USAFA Inspires Religious Respect, MRFF Inspires Cadet Disrespect

The US Air Force Academy is holding a Religious Respect Conference this week, inviting “religious and First Amendment advocacy groups” to meet with cadets and chaplains on the topics of religious tolerance and dignity.

On the topic of training in religious respect, the Academy had a noble goal for its future officers:

“The…goal is teaching an ethic of respect regardless of who people are, whether they follow one faith or another faith or no faith at all,” said Chaplain (Col.) Robert Bruno…”What we are trying to teach is a fundamental ethic of respect. We recognize the inherent dignity of every human being…”
“We agree to disagree agreeably, civilly, respectfully, professionally,” he said.

On accommodation, Jewish Chaplain (Maj) Joshua Narrowe made an excellent point:  Individuals have the responsibility to request accommodation.  The DoD can’t preemptively address every possible scenario.

“The important learning lesson is this: When we had class on Saturdays, I couldn’t do anything,” Narrowe said. “I didn’t make a move — because who am I requesting religious accommodations for? Is it for me, or is it for the cadets? I had to wait for cadets to come to me and say, ‘Rabbi, I have [class on] Jewish Shabbat, can you help?'”

In short, USAFA seems to have excellent concepts in place for preparing its future officers to lead in the US Air Force.

However, Michael Weinstein — perennial critic of both religious freedom and USAFA — took issue:

The United States Air Force Academy has deliberately planned and marketed this ignominious propaganda travesty, which they disingenuously call a ‘Religious Respect Conference’, in a blatantly stealth and mean-spirited, exclusivist manner which reeks of bigoted travesty and blatant betrayal of good faith and inclusive diversity.

What the thesaurus-challenged pontificator was trying to say was atheists weren’t invited this year, something fellow atheist critic Jason Torpy had already pointed out, albeit with slightly fewer adjectives.  (Torpy was (questionably) invited to the last event.)

The issue of atheists is complicated somewhat by the fact atheism is not a recognized religion.  To that point, atheists have occasionally been prevented from obtaining access to chapel resources — because if they are granted access, the chapel may be forced to grant access to every non-religious group, which exceeds the mandate and resources of the chaplaincy.  In addition, granting atheists such access can imply a governmental position that does not exist.  In short, USAFA knows its obligations to treat atheists with respect, but not as a religion.

Not everyone agrees, as someone explained after USAFA “freethinkers” were invited at the last minute:

Its such poor form the way the chaplaincy carried this out…It’s shameful and something desperately needs to be done about the chaplaincy…I’m appaled [sic] by the hypocrisy I see everyday within our chaplain core [sic]. They are snakes in the grass whispering about how to monopolize the academy atmoshpere [sic] like they did in years past. Calling it diverse because they include an individual buddhist, jew, or muslim [sic] into their christian dominated talks is a despicable facade. For the few people (Chaplains) who are apparently qualified to directly advise commanders on questions of morale, ethics and general welfare I can think of no I [sic] trust less. Brantingham and Bruno are lying through their teeth about inclusiveness and this RRC event is the perfect example of that. I’ve had enough.

That comment smells strongly of Michael Weinstein’s vitriol, but it lacks his alliterative appellations and gratuitous use of adjectives.

That comment didn’t come from an external critic.  It came from a self-identified USAFA cadet.

Cadet “Z-Bo” stepped out in grandiose fashion.  The objective of the conference is to discuss USAFA efforts on respect — yet this cadet can’t even show the respect required of him for an officer.  The very regulation for which Michael Weinstein claimed credit — AFI 1-1 — says

You are personally responsible for what you say and post on social networking services and any other medium. Regardless of the method of communication used, Air Force standards must be observed at all times, both on and off-duty.

While Chaplains may lack command authority, they still merit respect for their rank and position.  It is wholly inappropriate (and potentially punishable) for a cadet — or anyone else, quite frankly — to call them “snakes in the grass” and liars.  That doesn’t mean he has to agree, but as Chaplain Bruno aptly said, “we need to disagree…professionally.”

