Air Force Academy Religious Climate “Improving”
Religious tolerance has improved dramatically since allegations five years ago that evangelical Christians harassed cadets who didn’t share their faith.
The article even quotes critic Michael Weinstein, who sued the Air Force for incidents at the Academy, agreeing with the assessment:
This is the first time we feel positive about things there.
While the initial complaints were that the Air Force was foisting Christianity on its cadets, the Air Force investigation instead determined that the situation was far simpler: cadets of minority faiths did not feel appropriately accommodated as was permissible under military regulations. Thus, the Air Force addressed those accommodation concerns:
Academy commanders say the school has started to seek out the religious needs of its cadets and accommodate them, instead of waiting for cadets to ask. For example, a Cadet Interfaith Council with about 20 members helps identify upcoming religious holidays so schedules can be adjusted around them, when possible.
“There’s been a huge shift,” said Maj. Joshua Narrowe, an academy chaplain. “Previously, if somebody wanted to have special (religious) needs taken care of … that cadet had to petition. That was often denied.
“The default answer now is, ‘Yes, go ahead,'” Narrowe said.
While creating that environment is admirable, hopefully the Air Force Academy will still teach its cadets to ask for religious accommodation, both for themselves and their subordinates, when the situation requires. Within the fishbowl of USAFA, with its 4,000 cadets, such policies can be sustained. Within the military as a whole, it is unreasonable to believe that every Chaplain will be able to keep track of every individual servicemember’s religious needs without their input.
Gould displayed an admirable perspective on the religious environment within the military:
“It’s not that you can’t serve (in the military) and have a strong faith. Rather it’s about creating an environment where respect, regardless of one’s faith, is the most important thing,” said Gould, who describes himself as a Christian who attends church regularly.
Ironically, Weinstein “credits Gould for the turnaround.” Weinstein has previously refused to defend Gould–whose mantra is “faith, family, fitness“–from attacks by MRFF ally Jeff Sharlet claiming that he “forced” the teachings of Rick Warren on his subordinates. Nor is there any indication that the allegations Weinstein raised in his lawsuit against the Air Force, which asserted that the Air Force Academy “[imposed] evangelical Christianity,” have been addressed.
That said, Weinstein deserves credit for admitting that the religious climate at the Air Force Academy could ‘improve’–even though his lawsuit was dismissed and his allegations went unrequited.
For those with a slightly bigger picture, the situation may be far simpler: Since the initial “scandal” in 2005, one whole class has risen from matriculation to graduation. Thus, every cadet at the Air Force Academy now lives in the post-“scandal” culture. That, more than anything, likely shapes the activities at USAFA today.
Finally, in an interesting quote, Gould even took the time to compliment Weinstein’s actions:
“I think there are some real benefits to the message he has out,” Gould said.
Such a statement makes one wonder if Gould knows what Weinstein’s message actually is.