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01 September 2005

Habañero picante: Religious intolerance at US Air Force Academy

Is Vleeptron too Jewish?

I mean, you stand around in the laundromat in the Rue du Celine in Paris (I think it's really wonderful that France finally honored him) waiting for the 11:21 GMT Zeta Beam, it shows up (I guess they finally fixed it, like the Amtrak Acela), and Shazam! About 22 seconds later you're in the Dwingeloo-2 Galaxy, in the Akira Kurosawa Zeta Beam Drome outside Ciudad Vleeptron!

You're a gazillion parsecs from Earth. You might be tempted to think, "Bet there aren't any Jews here!"

And you're wrong. Doh. Surprise. Never sell the Power & Range of the Diaspora short. (cf. prior post about Jews in Space -- We're Out There, and We're Staying.)

Bob is here in his pied-a-terre condo (Dwingeloo Gardens) in downtown Ciudad Vleep, and so is B'nai Vleeptron, the Conservative synagogue, and the Temple of Love & Acceptance, the Reconstructionist congregation. (They're new, they meet for Friday night services in a chapel they rent from the Swedenborgians in the basement. Their cantor is a soprano with the Vleeptron 20th Century Repertoire Opera Company.)

Anyway today I am wondering if perhaps Huckleberry Finnstein posts too much Jewish stuph. I haven't noticed this blog being linked very often on major sites and blogs of major Jewish institutions or bloggers, and that makes a lot of sense because I am just possibly the World Poster Boy for Judaical Dirt Ignorance. (I was just in Baltimore, and once again, confused the Dietary Prohibitions in Deuteronomy with the menu of Phillips Crab House.)

VLEEPTRON ASIDE QUESTION: Israel in general and Haifa in particular are on the shore of the Mediterranean. Does Haifa have any popular, beloved restaurants that specialize in the wonderful Trayfe that hangs out in that body of water? Like Phillips Crab House, or Kushner's in DC? Reuven's Bet ha-Homard? Shlomo's Kansas City All-Pork Barbecue?

Well. I am thinking about this Balance of posting Jewish stuph on Vleep.

Because I just stumbled across a 5-cherry-bomb Habañero picante of a news story, the kind of New Thing which comes up on a bored newspaper editor's screen at 10 pm, and (s)he looks Heavenward and mutters: "Thank you, God!"

(All journalists are psychopaths and perverts. No. That's not right. All GOOD journalists are psychopaths and perverts. They don't send us to the Institution for the Criminally Insane for life because we confine our perversions to acts committed for our entertainment by non-journalist strangers. We are Professional Spectator-Only Perverts. You do the Perv Thing. We spell your name right.)

So I am posting this not because I am trying to proselytize Cyberspace with the thrills and wonders abounding in the Jewish Faith, but because of this story's Inherent Journalistic Virtues Alone.

And boyoboy does this sucker have Inherent Journalistic Virtues up the wizwang. I finished reading three or four stories about this, and it was all I could do to keep myself from making phone calls to see about getting another newspaper job. (I took some strong pills and the feeling passed.)

For those overseas and overtrees, or just the Domestic Ignorant ...

The US Army, Navy and Air Force all have Big Famous Service Academies, accredited four-year universities which give you a bachelor's degree (usually in engineering ... but it ain't like a bachelor engineering degree from a Real Engineering School like U-Michigan) and then spew you into a second lieutenant's (or Navy ensign's) uniform probably for an initial obligation of (I think) four years.

For those who want to make the military a permanent career, a commission from one of these Service Academies is the Fast Track and Open Sesame to bigtime success, the reliably quickest path eventually to General or Admiral stars on your epaulets. If you don't Fuck Up Large somewhere along the line, or drown in quicksand leading a 30-hour training maneuver in a bayou, or sink your ship, or sink somebody else's ship, or crash your airplane into a mountain. Or get photographed by NIS or CID wearing a strapless evening gown, which is fine for some officers, but not so fine for male Academy grads who dreamed of being Chief of Naval Operations or Commanding General Third US Army.

