Friday, February 10, 2006

Air Force Guidelines Revised

Influential evangelical groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, Focus on the Family, and New Life Church, have successfully pressured the Air Force into reversing newly-released guidelines that restrict military officials from promoting their religion while on duty.

The guidelines were originally enacted after it became public that military officials at the Air Force Academy were encouraging religious conformity on campus, discriminating against non-evangelical cadets, and integrating evangelical Christianity with military training.

The Air Force has never acknowledged the true scope of the problems, which are purely the result of an unusually close relationship between the Air Force Academy and the powerful para-religious groups that surround it. As I have previously written, this relationship has resulted in the following abuses of power:
  • When the evangelical Focus on the Family headquarters opened in 1993, the academy's parachute team, the Wings of Blue, participated in the opening ceremony by delivering "the keys of heaven" to James Dobson's new facility -- directly from the sky.

  • During official Air Force Academy reunions, graduates are invited to the Focus on the Family headquarters for a tour that promotes James Dobson's religious/political views and encompasses a video portraying Dobson as a hero receiving accolades from such figures as Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

  • In order to motivate the players of the football team, the coach hung a banner in the locker room stating: "I am a Christian first and last . . . I am a member of team Jesus Christ. I wear the colors of the cross . . . I am a Christian Competitor and as such, I face my challenger with the face of Christ . . . I rely solely on the power of God. I compete for the pleasure of my Heavenly Father, the honor of Christ and the reputation of the Holy Spirit."

  • According to a Yale Divinity School report, during one worship service led by Major Warren Watties: "Protestant Basic Cadets were encouraged to pray for the salvation of fellow BCT members who chose not to attend worship. . . . Cadets were encouraged to return to tents, proselytize fellow BCT members, and remind them of the consequences of apostasy." According to the report, Major Watties told the cadets the penalty for refusing to accept his encouraged proselytizing would be to "burn in the fires of hell."

  • Protestant cadets were commonly told that Jesus had "called" them to the academy as part of God's plan for their lives.

  • Cadets who chose not to attend after-dinner chapel services were made to suffer humiliation by being marched back to their dormitories in what was called the "Heathen Flight."

  • Commission ceremonies for graduating officers have been held at off-campus churches.

  • In December of 2003, in the academy's newspaper, hundreds of staff members -- including the then-dean of the faculty, the current dean of faculty, and 16 department heads or deputy department heads -- expressed their belief that "Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world" and directed students to contact them so they could "discuss Jesus."

  • The academy commandant, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, a self-proclaimed born-again Christian who incorporates religion with military training on a regular basis, uses a call-and-response chant based on a Biblical metaphor to inspire religious nationalism and proselytizing amongst cadets.

  • General Weida also said in a statement to cadets in June 2003 that their first responsibility was to their God, and strongly endorsed National Prayer Day, an event sponsored by Focus on the Family and chaired by James Dobson's wife, Shirley.

  • The academy has provided passes for Christian cadets who wish to attend church services and activities off campus, such as at New Life Church. They, however, have denied Jewish, Seven-Day Adventist, and those with other beliefs, the right to leave the campus for non-evangelical religious services.

  • Several faculty members have introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged non-evangelical students to convert to evangelical Christianity throughout the course of the term.

  • Staff and faculty members have led prayer sessions at several mandatory school activities, such as academic exams, meals at the dining hall, awards ceremonies, military-training-event dinners, and basic training cadet cadre meetings.
The evangelical groups and military officials responsible for these First Amendment violations are the same people responsible for getting the Air Force's new guidelines partially reversed. The probability of the guidelines correcting the long-term problems was already low, but now, it is virtually nonexistent.


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