Jewish USAFA Cadets Defend Religious Atmosphere

Two USAFA Chaplains and two cadets recently attended the 116th Jewish War Veterans Convention to brief the US Air Force Academy’s religious respect program and give “insight into the life of a Jewish cadet.”

Jewish Chaplain (Maj.) Joshua Narrowe and Protestant Chaplain (Capt.) Shawn Menchion represented the Academy’s Chaplain Corps at the convention. Cadet 2nd Class Jolie Grossman from Cadet Squadron 23 and Cadet 3rd Class David Harris from CS 11 also attended to provide their perspective as cadets.

Within the article Chaplain Narrowe made an observation many seem to forget:  The Academy is a college, and it draws 18-year-olds from all corners of the American society.  USAFA then has to train them — and they get a whole six weeks before they enter the cadet wing.

The Academy itself has a wide variety of programs to support the religious freedom of its cadets:

The Academy offers a variety of programs to accommodate services and discussion groups for all walks of faith, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and members of Earth-Centered religions. Chaplains encourage interfaith discussions among cadets and provide opportunities for cadets to learn and grow from regular interactions with people whose faiths they may never before have encountered.

The article does express one unique, and potentially questionable, sentiment regarding the military and religion:

“The training is not only designed to introduce cadets to new religions and faiths, but to teach receptiveness and having an open mind to other faith religions and beliefs,” [Chaplain] Menchion said.

“Receptiveness” and an “open mind” may not be appropriate words with regard to the military’s treatment of religion.  For example, while some religions are by nature “open” to the ideas of other faiths, the world’s three major Abrahamic religions are all “exclusive” religions.  Therefore, being receptive, or “willing to consider or accept new [religious] ideas,” is antithetical to those religions.  Even atheists would likely object to being trained to be “receptive” to (any) religion.

For the military to try to train religious “receptiveness” into its members would likely (even if unintentionally) undermine the religious freedom of some of its troops.  Perhaps the Chaplain’s wording was less than articulate.  It may also simply be a bridge too far in trying to describe how “positive” the religious atmosphere is at USAFA.

In any case, one can have respect for a person’s right to have certain beliefs without being “receptive” or “open minded” to those beliefs — also known as respecting their right to be wrong.  That is what is required.

Both Jewish cadets expressed — in strong terms — support for the USAFA religious environment.

From Cadet Grossman:

“Throughout basic training and my time as a cadet, I haven’t been treated any differently than a Christian would be,” Grossman said. “I have been allowed to miss training events in order to attend services and allowed to leave campus to observe holidays because the Academy recognizes that religion helps people get through tough times.”

She went on to share some of her experiences at the Academy, such as being selected as the master of ceremonies for a Holocaust luncheon and traveling to Israel with U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen and U.S. Military Academy cadets.

Cadet Harris:

Harris explained that the Academy does [have] a “zero-tolerance policy on being intolerant” and said he felt positive about his experiences as a Jewish cadet.

“I have never been approached by someone who has attempted to sway my beliefs,” Harris said. “So where is the unwelcoming environment of anti-Semitism that I was warned about? In my opinion, it doesn’t exist…”

“In my experience, the atmosphere of the Academy is one of respect for everyone. And I am proud to say that I am indeed a Jewish cadet at the United States Air Force Academy,” he said.

Its worth pointing out that being “approached by someone” attempting to change a person’s beliefs is not categorically prohibited (nor “anti-Semitic”), but the cadet’s point is taken.

The strongly worded statements seem clearly aimed at the sometime “misperception” of the religious environment at USAFA — for which Michael Weinstein’s continuous invective (and multiple failed lawsuits) are likely largely responsible.

Apparently Cadets Grossman and Harris haven’t been in-processed to the MRFF dogma that Christians are trying to take over the world.

Good for them.  It seems the Air Force Academy not only has an environment supportive of religious freedom, but it also has a few mature and level-headed cadets, contrary to implications cadets aren’t adults capable of standing up for their beliefs or making informed decisions.

Wonder how long until someone from the MRFF tries to minimize or dismiss (or eliminate) the cadets’ statements, as they so clearly contradict the Weinstein narrative.

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