The Army's West Point (New York state, on the Hudson River) dates to 1802. The Navy's Annapolis (Maryland, on Chesapeake Bay) was founded in 1850. The newest of the Academies is The Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which was founded in 1954.

I'm not fingerpointing here. All these academies regularly have real hot-potato scandals. Foul-smelling behavior sludge seems to be built into the cultures and leadership legacies of all three of these places.

Women were first allowed to attend these academies in or around 1980. To be as genteel and discreet and charitable as I know how: The transitions from all-male to both-gender academies were not as smooth or pleasant as those who wish the American military establishment well might have wished for. The academies did not exactly hang up huge WELCOME LADIES! neon signs.

In fact, the Air Force Academy is still reeling from a series of ghastly year-after-year neverending scandals that suggests that rape remains a cadet corps commonplace, and the Academy's top levels of Command (Air Force generals, colonels, etc.) either thought that was okay, or that the numerous rape and sexual assault complaints were entirely groundless and unfounded. Usually the woman who complained of having been raped or sexually assaulted by a male cadet or two or five was eventually kicked out of the Academy, her Air Force career ended forever; and the accused men cadets went on to graduate and assume their Air Force careers.

Likewise, the experiences of African-American cadets at these Academies is not a Happy Story; the Academies don't have special web pages celebrating and detailing this particular achievement of their histories.

Each academy scandal consists of two parts:

1. The ghastly disgusting or simply totally dishonest thing some cadet or cadets did. (Sometimes half the cadet corps gets caught communally cheating on a particularly tough academic exam, like Electrical Engineering.)

2. What the Command Leadership did about it.

Many scandals also boast

3. Some new cadet or cadets did (1.) all over again a year or two later.

And 2. is Always the more interesting part of the scandal. Because a 48-year-old General or Colonel (an Academy command or staff appointment is a hugely prestigious military job, looks just super on your personnel file) is supposed to Know Better than a 20-year-old college boy who isn't even an officer yet. N'est-ce pas?

Or maybe that's an unrealistically high expectation. I don't know. You tell me. Leave a Comment. Make Huck Happy.

Huckleberry Finnstein will be awaiting your Comments on his laptop in his favorite booth in Kaplowitz's Celebrated Casa de Trayfe, across the street from the Mickey Rourke Arte Cinema ("9 1/2 Weeks" is playing tonight!) in Old Bohemiatown.

Kaplowitz's -- best damn pork tartar in the whole Dwingeloo-2 Galaxy!

~ ~ ~

Okay, I've posted many Habañeros Picantes and bonbons belgique about this scandal. Enjoy! They're delicious!

And at the Top of the Command of the Air Force Academy, we have some real foot-shooters here! Real Career Suicide Death Wish Guys who open their mouths to reporters and microphones and just say The Most Amazing Things! And then come back next month and say even Dumber things! I love these guys!

VLEEPTRON MNEMONIC: "Be My Little General" will help you keep your generals straight.

Be ........ Brigadier General .... 1 star
My ........ Major General ........ 2 stars
Little .... Lieutenant General ... 3 stars
General ... General .............. 4 stars

There are no living 5-star officers in the US military. The last 5-star officer was General of the Army Omar Bradley, one of the top combat generals in North Africa and Europe during World War II. After the War President Truman appointed him to head the Veterans Administration.

~ ~ ~

The Associated Press
Monday 29 August 2005

Air Force discourages public prayer

By Robert Weller, Associated Press Writer

DENVER -- The Air Force released new guidelines for religious tolerance Monday that discourage public prayer at official functions and urge commanders to be sensitive about personal expressions of religious faith.

The document directs chaplains to "respect the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs." But some who have criticized the academy questioned whether needed changes will really be implemented.

The guidelines, which apply to the entire Air Force, were drawn up after allegations that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

An Air Force task force concluded that some students and staff at the school have the perception that the academy favors evangelical Christians and is intolerant of those who do not share their faith.

Rob Boston, spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Abraham Foxman, head of the New York-based Anti-Defamation League, both said the big question now is how the rules will be implemented.

