Group fights religious proselytizing at US Air Force Academy

Has “Onward, Christian Soldiers” replaced “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder” as the official anthem of the US Air Force Academy? Has the US military become an evangelical Christian organization? Those are questions that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation [MRFF] is very concerned about.According to its website,

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Why is this organization necessary? In recent years, according to MRFF, a culture of religious correctness has grown within all branches of the military: a culture in which evangelical Christianity is promoted and proselytized by military leaders. In many instances, a soldier’s acceptance of evangelical Christianity has been a prerequisite for promotion.

The most recent development in this continuing story comes from the US Air Force Academy, where, not trusting conventional channels, a cadet contacted MRFF to report the extent to which the forced Christian culture is rampant at the Academy.

That cadet’s complaint is not an isolated incident. According to Huffington Post,

MRFF receives a constant stream of photographs from service members and DoD employees around the globe showing overt promotions of Christianity in the form of signs, banners, posters, and flyers — all strategically placed in locations that are impossible for military personnel to avoid in their day to day activities.

But advertising is just the beginning. At the Air Force Academy, a group called “Cadets for Christ” actively and persistently attempts to convert other cadets to their brand of evangelical Christianity—even cadets who are self-identified members of other Christian sects. MRFF says,

…We can reach no other conclusion than that this ministry… is allegedly using cult-like tactics to separate cadets from everything and everyone in their lives, including their families, the clearly delineated core values and principles of the United States Air Force and the oaths they took to uphold the United States Constitution.

MRFF reports that the letter it received from that Air Force Cadet spells out a frightening scenario, in which as many as 100 cadets are part of an underground group, pretending to embrace the evangelical brand in order to maintain good standing among their USAF Academy peers and superiors.

They leave Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian music CDs lying around their rooms; they attend fundamentalist Christian Bible studies; they feign devoutness at the Academy’s weekly “Special Programs in Religious Education” (SPIRE) programs. They do whatever they have to do to play the role of the “right kind” of Christian cadets, in constant fear of being outed.

Earlier this week, MRFF responded to the Air Force cadet’s charge by sending a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, with three demands:

  • Release this year’s USAF academy Climate Survey, which is reported to reveal that

353 cadets (almost 1 out of every 5 survey participants) reported having been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing, and 23 cadets (13 of them Christians) reported living “in fear of their physical safety” because of their religious beliefs.

  • Investigate the activities of “Cadets for Christ” and any other similar religious proselytizing organizations on and off campus
  • Investigate the USAF Academy’s “incontrovertible and unconstitutional establishment of a fundamentalist Christian culture/meme amongst its cadet and staff populations and its concomitant failure to train and educate its professional staff and Cadet Wing about the Constitutionally-mandated imperatives of the Bill of Rights, especially church-state separation.”

Evangelical intimidation is not restricted to the US Air Force Academy. A recent report on CNN, for example,  examined a “Rock the Fort” Christian music and prayer event at the US Army’s Ft. Bragg. Mikey Weinstein, founder of MRFF is staying quite busy these days, responding to hundreds of complaints from soldiers and taking his message of constitutional watchdogging of the military to the press. And you don’t have to read too far between the lines of MRFF’s mission statement to get the frightening picture of what is happening in today’s US military, and what makes Weinstein’s organization necessary:

No religion or religious philosophy may be advanced by the United States Armed Forces over any other religion or religious philosophy.

No member of the United States Armed Forces may be compelled in any way to conform to a particular religion or religious philosophy.

No member of the United States Armed Forces may be compelled in any way to witness or engage in any religious exercise.

No member of the military may be compelled to curtail – except in the most limited of military circumstances and when it directly impacts military discipline, morale and the successful completion of a specific military goal – the free exercise of their religious practices or beliefs.

Students at United States military academies are entitled to the same Constitutional rights pertaining to religious freedoms and the free exercise of those freedoms to which all other members of the United States Armed Forces military are entitled.

No member of the military may be compelled to endure unwanted religious proselytization, evangelization or persuasion of any sort in a military setting and/or by a military superior or civilian employee of the military.

The full exercise of religious freedom includes the right not to subscribe to any particular religion or religious philosophy. The so-called “unchurched” cede no Constitutional rights by want of their separation from organized faith.

It is the responsibility of the military hierarchy to ensure that the free exercise of religious freedoms of all enlisted personnel are respected and served.

All military personnel have the right to employ appropriate judicial means to protect their religious rights.

For anyone who cares about preserving the intent of the US Constitution regarding religion, this story and this organization bear watching.