Air Force Academy Addresses Proselytization Problems November 17, 2010

Air Force Academy Addresses Proselytization Problems

The Air Force Academy has gotten well-deserved flack in the past for proselytizing problems and being something of a Christian-only club despite the complaints of atheists.

Now, the Colorado Springs Gazette is reporting that a “panel of experts” has okayed a new plan to teach religious tolerance — including First Amendment right

The academy says the two-day Religious Respect Conference wasn’t aimed at silencing critics or reacting to a recently-released survey of airmen there that shows a jump in religious tolerance woes. Instead, they say, it’s part of a program that will teach cadets to embrace religious freedom.

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the national Interfaith Alliance, said while he’s previously criticized prosyletizing at the academy, the new plan will help the academy move on from years of religious tolerance concerns.

The academy’s recent climate survey found that nearly half of non-Christian cadets think their classmates have a “low-tolerance” for non-believers.

The newest curriculum, built in consultation with cadets, is designed to teach religious freedom while assuring non-believers don’t face unwanted proselytizing or discrimination.

“Everybody’s freedom will be increased in the end,” said Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

If Jason likes it, I’m optimistic. Though Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation takes the opposite view and says those who have suffered haven’t had their voices heard during this process.

I don’t know why this is so hard to address. The rules ought to be simple enough. Your religious preference shouldn’t help or hurt you in the military. High-ranking officers shouldn’t be forcing their religious beliefs onto everybody else in their command.

Still, this is a positive step forward from the AFA and something that should’ve happened a long time ago.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    despite the complaints of atheists.

    Not all the critics are atheists. Weinstein for example (surprise, surprise) is Jewish. Anyone who opposes obnoxious institutionally approved proselytization ought to oppose what has been going on at the academy, whether they be atheist, non-Christian, or non-obnoxious Christian.

  • Beardo

    You could also note the article in the most commented list about a helicopter outfit flying pastors around for free so that they can pray over the city…

    I may live in Colorado Springs, and I may have made a bunch of comments on that one, maybe. You’ll never prove it was me. Any similarity in avatar and name is purely coincidental.

  • The Air Force Academy has gotten well-deserved flack…

    Heh, of all people, you’d think the Air Force would be prepared to handle flack.

  • I have to say, as an Air Force Academy graduate, the place is pretty messed up.

    I graduated in 2002 before the sexual assault scandal hit and eventually the proselytizing scandal. I have to say, the place was a hotbed for Evangelicals. And at the time I went along with them. I am now an atheist, but I didn’t realize it back then.

    It’s hard to quantify my experiences at USAFA in terms of religion. But several of my experiences made me uncomfortable while I was there and at the time I thought I was a christian. Hopefully it gets better.

  • Richard P.

    All this sounds like to me is a little grease for the wheel. Now they won’t be just pushy xians, they’ll be persecuted pushy xians.

  • Silent Service

    Smoke and mirrors, Hemant. The people that really need some training on religious freedom are the squadron and wing command staffs throughout the Air Force. The AFA is just a small part of a larger problem.

  • Steve

    But where do a good amount of those officers come from? From the AFA. If they had learned that such behavior isn’t ok there, they might not act in such a way after commissioning.

    I realize that there is a time lag of 15-20 years between cadets and squadron or wing command, but that just means it’s going to get worse when those people do get commands.

  • Jon Peterson

    I was considering enlisting in one of the branches (I won’t specify which, because it doesn’t matter), and when it came time to state my religious preference, I simply stated that I was an atheist. The recruiter looked up sharply from his monitor, then scanned the room as if to check if anyone else may have overheard, then politely advised me not to enter “Atheist” on the form, but instead use “N/A”.

    I was rather sure why, but asked him to clarify anyway, and he stated simply that “It’s not a good idea to be known as an atheist in the [branch name]. Just trust me on this.”

    I’d known that there were issues, but it never really hit home until that point how serious they were. He wouldn’t talk about details, but he got very nervous about it and all but refused to process the application unless I entered “N/A”. In the end, I decided not to enlist, with that as a major contributing factor (which I mentioned to the recruiting CO)… and if you’ll allow me a moment to brag, greatly disappointed both the CO and the recruiter because I scored a 99 on the ASVAB, and apparently they gain some sort of benefit when they recruit people in the top percentiles.

    It’s sad that the situation is so negative right now. I feel that I would have greatly enjoyed any of the career paths I would have had available through that military branch.

  • Luther

    And the Air Force has flown higher than I suspect that those that wrote the Bible imagined Heaven, and I suspect even a single pilot has talked to God.

    Lets offer them faith-based airplanes and forget about air traffic controllers, let God be their guide where it matters.

  • Chris

    In a recent AF News article about USAFA dialogue between pagans and atheists, some very xtian commenter posted something to the effect of: “I don’t like tolerating these goofy religions in my military. What’s next, letting these witches cast a spell over my jet?”

    I replied that their spells are as effective as his wife’s prayers. My comment never made it on to the (official Air Force sanctioned) website.


  • Glen

    Blessed be the peacemakers, for they shall be atheists.

  • Eh, it’s at least a start. Still keeping my fingers crossed that it actually has any goddamned effect but it’s a start. At least they had to concede this little bit but I do think it will take more little concessions of this nature before it’s turned around to where it should be — your religion or absence thereof not mattering.

  • I once had a PA National Guardsman tell me that my girlfriend and I were what’s “wrong” with America when I mentioned that we were atheists, coupled with the fact we’ve been together many years without being married.

    I always hear stories about US military and, to a lesser degree, law enforcement being a few degrees short of being Christian shock troops. I was never quite sure if the problem is as widespread as people claim. Encountering that kind of ignorant thinking firsthand was quite the eye opener.

  • Thanks again for the mention. To say that MAAF OKd the plan is a bit generous. The fact is the training isn’t yet complete. That having been said, it was a great first step. The sentiment in the room combined with the seniority of the participants were good indicators of a real change in culture. Watch MAAF for a full report, probably Monday.

  • Quantum Penguin

    Weinstein for example (surprise, surprise) is Jewish.

    I’ve known Mikey for a few years, he is “Jewish” by culture only, not religiously.

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