USAFA Atheists Need Freedom to “Denigrate?”

Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers recently wrote an article with mixed praise and criticism for the US Air Force Academy’s religious climate.  Notably, he claimed the USAFA “freethinker” group had

been operating outside the Academy’s chaplain office due to misunderstandings of policy and intellectual freedom.

Apparently one of the problems was an explicit USAFA policy against “denigrating” other religions.  The issue?

The term “denigrating” seemed to prevent discussion of nearly anything related to atheism.

According to Torpy, the policy was modified to say

9. Leaders/volunteers agree not to denigrate other faith groups during meetings with cadets (this is not intended to restrict critical inquiry or healthy debate).

The “beef” appears to have been exceedingly academic, since “critical inquiry or healthy debate” had never been banned by the policy.  (Even Torpy phrases it as a “misunderstanding.”)

What is most interesting, of course, is the freethinkers’ perception they were unable to hold their meetings under a policy of ‘no denigration.’  Do they feel they have to denigrate other faiths when they meet together?

What happened to the atheist ‘celebration of reason?’  Does such a celebration require addressing other beliefs in a way that might be construed as denigration?

As said above, the distinction was ultimately academic.  Many USAFA cadets claim exclusive religious beliefs — like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.  (“Exclusive” because they believe only their own faith is true.)  While each of those religions can fellowship together without focusing on another faith, it is not inconceivable they expressed exclusive beliefs at some point.  That is, Islamic cadets may have expressed the sentiment atheists were infidels, or Christians may have expressed the belief Islam was a false religion.

Likewise, ‘freethinking’ cadets were always free to express their belief Christianity (or any other religion) is a myth.  What they cannot do (either before the policy “clarification” or now) is the same restriction as every other group:  they cannot denigrate other faith groups.

None of the members of any group can say cadets in other faith groups are stupid, irrational, believers in fantasy, fools, extremists, murderers, etc.  That doesn’t mean, nor has it ever meant, the groups could not express the tenets of their faith.  (Of course, atheism has neither tenets nor faith, which may be the source of Torpy’s concern.) 

This was likely rarely an issue before, simply because the religious groups’ intent when they fellowship together is not to sit around and talk about other beliefs — its to talk about their own.  The freethinkers implied they were unable to do the same.

Much of Torpy’s work with USAFA has been semantic and academic.  (Getting “the sky is blue” put into official policy achieves little.  His second point in the article, on “proselytism,” is precisely that.)  Much of what Torpy has done for military religious freedom has been negative, and the article displays some of the same hypersensitivity and inappropriate treatment of religious freedom voiced elsewhere.  Still, it is worth noting he is claiming progress because he is working with USAFA (including directly with the USAFA Chaplains). The article even includes some qualified praise. 

Meanwhile, Michael Weinstein is not only threatening to sue (again), but he’s also demanding the firing of leadership at USAFA.

The same leadership that’s working ‘positively’ with Torpy and his MAAF.

Torpy and Weinstein have stepped on each other’s toes before.

If Weinstein wasn’t already irrelevant, he would risk fast becoming the empty-worded, trash-talking second fiddle to Torpy.