own way.

I have a friend (now retired) who had his own battles with religious tolerance in the USAF. As an ROTC instructor, he once served at a summer camp at an Air Force base in Texas. During the middle of the program, he was approached by several cadets who informed him that they were Wiccans. After a crash course in the Wiccan "faith," my friend and the camp's other officers allowed the cadets to practice their faith during a field training exercise. His rules were clear: your observance can't interfere with mandatory training, and all Wiccan devotees will remain clothed during their religious ceremonies.

BTW, that incident came a few weeks after some irate Wiccans trashed the base chapel, upset that they had not been given full access to that facility. The left would call that free speech. I would call it religious intolerance.

In the interest of disclosure, let me state that I am NOT a graduate of the Air Force Academy. While I admire the institution (and some of its graduates) I earned my commission the old-fashioned way, through 13 weeks at Officer Training School, after four years as an NCO.

No comments: