Respect Healthy for Different Faiths, but Still Criticized
A few weeks ago, the Air Force Times solicited comments from its readers after noting the “improved religious climate” at the US Air Force Academy. They asked:
What do you think? Have you found the service and its members to be tolerant of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans and others who are not Christians?
It would appear, based on the most recent Air Force Times article, that the responses were largely positive. The article is entitled “Respect healthy for different faiths,” which seems to indicate a positive environment for “different faiths” within the Air Force.
Within the article, however, the author focuses on those who take issue with Christianity in the military, rather than the ‘healthy respect’ that is apparently evident. The article begins with the presumption of truth in claims that the culture of the Air Force causes an ‘assumption’ of Christianity:
A predominance of Christians in the Air Force creates an atmosphere that assumes all airmen are Christians, allowing prayers and other religious displays at everything from football games and holiday parties to commander’s calls and change-of-command ceremonies, according to non-Christian airmen interviewed by Air Force Times.
While there is a “predominance of Christians” in the United States and in its military, the presence of prayer is not inherently a Christian endeavor, and “religious displays” of other faiths are treated no differently than those of Christianity. The article’s opening statement is prejudicial and not entirely accurate.
The article then goes on to present criticisms of the Air Force’s religious atmosphere, using only the unsubstantiated opinions of Airmen. For example, after praising the military’s environment of tolerance, Air Force Reserve JAG Capt Omar Ashmawy, a Muslim, caveats his positive comments with a caution about an underlying threat:
Hostility, though, is “right below the surface,” Ashmawy said. “And [after] an event like Fort Hood…people who are inclined to discriminate against Muslims will do it.”
Neither the Air Force Times nor Ashmawy actually cites any examples of this “hostility,” however, even months after the massacre at Fort Hood. There is simply the uncontested presumption that there must be hostility against non-Christians, even if it never manifests itself.
What is most interesting is the “inappropriate religious” atmosphere that the Air Force Times cites, quoting military members. First, the AF Times says
The atmosphere that non-Christian airmen mentioned to Air Force Times manifests itself most often at public events–invocations, Christmas carols and the like.
As already stated, an invocation is not inherently Christian. And Christmas carols?
Next, they quoted an anonymous former Airman:
“The Air Force is laced with inappropriate religious display at commander’s calls, military formations and holiday gatherings…Airmen are force-fed religious jargon.
“I had many superiors over the years that were religious, and a few openly carried Bibles at work…Had they known I am agnostic, it would, I am sure, have affected their views of my annual performance ratings.
Again, the Air Force Times relies on vague, unsupported anecdotes. The only specific example of an “issue” is superiors who “openly carried Bibles at work,” though no one cites a rule that prohibits carrying religious books or says why one should exist.
The coup de grace of unsupported accusations against Christians and the military’s religious atmosphere, however, is the anonymous former Airman’s dramatic hypothetical. He assumes no one knew his religious beliefs, but is certain, absolutely certain, that it would “have affected” his career if his superiors had known. He gives no substantiating reason why he believes such a thing, nor does he provide any evidence to support an assertion that anything resembling it has ever happened. Intentionally or not, he denigrates both the Air Force and Christians without evidence to support his accusations.
The article serves no purpose other than to paint the Air Force religious atmosphere in a negative light, without providing any justification for doing so. It fails to demand evidence from those it interviewed, and it neglects to correct their quoted errors, leaving the incorrect perception that cited actions are wrong. For example, despite the former Airman’s complaint, there is nothing wrong with a superior officer “openly carrying” a Bible, Koran, Torah, or their copy of God is not Great.
The religious atmosphere, spiritual culture, and faith environment within not only the Air Force but also the US military as a whole is an admirable and open one, as has been shown here many times. There will absolutely be times when people of one belief system may feel uncomfortable with the military allowing the presence of another, but the ability of military members to exercise their religious freedom is at the heart of the American culture and its Constitutional protections.