Group Complains of Religious Training at Lackland AFB

A group of trainees at the US Air Force basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, was photographed in a religious training event that has raised the ire of a religious watchdog.

On the first Sunday in August a representative of Harun Yahya was allowed, following an invitation from the Muslim chaplain at Lackland, Captain Sharior Rahman, to present two classes: a morning one on “The Collapse of Darwinism and the Fact of Creation” and an evening one covering “Miracles in the Qur’an.”

Dr. Timothy Furnish of Family Security Matters has made it his purpose in life to track the “mahdi movement” (loosely paraphrased, the messianic side of Islam), of which Harun Yahya is a part.  Furnish obtained photographs of basic trainees sitting through a class on these Islamic studies: 

[Furnish] contacted the Public Affairs Officer (PAO) at Lackland and, in summary, was told the following: that such “religious education” classes are provided every weekend from “other” faith perspectives (Latter Day Saints, Buddhists, Pentecostals) besides the main ones (Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Eastern Orthodox); that these are entirely voluntary; that the “program chaplain…was aware of and approved of the speaker.”

Furnish says the group is peaceful and open about their beliefs; his concerns seem to center on the coercive environment of basic training.  To wit:

1) The whole question of something being “voluntary” in basic training is debatable…All it would take for these “voluntary” Sunday morning classes to become rather more compulsory would be for a T.I. to suggest that anyone not attending Christian chapel services find something productive to do—or spend extra time shining brass or doing KP (kitchen patrol) duty while their mates are at church. Given such a choice, agnostic trainees might very well opt for the Islam classes.

He does mention the classes were not “general classes on Islam” but “sect- or cult- specific classes on highly charged topics.”  He expresses concern that while the military does find religious support even for minority faiths, it does not have to “recruit” for other faiths using the influence of the basic training environment, including distributing Korans to other higher ranking military members.  The photos do seem to show an unusually large number of attendees for the classes, compared to the statistical representation of Muslims in the US military.  Furnish draws the conclusion that

The Air Force, at least at Lackland, is thus allowing Islamic proselytizing among non-Muslim Air Force trainees (and possibly higher ranking permanent party).

Perhaps most interesting, however, was Furnish’s final critique:

Where is the inimitable Mikey Weinstein on this issue? The anti-Christian fulminations of him and his group, the Orwellian-named “Military Religious Freedom Foundation,” just recently intimidated the command at Vandenberg Air Force base into dropping just war classes for officers because they dared include the Bible. One would think this case would set him salivating.

But Mr. Weinstein seems to view Christianity as the only First Amendment threat to our military, alas.  What would be his response if a Christian group were to give out Bibles to non-Christians, as Oktar’s Muslim representative gave Qur’ans to non-Muslims? Mikey would be calling for the unit commander and probably the entire chain-of-command to be crucified.

Furnish closes with a fairly strongly worded accusation:

As it is, Lackland Air Force base is in the business of promoting Islam in general, and the Mahdi in particular, over the faith of the vast majority of military personnel (73% of Air Force enlisted are Christian; 0.2% are Muslim).  And that should be unacceptable to all Americans.

Whether Furnish’s characterizations are entirely correct is debatable.  If, indeed, there were a variety of religious education opportunities, and trainees voluntarily attend these classes (even to get out of other menial tasks or to avoid the Christian classes), there is little basis for criticism.

Unlike Michael Weinstein’s common characterization, military members (including trainees) are generally adults capable of making competent decisions about their personal lives.  (It’s true a few do require parental permission to join due to their age.)  They are no more likely to be brainwashed by an Islamic religious education class than they are to be won over by the Baptist potluck.  And yes, Christian groups have been accused of ‘enticing converts’ out of military training environments by providing pizza and ice cream.  Chris Rodda called this “conversion by temptation.”

Even Furnish admits that while he takes some issue with the tenets of the sect’s faith, it is more the “access” to trainees with which he takes umbrage (something the MRFF also complains about when the military allows Christian organizations “access”).  However, the US military accommodates the free exercise of religion to the extent it can without interfering with the mission.  The decision by the Lackland AFB religious coordinators to make this particular religious leader available to the trainees neither endorses nor favors that religious belief.

While not all of the facts are clearly known (nor will they likely ever be), if the Public Affairs’ (reasonable) characterization of the situation was accurate, the religious education class on Islam was entirely permissible.

Still, it is somewhat entertaining to read Furnish’s final point, because he’s entirely correct.  Replace “Islam” with “Christian” in this “scandal,” and Michael Weinstein would have been demanding the head of the Chaplain and every leader up to the top of Air Force’s training command over what Chris Rodda probably would have called extremist Christian “indoctrination.”

But his silence is understandable, because “religious freedom” isn’t really Michael Weinstein’s bailiwick.

3 comments

  • Ummmm … JD, a Muslim speaker preaching about creationism in the setting of a Muslim chapel group is no different than a Christian speaker or chaplain preaching about creationism in the setting of a Christian worship service or chapel Bible study. Either can promote creationism as a religious doctrine in such a setting. Now, if this Muslim speaker was brought in to promote creationism in, say, a suicide prevention presentation at a mandatory commander’s call that service members were forced to attend, as, for example, a Christian chaplain did at RAF Lakenheath, then MRFF would take exactly the same action we did when that happened. But that was not the case here. It is you who are calling this “Muslim training event.” Would you call a a chapel Bible study a “Christian training event?”

  • @Chris Rodda

    Muslim speaker preaching about creationism…

    Interesting how you repeatedly cite creationism when that isn’t the topic at hand. Nice effort, but the parry was unsuccessful.

    Quote fail, by the way. The words “Muslim training event” occur no where in the article above. Dr. Furnish’s article implies these “religious education” classes are more than mere “Bible studies” — thus, the descriptor of a “religious training event.” In fact, the organizers specifically described it as a “conference” similar to the “hundreds” of other similar ones they’ve put on; it was aimed at (and given to) non-Muslim servicemembers. There is no indication this was a “worship service” in any sense of the term.

    As Dr. Furnish implies, the MRFF has previously taken issue with a Christian sermon in a Christian chapel given to Christian members of the US military who were there to practice their faith, and the MRFF has criticized the military for the “coercion” of being allowed to go to Christian events during training. If the MRFF was intellectually consistent, it would find fault here, too.

    Actually, if Weinstein was intellectually consistent he would defend religious freedom, but everyone already understands that self-contradiction.

    If the publicly available facts are accurate, there is nothing wrong with this event — just like there is nothing wrong with the similarly-situated Christian events that go on as well.

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