The guidelines "say all the right things," Foxman said. "They address all the issues that were raised as problems at the Air Force Academy. The major question is, how will be they become a reality? A lot of the people implementing this are the people who violated it."

Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate who says his sons have been the target of anti-Semitic slurs at the school, said the new guidelines fail to control evangelical zealots.

"The Air Force's official policy remains that the Air Force reserves the right to evangelize anyone in the Air Force that it determines to be unchurched," Weinstein said in an interview from his home in Albuquerque, N.M.

Academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said the guidelines were expected and school officials already have incorporated most of them into daily operations.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., a member of the academy's oversight board, praised the new rules, which are to be finalized after feedback from commanders in November.

"These guidelines send an unmistakable message that religious intolerance within the Air Force is unacceptable," he said.

The guidelines do not ban public prayer outright and say short, nonsectarian prayers may be included in special ceremonies or events, but only to lend a sense of solemnity and not to promote specific beliefs.

Nor do they bar personal discussions of religion, including discussions between commanders and subordinates. They caution Air Force members "to be sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official expressions."

The guidelines state that members of the Air Force "will not officially endorse or establish religion, either one specific religion, or the idea of religion over non-religion."

They also say that "abuse or disrespect" of Air Force members based on their religious beliefs, or lack of such beliefs, is unacceptable.


On the Net:
Air Force Academy:
Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

© Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Friday 20 May 2005
The Gazette
Colorado Springs, Colorado
(local newspaper not affiliated with the Air Force Academy)

'Christ in uniform' group OK at AFA
General's letter draws criticism


A Christian group with a vision "to see a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform" is sanctioned at military bases across the country, including the Air Force Academy.

The nonprofit Officer's Christian Fellowship has more than 13,000 members at 200 military installations. The academy's chapter is one of more than a dozen groups sanctioned by the academy chapel program, which is part of the focus of an Air Force examination of the academy's religious sensitivity.

Critics said Thursday that some of the chapter's listed activities appear to be improper under new guidelines on religious activity at the academy.

But academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said the group operates within the rules, as do other groups sanctioned by the chapel program.

The academy is under fire for allegedly favoring evangelical Christianity and harassing those of other faiths.

Complaints include professors urging cadets to convert to Christianity, Jews being called names by other cadets and campus leaders suggesting cadets proselytize others and openly professing their "born again" Christian beliefs.

Among those is Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, the academy's second in command, who has initiated new criticism by writing in Hebrew to an academy critic who is Jewish.

The Officer's Christian Fellowship's national director, Bruce Fister, said members do not evangelize while on duty but rather live a Christ-inspired life.

"I would expect that my faith would be illustrated through my character, my integrity, my honesty, and I wouldn't have to say anything," he said, noting that the organization is interdenominational. "It's not my job to char- acterize or judge any particular religion, church or person. Our job is to share the gospel of Jesus at the appropriate time."

The academy's chapter meets every Saturday night off campus. Its leader, retired Lt. Col. Steve Wade, a former academy officer, "spends Wednesdays and Thursdays in the (academy) library talking, counseling, and discipling cadets," the group's Web site said. "Some of this time is scheduled with cadets in discipling relationships, but much of it is just being available for cadets to stop by and talk about questions or problems."

Wade could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Whitaker said the sessions are like many that take place on campus between cadets and chapel-program leaders.

"There is no requirement to conduct these personal meetings in the chapel or any other specific facility," he said. "Given that (chapel program) groups are officially sanctioned organizations and, as long as the meetings do not disturb others using the same facility, there is no problem."

But Kristen Leslie, an assistant professor at Yale University Divinity School who has been critical of the academy's religious atmosphere, called the library sessions "proselytizing opportunities."

Leslie said it's improper to try to convert cadets at the library under new guidance given in academy religious respect training.

Academy Chaplain Capt. Melinda Morton, who said she's been punished for speaking on religious diversity issues, said the officer group is an example of how the conservative Christian movement is getting a foothold in the military.