But this is what Michael Weinstein inspires.  Weinstein is the quintessential playground bully who resorts to namecalling and character attacks when things don’t go his way.  He’s free to do that, however, because he’s a civilian.  Cadet Z-Bo, on the other hand, has at least a few years of military service in front of him and needs to have learned a little better over his time at USAFA.  Guess who he’ll have to work with when he graduates in a few months?  Not just those “snakes,” but other officers, enlisted troops, even civilians with whom he might have a variety of disagreements.  It looks like the cadet could have benefited from some of that respect training and a little remedial training on military protocol.  Instead, he’s taken on the mantle of the vitriol of Weinstein. 

So, on one hand, you have the US Air Force Academy trying to teach 4,000 future officers mutual respect, their obligations as military officers, and the character they’ll need to serve in a religiously diverse environment both within the military and even in combat.

On the other hand, you have the mantra of Michael Weinstein — who wants bloodied noses, heads on pikes, and seems to advocate calling others bigots and liars to no end but his own mean-spiritedness and self-aggrandizement.

Who do you think has the best interests of future US military leaders at heart?

Incidentally, if, as a cadet, you’re going to insult a Colonel — who has more years of military service than you do years of life — you might want to consider how many identifying details you choose to give.


  • It’s true that Weinstein and Z-Bo might have found more respectful ways to disagree. It’s possible that this was not the sinister or thoughtless insult that MRFF thinks it was.

    Still, there is a track record among opponents of religious freedom in the US that makes MRFF’s concerns valid. There has been complicity between the GOP and conservative Christian leaders to deceive the American people on a number of issues, with the shared goal of increasing conservative power at the expense of religious freedom. During the Bush years, the benign-sounding National Day of Prayer became a propaganda tool for politically powerful evangelical Christians. Faith-based initiatives were used to funnel tax dollars to conservative religious groups without much in the way of oversight. GOP leaders refuse to support science whenever it disagrees with evangelical dogma. Now we have the Catholic Church leadership joining with Congressional Republicans to lie about the health care bill in an effort to unseat a president. If these acts had been committed by Muslims or Democrats, you would be outraged. I don’t think you realize it’s even happening, because you as a Christian military man are never in the “out group.”

  • “the Catholic Church leadership joining with Congressional Republicans to lie about the health care bill.”

    OK, Skeptic…what exactly is the lie? The Department of Health and Human Services has written regulations to implement the Affordable Health Care Act that require employers to purchase health insurance policies that cover the costs of contraceptives, with no conscience clause for either religious or secular moral objections. Multiple religious and secular institutions are filing lawsuits against HHS to stay these regulations as abridgments of their First Amendment religious liberties.

  • Pingback: God and Country » USAFA Religious Training Gets Positive Reviews, could go AF-Wide

  • That’s a reasonable question, but one that suggests you have not been paying attention. There have been several lies from Catholic Bishops and leaders on this issue alone.

    They have said this is a religious freedom issue, when there are exemptions for religious organizations.

    They have also claimed this is proof of an Obama war on religion, but they do not accuse Romney of a war on religion when his own health care bill had a similar requirement. They also never said there was a war on religion when 27 other states made similar requirements. Nor have they said it was a religious freedom issues when many insurance companies refused to offer coverage that doesn’t include birth control coverage.

    They are also disingenuous to claim that the church cares about religious freedom, when they are in fact trying to deny freedoms to women based on the leadership’s own religious views.

    Catholic bishops have also assured the public that the issue isn’t about contraception, but they back this up by claiming that birth control is ubiquitous and inexpensive, which it is not.

    Over and over, we see indications that the Catholic leaders are conducting a campaign in order to support their allies in the Republican Party, and that it has nothing to do with actual, legitimate concerns.

  • I’m confused. Are you suggesting the M Weinstein is somehow responsible for an individual cadet’s opinions and public comments about the USAFA Chaplaincy? You’ll need to back this claim up.

    Regarding the cadet’s comments, I’m curious as to why you didn’t address them directly? You focused on how he was wrong to say the things he said publicly – and that he might/should get in trouble for doing so – but regarding what he said… was he wrong? For example, is there a reasonable basis for his claim that the chaplaincy has a hidden agenda aimed at “monopolizing the academy atmosphere” (presumably to promote a Christian agenda)? He makes specific reference to similar problems “from years past”. Is this valid? Is this still going on at USAFA? What about his claim that Chaplains are not trustworthy on “questions of morale, ethics and general welfare” – does he have a point?

