USAFA Should Rescind Atheist’s Religious Respect Training Invite

A recent article on the US Air Force Academy Cadet Interfaith Council made a passing reference to an upcoming USAFA “religious respect conference” in November.  The purpose of the conference is reportedly to work on the cadet “religious respect” training program.  It seems this is the “next step,” following the respect training given to all basic trainees this past summer that was designed and developed by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.

Jason Torpy, a former Army Captain and current president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, recently announced on his website that he had been invited to the religious respect conference.

Broadly speaking, it is not at all unreasonable that an atheist would be invited to such a conference, as the military environment is one that favors no particular faith, or lack thereof.

Jason Torpy is an abysmal choice, however, and the Academy should rescind his invitation.

Torpy has actively worked against religious freedom in the military; he has misrepresented religious data in an official forum; and he lacks credibility to be used as an expert in any form.  Torpy is not an appropriate person to be helping develop curricula for officer candidates.

For example, Jason Torpy mischaracterized the conduct of Chaplains in Afghanistan and demanded their court martial, despite the fact they were directly supporting the religious freedom of American troops in combat.  Jason Torpy’s position is inconsistent with the DoD’s standards of religious respect and religious freedom in the military.

In addition, Torpy’s organization “affirms” that Chaplains will — and should — be restricted in the expression of their faith if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed.  He “wholeheartedly supports these restrictions” on their religious freedom.  Jason Torpy’s position is contrary to the stated position of the Department of Defense and is inconsistent with a support for religious respect and religious freedom in the US military.

In another shocking display, Torpy was also responsible for misrepresenting DMDC data in a briefing to White House staff.  The briefing categorically described military members who declared “no religious preference” as “non-theists,” despite demonstrable evidence to the contrary.  This grossly distorted the statistics and seemed to indicate “non-theists” made up 23.4% of the military, rather than the declared 0.5%.  When questioned, he defended the analysis.  His rationale?  Religious people with “any measurable faith” wouldn’t choose that option; therefore, he could interpret the data as he saw fit. (Torpy has apparently “offered” to provide USAFA with the MAAF analysis for this conference.)  Jason Torpy’s selective manipulation of data to promote a personal agenda is inconsistent with the high standards required of a person who will influence an officer candidate training program.

Finally, there’s the question of credibility.  Apparently the Air Force Academy provided Torpy with read-aheads in preparation for the conference.  He posted that information, and his comments, to his website.  Some of his comments were valid and helpful; some of it was predictably biased, displaying his propensity to focus on “establishment” over “exercise,” and an apparent (if misguided) emphasis on cadets as “government actors.”

Most interesting, however, was Torpy demonstrating he may need to attend the training, not vet it.  The training is “situation based” and relies on several example scenarios.  Here’s one:

Lisa wears a cross under her uniform. On the obstacle course one day the cross slips outside her uniform and a commander (or teacher) says, “What’s that? That’s not regulation.” Lisa apologizes and says she’ll tuck it back into her shirt. The commander (or teacher) says, “No, you need to take it off; you can’t wear it.”

Torpy’s feedback:

This should be a bit more clear. Is it a shiny gold cross or a matte, regulation cross? Is it on a jewelry chain or attached to the ID tags. The approach might be softer in any case, but clarifying whether it is or is not out of regulation might help to focus the discussion on the religious issue rather than commenting on the regulations.

In this case, Torpy demonstrates a blatant ignorance of the regulations. For most civilians, that would be understandable.  But Torpy presents himself as a subject matter expert, and he seriously undermines his credibility with this confusing critique.

Shiny or matte?  Seriously?  The regulations say nothing remotely resembling what Torpy implies.

More confusingly, Torpy indicates the focus should be on “the religious issue rather than…the regulations.”  The point of this exercise is to understand the “religious issue” in light of the regulations.  Torpy falls all over himself in an exercise for college students in a curriculum he’s been invited to help developWithout a demonstrated expertise in some relevant subject matter, it is unclear why Torpy was invited at all.

[To learn more about this scenario, and to figure out what Torpy couldn’t, click here.]

As an academic institution, the Air Force Academy may have reason to bring in controversial personalities from time to time.  However, this conference isn’t a “perspective broadening” academic situation — it is developing a curriculum that will influence far-reaching (and already controversial) cadet training on religious issues in the military.  Nothing above recommends Torpy for that role.

To date, Jason Torpy has shown little respect for religion or religious freedom in the military.  He has neither credentials nor credibility on this topic, and he should not be used as a resource for developing training materials for Academy cadets.

The Air Force Academy should rescind Jason Torpy’s invitation immediately.

There is nothing wrong with the Academy seeking input from an atheist for this program development — but Torpy is the wrong man.

In his place, USAFA can invite an atheist who supports the religious freedom of American troops and has the integrity and credibility to support that position.  The US military has disinvited others (Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham) who would have had far less influence in their invited role than Torpy would here, developing a training program for officer candidates.  He should be added to that list with no less fanfare.