It looks like the Christian "Right" is at it again. Recent news stories have surfaced that some staff members at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs have been aggressively promoting evangelical Christianity, and that cadets who are either of different faiths or follow no religion have been victims of religious bias. Attorneys with Americans United For The Separation of Church and State have been carefully investigating these complaints, and last week, released a detailed report backing them up. A copy of this report was sent to Donald Rumsfeld and other military personnel.
"The right to worship or not worship as the individual sees fit is a cornerstone of American life," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United. "All branches of our military must respect, not denigrate, this vital principle."
Incidents detailed in the report include the following: 1. Complaints that an Academy chaplain exhorted cadets to bring non-Christian cadets to evangelical services. 2. Proselytizing in classrooms and in one case, ordering cadets to pray before taking a test. 3. Harassment of non-Christian junior cadets. 4. Denying the right of cadets to attend meetings of non-believers, although evangelical cadets were regularly given passes for religious meetings.
In a cover letter to Rumsfeld, Lynn wrote, "A soldier's religious beliefs, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to his or her ability and willingness to defend the country. The situation at the Air Force Academy sends exactly the opposite message. The close relationship between the Academy and evangelical Christianity sends a message of exclusion to those of other faiths. It may well dissuade some from considering the military as a career."
As compelling as Lynn's words are, one has to wonder how much impact it will have on Christian evangelists determined to ignore certain parts of the law. Namely, that government establishment of religion, be it Christianity or any other faith, is strictly prohibited by the Constitution of the United States. Given that President Bush has been a strong supporter of recent "faith-based initiatives" that have also mixed religion with government, I have strong doubts that Rev. Lynn's letter will make a difference at all. But I honestly hope I'll be proved wrong in this case.
Naturally, it didn't take long for Christian evangelist groups like James Dobson's Focus On The Family to begin singing the "Christian persecution" song. Almost immediately after the accounts of the abuses at the Academy came to light in the media, various members of the Christian Right began making accusations of an "anti-Christian bias" at the school. That sounds rather strange to me, considering that neither Rev. Lynn nor anyone else has suggested that Christianity must be outlawed at the school. No one has said that all religious meetings should be permanently banned for cadets and faculty. Therefore, the question remains; what legitimate grounds do these Christian groups have for making these absurd "anti-Christian" charges? So far, they have provided none.
So what would constitute a real anti-Christian atmosphere, be it at the Air Force Academy or anywhere else for that matter? Closing the doors to all Christian churches would be a start. Banning all Christian books and publications, plus closing all Christian bookstores and libraries would be another step in the anti-Christian direction. Government stopping all work on Christian churches currently in the process of being built is still another. Have any of these steps been taken against Christian establishments in the United States, by State or Federal agencies? The answer is simple; of course not. Which means that once again, it is another case of the Christian Right having their usual metaphorical temper tantrums because it failed to legitimize its religious agenda in various government facilities.
Now that we've established that an "anti-Christian bias" is not occurring at the Air Force Academy, what would actually solve this problem and allow non-Christian cadets to go about their business, which is to pass their required courses and tests and graduate? Again, the solution is very simple. Christian faculty and cadets need to stop proselytizing to those who clearly don't share their religious beliefs. They need to allow cadets who are non-Christian or non-religious to attend the meetings of their choice without unnecessary hassles. Chaplains need to quit bugging Christian cadets to drag non-Christians into Sunday services. Instructors need to keep their religious opinions out of the classroom and stick with the topic that is supposedly being taught. Above all, Evangelical Christians should realize, once and for all, that the military is not the place to seek more converts.
In his press conference last week, President Bush made the following remarks about religion, in answer to a reporter's question about how faith is being used in political debates: "As I said, I think faith is a personal issue, and I get great strength from my faith. But I don't condemn somebody in the political process because they may not agree with me on religion. The great thing about America, David, is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want, and if you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship. And if you choose to worship, you're equally American if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. That's the wonderful thing about our country, and that's the way it should be." Given that these remarks came from the Commander-In-Chief of all branches of the military, let's hope his message reaches the ears of the Christian faculty and cadets at the Air Force Academy.