    For my part I’m going to give the kid the benefit of the doubt and grant him some credibility on these issues. He’s in the trenches, living with this every day. I’m guessing his views have validity (regardless of his alleged need for “respect training and a little remedial training on military protocol”).

  • @wiseclam

    Are you suggesting…

    No suggestion is necessary. The position stated is quite clear.

    why you didn’t address them directly?

    What is there to address? Contrary to your interpretation, there is nothing specific in the comment. It is little more than vague insinuations, unsupported accusations, and personal attacks. Claiming the sky is green and someone is a bad person does not merit a response.

    By contrast, a cadet who actually attended the event took precisely the opposite position, and he actually had demonstrable facts to support his statements. Would you guess his views have validity?

  • @MESkeptic
    No, MESkeptic, I’m asking because you dismiss the objections of the Catholic Church and other religious institutions specifically as a lie, but without any evidence to support your claim. You do not identify the specific actors or their specific statements, you do not clearly show them to be false, and you do not further show that the actors have an intent to mislead. Your assertion is not supported by the facts.

    Although the HHS regulations implementing the ACA may have a fig-leaf exemption for “religious institutions,” this exemption is applied to a very narrow class of institutions. It excludes many religious charity organizations, para-church organizations, and religious educational institutions. More importantly, it denies the religious freedoms of individual private employers, as if the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment applied only to “religious institutions,” and not to individual American citizens.

    See the following excerpt from a fact sheet by Alliance Defending Freedom:

    “Exemptions for Religious Organizations to the HHS Mandate (Group Health Plans Final Regulation)

    “ The HHS Mandate only allows an organization to be exempt if it meets all of the following (1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a church, religious order, or integrated auxiliary thereof under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code
    (HHS Mandate Pg. 2)

    “ Any religious organization that is not formally a church, congregation or religious order is deemed not religious at all under this exemption. (HHS Mandate Pg. 2)

    “ Any religious school or charity that serves people of other faiths is not exempt because it does not meet the requirements (a Christian soup kitchen, a Catholic school, etc.) Even some churches are not exempt if they are too focused on serving people besides themselves. (HHS Mandate Pg. 2)

    “ Any organization must refuse to significantly hire people of other beliefs to meet this exemption. This invites government bureaucrats to become entangled in religious matters by deciding whether employees are sufficiently aligned with a religious organization’s tenets. For example, it is unclear whether the exemption would apply to a denominational organization that hires Christians of other denominations. (HHS Mandate Pg. 2, 4)

    “ The president finalized this rule “without change.” His public suggestions of a “compromise” do not change this rule, do not propose to rescind the narrow definition of religious entity, and would still require religious groups and businesses to directly provide access to objectionable coverage. (HHS Mandate Pg. 1, 5, 6)”


  • “The position stated is quite clear”. OK. And nothing to back it up. Noted.

    Regarding your reply about Cadet Z-Bo’s comments… So a Muslim cadet has a positive experience and reports having felt a sense of inclusiveness and support from the Cadre/Chaplaincy during BCT. Another cadet seems to have had a different experience (in general) but more specifically reports that he feels that the event in question was “christian dominated”. In light of what we know about how the Academy has struggled with this issue (Christian dominance) in the past – which Cadet Z-Bo also notes for context – shouldn’t we pay attention? The past track record of the Chaplaincy in this area is well established. Perhaps there is evidence of progress but I’m inclined to raise an eyebrow when anyone makes the suggestion that some of the same old problems are still around. Especially if the suggestion comes from a cadet who describes the problem in terms of “…the hypocrisy I see everyday within our chaplain core”. Dismissing this kind of commentary is precisely what got the Academy in trouble in the first place!

    And this would be a good time to raise an obvious point… If you are lauding the Academy for making such remarkable strides in the area of religious respect and freedom don’t you have to credit the hated M Weinstein for pushing to make this happen? It’s a bitter pill for you to swallow, but if you’re going to take the position that the Academy is in a much better place in the realm of religions tolerance and freedom (referencing quotes from Muslims and Rabbi’s no less!) you’re at least indirectly – if not directly – crediting the one guy who most stridently demanded such change.