"This hits right at the heart of what I've been trying to say for weeks," she said. "You have large and powerful organizations that purposely push their people to use their power and position to proselytize. This is precisely what this group does. They say, 'We want you to use your position to further our ideology.' That's forbidden by Air Force and Department of Defense regulations."

Meantime, Weida wrote a note to Mikey Weinstein on May 12, saying, "Shalom Aleichem," which means "peace to you" in Hebrew.

Weinstein, a 1977 graduate who has criticized the academy's handling of religious issues, immediately called Weida and told his secretary, "We're at war."

Weinstein said Weida hasn't returned his calls but sent another letter May 16 on academy stationery.

Weida wrote in English, "Norma said you called today. Instead of 'we're at war' then Weida finished in Hebrew, May this be the beginning activity for the good of the Air Force Academy. Peace to you."

The Hebrew segment of message was translated Thursday for The Gazette by Rabbi Lina Grazier-Zerbarini, associate rabbi at Yale's Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life.

Weinstein called the letters "bizarre in the extreme."

"Why does he have to cloud it in an ancient language that almost no Jew is conversant in? Oh yeah. That's right. Because he sees me as a Jew first," he said.

He also said the letters are further proof that the academy's leadership doesn't understand the issue.

Whitaker said Weida wasn't granting interviews pending the Air Force review. He said Weida sent the notes "to reach out to Mr. Weinstein in the hope that we can work together to deal with the religious respect issues and programs at the academy of which Mr. Weinstein has been so critical."

He also said Weida sent the notes "under his own authority" and that they were not sent on academy stationery but rather Weida's general officer stationery. The envelop stated "Official Business."

Asked about the Christian fellowship group and Weida's letters, Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said, "The task force is reviewing all aspects of the religious climate at the Academy."

The report is due Monday to Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez.



The Gazette
(Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Thursday 23 June 2005

Academy to get new religion guidelines
'Lack of awareness' found by study, but no discrimination


The Air Force Academy and the entire Air Force will get new marching orders for how to handle religious issues in an effort to reverse intolerant attitudes.

The changes -- guidelines on how service members can express their faith on duty and how violators will be punished -- were recommended in an Air Force task force report released Wednesday that labeled religious bias a lack of awareness, not overt discrimination.

The report concludes allegations that evangelical Christianity was the preferred religion and that instructors, staff and cadets proselytized others resulted from unintentional ignorance of what's appropriate.

"The root of this problem is not overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members' needs and a lack of awareness over where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs," the report said.

Many critics hailed the findings as a good first step but called for continued oversight that includes outside experts and Congress.

Acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez said the service will take part in congressional hearings.

He also said many recommendations will be applied throughout the Air Force, indicating top officials believe religious insensitivity may extend beyond the academy.

The 16-member task force formed in early May after claims mounted that the academy favors evangelical Christianity and a religious liberty watchdog group threatened to sue. The panel gathered information from more than 300 people in 27 focus groups and 69 individual interviews.

The report described 55 complaints dating to 2000 as "in reality a collection of observations and events reported by about 13 people."

At a Pentagon news conference, task force leader Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, said, "Is it really widespread? I don't think so."

That conflicts with Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr.'s June 3 statement that problems permeated his "entire organization."

Asked about the discrepancy at a news conference Wednesday, Rosa said, "The report validates what we've been doing here for a year," adding the problems were discovered by the academy through surveys and other research.

The task force applauded the academy's aggressive steps to identify the problem more than a year ago and begin religious training in late March.

Still, the task force called for, and Dominguez embraced, nine recommendations designed to improve the academy's and Air Force's religious atmosphere.

Dominguez said Brig. Gen. Irving Halter Jr., who has been nominated for promotion to major general, will become vice superintendent and oversee cultural issues.

Also Wednesday, in an apparent attempt to clear the slate, the academy released statements by Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida and football coach Fisher DeBerry, who have openly professed their Christian faith as academy leaders.

