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:: A constitutional law blog by Scalia/Thomas fan David M. Wagner, M.A., J.D., Research Fellow, National Legal Foundation, and Teacher, Veritas Preparatory Academy. Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect those of the NLF or Veritas. :: bloghome | E-mail me ::

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    :: Wednesday, May 04, 2005 ::
    Bigtime cultural politics at the Air Force Academy

    We'll start with The Washington Post's coverage:
    The Air Force said yesterday it is creating a task force to address the religious climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy, following allegations that its faculty and staff have pressured cadets to convert to evangelical Christianity.
    Are you in any doubt as to which synapses are supposed to be fired up in your brain by this news? In case you are, the Post explains it all for you:
    The investigation is the second major probe of the academy in two years. In 2003, dozens of former female cadets came forward to say they had been sexually assaulted at the academy, prompting an overhaul of its policies toward women.
    See? Christian proselytism, sexual harassment -- same thing, right? Both lead to an Investigation.

    A report by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an activist group that doesn't think Christianity in the public square is a good thing at all (click on the link and make up your own mind about its agenda) gives four specifics. Let's look at them in turn, as recounted in the Post. First:
    The report said that during basic training, cadets who declined to go to chapel after dinner were organized into a "Heathen Flight" and marched back to their dormitories.
    Excuse me, but for cadets, the after-dinner hour during basic training is not free-time. Air Force basic training may not be exactly Marine boot camp, but it's not Club Med either.

    A colleague who is an Academy graduate explains to me that cadets are required to return to their dorms. In the alternative, they may attend chapel; they don't have to, but if they don't, then the otherwise-applicable requirement of returning to the dorm kicks back in. Americans United makes it sound ("were organized...and marched back") as though returning to the dorm were punitive. It's not: it's normal.

    What else?
    It said the Air Force's "Chaplain of the Year" urged cadets to proselytize among their classmates or "burn in the fires of hell";
    Were any of those cadets forced to listen to that message? If not, what are you complaining about -- that this message was preached to willing listeners? The Great Commission is an essential part of Christianity. A Christian chaplain isn't doing his job if he doesn't preach it to his flock. There's a religious liberty issue here both for the chaplain and for those who attend his services.

    What else?
    that mandatory cadet meetings often began with explicitly Christian prayers;
    "Explicitly"? Whoa baby: sounds like something obscene under Miller. Well, whereas the first two charges are meritless, this one rises to the level of trivial. Maybe theologically "neutral" prayers at public events would be better policy for the Air Force Academy; but if they do let in a few prayers that mention You-Know-Who (and no, I don't mean Lord Voldemort!!), well, one would expect our future flyboys and -girls not to wither.

    What else?
    and that numerous faculty members introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged students to become born again during the term.
    You mean, faculty members exercised their own free speech and free exercise rights? Can't have that. OK, religious hectoring should be kept within reasonable bounds, and those bounds are tighter in a government facility. But, a great big honking Investigation, with front page coverage in The Washington Post?

    A former Reagan White House lawyer, an Academy grad-and-dad, is quoted by the Post as saying: "The place is being held hostage in a vise grip by evangelical Christians, and people are terrified to come forward" But then we read: "In a statement yesterday, the Air Force said it discovered 'perceptions of religious bias' during a 2004 survey in which some cadets complained that evangelical Christians were pressuring Jews and other Christians." Doesn't sound like people were "terrified" to come forward when that survey was taken. It sounds like they did come forward, and that the Air Force is doing something about it.

    David Kelly of The Los Angeles Times gives us more factual meat than the Post does. According to his report, the former Reagan lawyer says that his son, a student at the Academy, "was called a 'filthy Jew.'" Now, that's unacceptable at an American institution. If it was anyone in authority who said it, a head or two should roll. If it was another student, that still points to a problem. But -- a problem that the Air Force is already addressing. All right? No, not all right, because if the Air Force's own internal tolerance program is given a chance to solve the problem, then we don't get our Investigation, and the Investigation is what it's all about. Why?

    Coincidentally, if you believe in coincidences, I read earlier today about the experience of Barbara Nicolosi, a Hollywood screenwriter and outspoken Christian. She gets interviewed a lot, and twice in the last five days, reporters ostensibly interviewing her for her views on current movies have also fished around for details about her politics. Why? She writes:
    both journalists slipped in the query, "So, who did you vote for in the last election? You're a Bush voter, aren't you?"

    I said to the Daily Variety guy, "You aren't trying to narrowly define me so you can dismiss me, are you?" When it happened yesterday with the Times I got a little more annoyed. "Did you ask the Hollywood pagans you are interviewing for this story that question?" Both journalists demurred in extravagant terms. They were just "collecting context" for their pieces. But then, the Times guy came back insistently, "Would you characterize yourself as right or left of center?"

    I liked both the journalists, and they liked me. The Variety guy asked me if he and I could have coffee someday soon, just to talk about a whole lot of things. The Times guy said, "This has been a fun interview. You're not a regular Christian, are you?" I said to him, "Why, because you like me, and that doesn't fit with your prejudice about my people?" He said to me, "You don't sound like some other Christians I have interviewed." I couldn't resist coming back with, "That's because we are a diverse people, not chained by politically correct dogma."

    I know I am slow on the uptake here, but I can't stop marveling about the pervasive anti-Christian bigotry that continues to mess with the MSM's attempts to cover the whole red-state, Passion-watching, Terri-Schiavo-crusading, spiritual revival moment that is arm-wrestling the culture of death in the marketplace of ideas. These reporters NEED for us Christians to be the people they need us to be: basically sub-human intolerant simpletons who can be dismissed....
    What does being part of the "Passion-watching" sector of society have to do with the Air Force? Reporter Kelly doesn't seem in any doubt about it:
    Air Force officials said they first got an inkling of a problem after reading the results of a student survey last May. Many cadets expressed concern over religious respect and a lack of tolerance.

    Then, The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's film about the crucifixion, had been released. Hundreds of small movie posters were pinned up in the academy dining hall advertising the movie. Cadets did mass e-mailings urging people to go see it.
    Ah HA!!

    Now, you can debate the propriety of using government e-mail channels to promote a movie that does, after all, pack a powerful Christian wallop. But to conclude that this was improper (if it was) doesn't end the matter. Kelly, to his great credit, also quotes an old friend of mine, someone I know to be a man of moderate spirit and careful judgment:
    Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy at Focus on the Family [which, like the Air Force Academy, is based in Colorado Springs], last week denounced any acts of bigotry but said it was Christians who were facing discrimination.

    "If 90 percent of cadets identify themselves as Christian, it is common sense that Christianity will be in evidence on the campus," he said. "Christianity is deeply felt and very important to people... and to suggest that it should be bottled up is nonsense. I think a witch hunt is under way to root out Christian beliefs. To root out what is pervasive in 90 percent of the group is ridiculous."
    Ridiculous -- but evidently, a culture-war imperative.

    :: David M. Wagner 6:10 PM [+] ::

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