  • @wiseclam

    If you are lauding the Academy for making such remarkable strides…

    While some of the participants may have done so, no one here has said anything about the “strides” of USAFA. The description of the religious environment is laudable — but it has been that way for some time, including before Weinstein began his fundraising.

    In fact, USAFA has an environment of religious freedom in spite of Weinstein, not because of him. Remember, Weinstein has explicitly called for actions that would restrict the religious liberties of cadets — only because he disagreed with their particular beliefs.

    The participants in the conference specifically praised USAFA for not creating an environment hostile to religious belief and discussion — which is the very environment Weinstein seems to want.

  • @JD

    Your two replies to me in this exchange have both ignored the central point. Not that long ago Christian evangelical extremists, with the support of the institution’s leaders, created an environment that was hostile to religious freedom. Should we not pay attention to the comments of a cadet who reminds us of this scandalous circumstance?

    This young man writes: “Calling it diverse because they include an individual buddhist, jew, or muslim into their christian dominated talks is a despicable facade.” Further, he states that “hypocrisy” is at play in the Chaplaincy.

    Isn’t it possible that there is a thread of truth to his claims? In light of recent history shouldn’t you be an advocate for exploring this further, not suppressing it?

  • @wiseclam

    the central point…Christian evangelical extremists…

    Your “central point” is based on a false premise. You might consider reading the official Air Force take on the matter.

    …not suppressing it?

    You protest too much. Who has suggested any form of suppression?

  • Secretsquid,

    Are you honestly saying that I need to provide specific quotes from church leaders to confirm that they’ve claimed Obama is hostile to religion? I shouldn’t have to prove what you already know. Likewise, that Congress held hearings on women’s health care that included only male witnesses, most of whom were Catholic. That this issue didn’t arise in the 28 states that already had similar requirements, but only when a Democratic President included it in part of the health care plan. That the insurance companies support the requirment because ultimately it saves them money? No church funds have to go toward financing birth control, and that was part of the compromise you say didn’t happen.

    I’m not asking you to agree with my world view, but don’t you have any obligation to consider that the right wing propaganda website you quoted might have an agenda that overrules their concern for the facts?

  • @JD

    OK then. I’ll assume your answer is that you see no need to explore this cadet’s comments and that you are comfortable dismissing them – or worse, intimidating him for having made them.

    Speaking of which, you provided an image in the original post that shows a portion of the member list from the USAFA Freethinkers private group. What were your intentions here? From the outside this looks like a petty jab. At a kid, no less.

  • @MESkeptic

    That was not your claim. You asserted as follows:

    “we have the Catholic Church leadership joining with Congressional Republicans to lie about the health care bill in an effort to unseat a president.”

    The critiques of conservatives and Christian organizations, including the Catholic Church, that the HHS mandates that require all employers to include coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance benefits packages trample the religious liberties of Catholics and others are factually accurate. The “religious exemption” proposed by Democrats is flawed for a multitude of reasons, the most important being that is so narrowly defined that it assumes that only churches and “religious orders” are entitled to religious freedom, and not individuals.

    You accused conservative and Christian critics of the ACA and the HHS mandates of lying about the bill (which is frankly a ludicrous line of attack–why question the motives of critics, when you’re obviously willing to grant that the underlying conflict is a values/worldview difference). You said they were merely “lying” to “unseat the President.” I challenged you to prove it. You haven’t done that. This isn’t a question of worldview…this is a question of facts. Put up or shut up.

    BTW, none of your red-herring arguments are particularly convincing, either. Contraceptives are cheap–no one really needs to have the cost of contraceptives covered in a risk pool the same way they need to have the costs of accident hospitalization covered. We might as well mandate insurance companies to cover the cost of toothpaste. Covering contraceptives does not save insurance companies money; they are a recurring cost for consumers who purchase them, and if covered the cost would be paid by insurance premiums — insurance companies have to balance their accounts just like any other corporation. Costs are always passed along to customers. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

    Critics of the HHS mandate are not lying. They’re fighting to preserve their religious liberty under the First Amendment.