Weida apologized for promoting Christianity if it discouraged cadets of different beliefs. The Air Force Inspector General's Office said Wednesday it had cleared Weida of six of seven allegations that he stepped over the line; one incident, using a hand signal and chant to encourage cadets to witness to others, remains under investigation.

DeBerry said he understood his actions crossed the line of acceptable practice and promised to discontinue his locker-room prayers.

Insight into the academy's atmosphere came from a team from the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, a group that certifies chaplains.

The team visited the academy June 7 and 8 at the Air Force's behest and interviewed roughly 180 personnel and cadets.

The team said efforts to fix the 2003 sexual assault scandal, in which women said the academy mishandled their rape reports, may have exacerbated religious problems.

"Some faculty and staff expressed concern that senior leaders' actions following the sexual assault scandal were based on the assumption that student behavioral problems were viewed as moral deficiencies that could be corrected only with religious (primarily evangelical Christian) moral values," the team's report said.

The team also noted some academy personnel said evangelical Christian views of women don't square with those of the Air Force. One female cadet was urged by her Colorado Springs church to change her pilot goal because it "was not a proper Christian role for women."

Some faculty told the team they felt evangelical Christians were favored in hiring practices.

Rep. Joel Hefley and Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republicans and members of the academy's Board of Visitors, praised the task force for blaming problems on "lack of awareness" rather than deeper institutional bias and applauded the academy's program.

Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., suggested the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government-funded, bipartisan federal panel, oversee implementation of the recommendations.

Such a move may require an act of Congress, but Salazar's spokesman Cody Wertz called it "a good, commonsense step."

Critics weren't as kind.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., a member of the Armed Forces Committee, said in an interview, "They tried very hard to identify some problems and then explain them away without completely ignoring them."

Israel, who said the report shows "an enormous struggle to balance religious freedom with religious respect at the academy," said the academy's progress should be monitored and the entire military's climate checked.

"This is not just about the Air Force Academy," he said. "There is a real public policy issue here, and that deserves congressional hearings and it deserves the bipartisan presidential commission that I've proposed" to examine the issue militarywide.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which threatened to sue the Air Force in April, and the Anti-Defamation League vowed persistent monitoring.

Mikey Weinstein, a Jewish academy graduate and critic of how the academy has dealt with religious issues, said the task force missed the boat in going easy on the academy, which he said has a climate that is oppressive, discriminatory and prejudicial.



Highlights from the Air Force's Headquarters Review Group Concerning the Religious Climate at the Air Force Academy:


* A "perception of religious intolerance" exists among academy personnel.

* There are no specific parameters for free exercise or establishment of religion.

* The academy's Respecting the Spiritual Values of all People training is inadequate.

* Cadets, faculty and staff said there was inappropriate bias toward "a predominant religion" and an intolerance of other views, but "it is not pervasive." Rather, the climate has improved in the past two years.

* Granting religious accommodations for training and other events isn't standardized. The academy will develop a standard for the 2005-06 year.

* Jewish kosher meals aren't always available. This is being studied.


* The Air Force will develop guidelines for religious expression for the entire service.

* All Air Force commands will address accommodation for religious worship practices when scheduling training and other mission activities.

* The Air Force will stress following guidelines for overseeing religious groups with access to bases and the academy.

* The academy will develop a program of awareness and respect for diverse cultures and beliefs to be incorporated into academic, military and athletic curriculum. The effort will tap outside experts.

* The academy will create a single point of contact for complaints.


April: Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida issues advisories to staff, faculty and cadets urging observance of National Day of Prayer.

June: Weida issues a commander's guidance telling cadets their first duty is to God.

February: A faculty and staff survey shows half of non-Christians feel people at the academy respect individuals whose religious views and faiths are different from their own.

March: Fliers promoting Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" are placed at every cadet's place in the cafeteria.

July: Yale University Divinity School observes a week of basic training [at the Air Force Academy]. It advises that "stridently evangelical themes" encourage religious divisions. The report isn't made public until April.

August: More than half the cadets responding to a survey report hearing religious jokes, comments and slurs. One-third of non-Christian cadets say they believe Christian cadets get preferential treatment.

