Buddhist Military Chapel “Represents Tolerance”

National Public Radio (NPR) recently reported that the Buddhist Chapel at the Air Force Academy, a room in the lower floors of the iconic Cadet Chapel, “represents tolerance” of beliefs at within the military institution.

The Buddhist hall within the Chapel has actually been in use for years (it was even renovated in 2007) so it is unclear why NPR is covering the story now.  However, they do provide several quotes that indicate the religious climate at the Air Force Academy has “improved” from the public perceptions of intolerance several years ago:

According to current and recently graduated cadets, the religious climate has improved substantially since then.

Tanner Faulkner, an 18-year-old student attending the prep school at the academy, says he feels encouraged to explore his religious curiosity.

“They let us know, ‘We have this available for you, and it is possible for you to go to different services, whether you’re Jewish faith or Buddhist or Christian or whatever,’ ” Faulkner says.

Sophomore cadet Dan Dwyer says his fellow cadets seem to have respect for his religion.

“People wonder where I go every Wednesday,” Dwyer says. “I tell them I go to the Buddhist service, and it’s just more of a curiosity rather than judgment.”

Sarah Bender is the Buddhist program leader at the Air Force Academy…[She] says the academy is now a place where cadets and staff are free to practice any religion they choose.

A local article highlighting the 2007 renovation noted that the Academy had hired Buddhist leaders since at least 1999, and that Academy military faculty had even facilitated the religious observances during a year lapse in the position.

Interestingly, this occurred during the height of the “religious intolerance” scandal at the Academy, though no one complained that the Buddhist faculty members were improperly influencing their students–even though some went to the services as a direct result of those teachers’ influences.

The article calls the Buddhist hall the “only Buddhist Chapel” in the military.  It is possible they may believe it is the only dedicated Buddhist hall, since most military bases have multi-faith facilities where all religions meet at different times.  Only the military academies and a few larger bases have sufficient facilities to support giving different religious faiths dedicated facilities.

The 2007 renovation was paid for by the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, the namesake of which is a somewhat controversial figure.