USAFA Falcon Circle was “Right Thing to Do”

Update: Also repeated at

Don Branum of the US Air Force Academy wrote a comprehensive article entitled “Why building Falcon Circle was ‘right thing to do'”, referencing the outdoor chapel area dedicated for use by members of USAFA claiming an “earth-centered” faith.  The article appeared to respond to Associated Press reports USAFA had spent $80,000 on the facility for but a few cadets.  (It did not appear to be related to the report by Senator Coburn, which did not use the $80K figure.)

The article covers the history — the factual history — of both the cadet chapel and pagans in the US military in general.  In so doing, it naturally compares the Falcon Circle to the Cadet Chapel.

As noted previously, it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to directly compare the costs of one chapel with another.  For example, while the article says the famous USAFA chapel would have cost $25 million in today’s dollars, the chapel has served thousands of cadets and other military members and dependents; it is also repeatedly called the #1 manmade tourist attraction in the entire state of Colorado.  So while it is convenient to compare $50K to $25M, the situation is more complex.

Some of that complexity includes the fact, repeated in Branum’s article, that the Falcon Circle will serve more than the three cadets who currently call themselves pagans [emphasis added]:

Falcon Circle is not exclusively for Earth-Centered worship ceremonies:

Although the Academy’s Earth-Centered Spirituality group receives scheduling preference, any religious ceremonies can be held there, from Easter sunrise services to the Buddhist celebration of Bodhi Day to Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. The only stipulation is that the area be treated with the same respect as any of the Academy’s other chapels.

The history of the LZ — upon which the Falcon Circle was created — indicated some of those services may have been conducted there already.

Note, too, there are no “stipulations” on the content about which each faith group may pray, as was insinuated by the MRFF’s Chris Rodda.

Chaplain (Col) Robert Bruno — whom Michael Weinstein has previously demanded be court-martialed — is quoted defending the circle, even if it was used only by those three cadets:

“The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion does not just apply to the mainstream faith groups, e.g., Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox (or) Muslim,” Bruno said. “It also applies to atheists, secularists, freethinkers and those whose belief systems are usually classified under the umbrella term of ‘Earth-Centered Spirituality.'”

That’s an excellent answer explaining the US military’s support of the religious liberty of all of its members.  Unfortunately, Chaplain Bruno muddies the issue with his very next sentence:

“As a government institution … our constitutional charter in this matter is obligatory. A denial of constitutional rights to one threatens the constitutional rights of all.”

Until this point, no one has asserted the US Air Force Academy was obligated to create the pagan worship area, nor that the absence of one denied “constitutional rights” to anyone.  Even now, there is no reasonable indication the Academy was required to create the facility.  USAFA chose to create the circle as a proactive act of accommodation, which is perfectly acceptable.

To say it was required, however, would likewise require USAFA to provide unique facilities for every trio of cadets who expressed a distinct religious faith set.  The military simply doesn’t have the resources to provide that level of support, as indicated by the well-known fact it can’t even provide Chaplains for every major faith group to those who desire it.

US military chaplains “provide for their own, facilitate for others, and care for all.”  Similarly, the US military as an institution is not required — even Constitutionally — to provide a facility for every religious group.  It can protect the religious freedom of others by facilitating and caring for their spiritual requirements.

Despite these apparent criticisms, the article is generally one of the more unbiased reports to date on both the Falcon Circle and the environment of religious freedom in the US military.  For example, it notes the controversy in early 2010, when

someone had placed two railroad ties that were on the [new pagan] hilltop in the shape of a cross.

Academy officials investigated but could not determine the motive for the display. Was it intentional or accidental? The facts aren’t clear…

The article accurately notes there is little information upon which to draw conclusions over the incident, despite Michael Weinstein’s arrogant — and unproven — characterization of the incident as a a hate crime and the Christian cross as a “giant turd.”

After writing a fairly significant list of facts on paganism in the US military, Branum concludes by addressing the original question of the wisdom of creating the circle for a minority faith (emphasis original):

Why did the Air Force Academy build an “outdoor Stonehenge” for just a handful of cadets?

The Air Force Academy did it because it’s the right thing to do…The Academy did it because those cadets asked for nothing more than what some 80 percent of Americans take for granted: the freedom, as illustrated in Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Religion” war bonds painting, to worship “each according to the dictates of his own conscience.” And the Academy did it because they may one day be asked, as [pagan] Army Sgt. Patrick Stewart was asked, to give the last full measure of devotion.

While there remain valid concerns of precedent, from the perspective of religious liberty in the military, the creation of the circle is an admirable demonstration of support for even the smallest of faiths within the US military.

Some continue to cite years old claims of religious coercion of particular faiths within the military, and even at the US Air Force Academy.  Yet the military, and USAFA, keep proving otherwise.