November: The academy says it received 55 complaints of religious intolerance dating to 2000.

Nov. 17: Football coach Fisher De-Berry hangs a banner in the athletic department stating, "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

February: DeBerry says religion is "what we're all about" at the academy.

March 29: The Academy launches Respecting the Spiritual Values of all People, RSVP, a training program of 50-minute sessions for small groups of cadets, faculty and staff.

April 28: Americans United for Separation of Church and State says its investigation finds cadets frequently are pressured to attend chapel and receive religious instruction. Report is sent to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

May 3: The Pentagon announces a task force review of the academy's religious climate.

May 9: Weida is nominated for promotion to major general.

May 12: Academy chaplain, Capt. Melinda Morton, says she is fired for speaking out about claims of religious intolerance. Air Force officials say her duties changed as part of a planned reassignment. The Anti-Defamation League calls for the Air Force to put Weida's promotion on hold.

May 24: Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper sends a message to all major commands reminding them to be sensitive to all religions and for commanders to not use their office to promote a specific belief.

June 3: Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr. tells a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League in Denver the Academy has religious bias problems that could take up to six years to fix.

June 8: The Air Force reveals Weida is under investigation by the Air Force inspector general for "specific allegations of improper conduct." The Academy confirms the retirement of Morton's boss, Col. Michael Whittington, has been put on hold pending a Pentagon inspector general's investigation of Morton's dismissal as executive officer.

June 19: Rosa accepts a position as president of The Citadel but will remain at the academy for several months.

June 21: Morton resigns.

Statement by Fisher DeBerry, head football coach for the Air Force Academy:

"I am a Christian. Everything in my life is centered around my faith. It is who I am. I am neither shy nor embarrassed about telling others about my God. I apologize to no one for what I believe.

"However, my Air Force Academy is under the microscope for religious respect issues, and I seem to be a central figure in many of the reports and allegations. Since I've been a part of this great institution for over 25 years and the last thing I want to do is tarnish its image, I feel it necessary to make a statement.

"While I have a strong Christian faith, I have never intentionally set out to pressure, offend or upset anyone who might not agree with me. I have never purposely set out to impose my beliefs on others nor have I discriminated against any player, coach or cadet for not believing the way I do.

"As well as everyone else at the Academy, I'm scheduled to attend one of the mandatory RSVP training seminars and join in the discussions about how, where and when it's appropriate to share one's religious beliefs on a military installation. However, even before I go to RSVP training, it's apparent to me that my locker room prayers to the "Master Coach" and hanging the FCA Competitors Creed banner crossed the line of acceptable practices. Because of my position as a senior leader and role model here, I understand how those actions could have been misconstrued. That won't happen again.

"I'm fully on board to help turn the tide on this issue, and do my part to educate all of Team USAFA on the need for all of us to respect what each of us believes, even when we don't always agree.

"This is the last I will say on this issue. Now, let's talk some Falcon Football!"

Statement by Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, 34th Training Wing Commander and Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Air Force Academy:

On April 16, 2003, while I was acting as the academy's superintendent in the midst of the sexual assault crisis, I issued a Commander's Guidance entitled "Culture, Communication and Commitment." The culture portion of the document contained the following guidance to the entire academy team:

"We must ensure a climate exists that allows each Air Force Academy team member to reach their full potential mentally, spiritually and physically. We must ensure a climate exists that is free of discrimination, harassment, intimidation and assault of any kind."

In the last two years, I have dedicated myself to creating and advancing this environment of excellence at the Air Force Academy.

Together, the academy's entire leadership team has made great strides in fostering just that kind of environment as evidenced by the culture and climate surveys administered over the past two years.

The surveys show we have made positive progress in virtually every area of cadet life.

One area in which we fell short, and in which I fell short, is the topic in question today: religious respect. We discovered we fell short, we worked it, and we put a plan in place to correct it. I am convinced our efforts will make the academy the model for the nation in this area, just as our efforts to foster sexual respect has become a model.

Unlike the area of sexual assault, however, it was harder to develop the right course of action and strike the right balance. We have, I have, learned a lot about the delicate balance between living one's personal faith and respecting the beliefs of all members of the profession of arms. Striking the right balance becomes more difficult as you move up the ranks, but the greater the rank the greater the responsibility to get it right. If I could do the last two years over again with the benefit of hindsight, there are some things I would do differently.

One of the core principals of the constitution is religious freedom. Every American has the right to believe or not to believe, and those that believe can exercise their faith in the way they deem appropriate. As members of the armed forces, we take an oath to support and defend the constitution and I have devoted my adult life to upholding that oath.

My faith is no secret and I have relied upon it throughout my life. Just as my faith is an important part of my life, it is also important to many cadets. As we worked through the difficulties that followed the sexual assault crisis, faith was, for me and for others, a source of comfort and strength. My actions were intended to offer encouragement to those that relied upon their faith, but I did not appreciate that encouraging some discouraged others. I believe in the uniqueness and potential of every cadet regardless of race, sex or religion and I would never intentionally do anything to discourage any of them. To the extent that my words and actions did that, I offer my sincere apology.

I have reflected on where I have fallen short and how I can do better. I am actively engaged with the faculty, staff, and cadet wing in making sure the entire team has the right sight picture in the area of religious respect. Also, I will work diligently with the senior leadership team to correct the findings and implement the recommendations of the Air Force Task Force. Working together with all of those who care about the academy, we will continue to make it one of the nation's premiere institutions.


The Forward
Friday 2 September 2005
(New York City, century-old newspaper for American Jewish community)

New Air Force Guidelines
for Religious Tolerance
Slammed by GOP Lawmaker


New U.S. Air Force guidelines for religious tolerance drew praise from some Jewish organizations but are being criticized by a Republican lawmaker.

The guidelines, issued Monday, say commanders should try to comply with religious accommodations for all airmen and women, and that senior airmen and women need to be sensitive to the fact that personal expressions of faith might be viewed as official statements.

The new regulations come amid reports from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., that members of religious minorities felt pressure to prioritize their military duties over religious observance and felt they were in an overtly Christian atmosphere. Chaplains at the school reportedly spoke of evangelizing the "unchurched," and the football coach made references to Jesus.

The guidelines were criticized by Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who suggested in May that the allegations of religious coercion at the Air Force academy amounted to "political correctness." Jones, who made the comment during a May 18 House Armed Services Committee hearing, told the Forward that the new guidelines suggested that the Air Force had yielded to liberals who backed legislative action.

"My concern is that it just seems like one assault after another on what I think are the Judeo-Christian values of America," Jones said. "I felt that the Air Force defended itself very well. But if they have made significant changes, then I think they are yielding to outside political pressure."

Jones introduced a bill July 27 that would protect prayer in military academies. The Military Academy First Amendment Protection Act, co-sponsored by Del. Madeleine Bordallo, a Democrat from Guam, ensures that military academies may offer voluntary, nondenominational prayers.

"This practice seems to meet reasonable standards of inclusion and does not seem to be disrespectful of any religion or those with no religious beliefs," Bordallo wrote to the Forward in an e-mail. "It would be regrettable if the military, which has its people in harm's way, did not allow for reasonable accommodations for the expression of spirituality."

The new Air Force guidelines, published August 29, are the culmination of a months-long investigation prompted by allegations of religious coercion in an April report by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based advocacy group. In outlining complaints from cadets --including a vocal Jewish cadet, Casey Weinstein -- the report described "systemic and pervasive" incidents of proselytizing and harassment of cadets by evangelical senior cadets and academy instructors at the Colorado Springs-based military academy.

On Tuesday, President Bush nominated a new superintendent of the Air Force Academy, Lt. Gen. John F. Regni.

The debate over the allegations has pitted some conservative Republicans, including Jones, against those who have called for legislative action to address the situation at the academy, including Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, who proposed an amendment that would have required the Air Force to submit a plan ensuring religious tolerance at the academy.

At the May 18 hearing, Rep. John Hostettler, an Indiana Republican, expressed disdain for the "mythical wall of church-state separation" and added that Israel's measures would "quash the religious expression of millions of service personnel."

On Tuesday, Israel dismissed criticism of the new guidelines. "Extremists will never be satisfied," Israel said. "I'm not surprised that extremists who have no problem compelling Air Force cadets to pray a certain way would have a problem with a commonsense Air Force report that enforces pluralism and tolerance in our military."

Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, praised the new guidelines.

In a related story, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Army has listed former military chaplain, Rabbi Jeffrey Goldman, as a deserter, though Goldman reportedly claims he left in 2002 for his native Canada after bearing the brunt of antisemitic harassment from Christian colleagues.


Wednesday 31 August 2005

(story by NY Times, headline from International Herald Tribune, Paris)

Don't promote religion,
air force is cautioned

By Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times

NEW YORK -- The U.S. Air Force has issued new religion guidelines to its commanders on that caution against promoting any particular faith - or even "the idea of religion over nonreligion" - in official communications or functions like meetings, sports events or ceremonies.

The guidelines discourage public prayers at official air force events or meetings other than worship services, one of the most contentious issues for many commanders.

But the guidelines allow for "a brief nonsectarian prayer" at special ceremonies like those honoring promotions, or in "extraordinary circumstances" that include "mass casualties, preparation for imminent combat and natural disasters."

The air force developed the guidelines after complaints from cadets at the Air Force Academy that evangelical Christian leaders were using their positions to promote their faith.

The new guidelines apply not just to the academy, but to the entire air force as well. They will be made final this year when air force generals meet and consider any recommendations they hear from their commanders.

"We support free exercise of religion, but we do not push religion," said Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, a navy veteran, who was hired this year as a special assistant to the secretary and chief of staff of the air force, and who helped write the guidelines.

He added, "I think many of the people I spoke to maybe should have known this already, but they were operating based on misperceptions."

He said that some air force members he had spoken with "mistakenly assumed" that because the military encourages "spiritual strength as a pillar of leadership," they were given license to promote strong belief in Christianity within the military.

Two Democrats in Congress who had criticized the Air Force Academy, Representative Steve Israel of New York and Representative Lois Capps of California, cautiously welcomed the guidelines.

Israel, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, "It's actually a refreshing acknowledgment by the air force that it had real problems that needed to be corrected; it's a good step forward."

However, one outspoken critic, Mikey Weinstein, a graduate of the academy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, said the guidelines meant nothing because the air force had refused to discipline officers who overstepped the boundaries.

"All this does is increase the level of confusion," Weinstein said.

The guidelines try to balance the constitutional requirement of free religious expression with limits on government endorsement of religion.

The guidelines say: "Supervisors, commanders and leaders at every level bear a special responsibility to ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed as either official endorsement or disapproval of the decisions of individuals to hold particular religious beliefs or to hold no religious beliefs."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Hey Anonymous -- thanks!

hmmmmmmmmmmmmm ... do you LIKE the nickname "Anonymous" (there's no reason why you shouldn't), or are you just too lazy to make up a more unique nickname? Can't you think about calling yourself FunkyBroadway? Or Clytemnestra if you're a female, or Maximillian if M, or something?

I went to your Western Civilization link ... now this isn't exactly a Warning or a Caution (I personally don't believe Electrons or Ones and Zeroes can hurt anybody) ... but Word No. 1 in the page title is OBJECTIVISM.

And that usually is the buzzword or codeword for the Belief/Philosophy System developed and championed by the Russian-born American novelist Ayn Rand.

Still fine & dandy with me ... I just want to get our cards on the table face up. Is this an Ayn Rand-ish site?

In radio interviews, when the subject of how to pronounce her first name would arise, she would yell: "It's AYN! as in SWINE!"

If your Objectivism is Ayn's Objectivism, uhhhh, come on back and Comment please about Ayn Rand, what you believe she believed and advocated, and if you think Gary Cooper was the right actor for "The Fountainhead."


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