Petition Calls on USAFA to Protect Religious Freedom

A petition sponsored by the Family Research Council and the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition garnered more than 100,000 signatures before it was delivered to the US Air Force Academy last week.

The petition seems nobly intended:

The petition calls on the Air Force Academy to protect the First Amendment rights of cadets, after a recent incident in which a cadet was censored for writing a Bible verse on a white board outside of his dorm room.

and its text calls for USAFA to “protect the religious expression” of cadets:

Recently, a handwritten Bible verse on a United States Air Force Academy cadet’s dry-erase board was removed after a complaint by an anti-Christian activist group…As an American, I trust the Air Force Academy to train up the best young men and women our nation has to offer…Part of that trust hinges upon the notion that the Academy would protect the religious freedom of the cadets we send it.

The whitewashing of religion in the Academy develops a culture of fear in an institution tasked to develop warriors. If cadets are taught to be afraid of Bible verses, how will they respond against terrorists who are willing to die for their cause? Our U.S. Air Force Academy cadets should be taught how to intercept the enemy, not how to tiptoe around the hyper-sensitive complainants.

I strongly urge you to protect the religious expression of our U.S. Air Force Academy cadets.

The theme of the petition has been raised here many times before. If a member of the Air Force cannot abide their peer displaying a Bible verse, resulting in the Air Force requiring that the Bible verse be erased, how will they react when they see a superior officer wearing a kippah? How will they react when they see their commander pray silently before he eats his lunch?

The official censorship of religious expression — especially benign religious expression — runs the significant risk of “chilling” religious liberty within the US military, said retired LtGen Jerry Boykin:

The Academy’s recent actions and policy pronouncements, unless quickly corrected, will continue to chill speech among cadets, harm morale, and create unnecessary confusion. The American people overwhelmingly support the free exercise of religion in the military…

The petition was one outcome of the April incident in which Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s “charity” complained to the US Air Force Academy and cajoled them into forcing a cadet to erase a Bible verse from his personal whiteboard.

Characterizing part of the purpose behind the petition, the American Family Association took a swipe at Weinstein, a self-contradictorily described “religious freedom” advocate who says he is waging a “war” against Christians in the US military:

Sandy Rios, AFA director of governmental affairs, told The Christian Post that “military leaders need to be reminded they answer to the people of the United States, not a well-funded, demanding atheist.”

Weinstein has little tolerance for criticism, and has essentially considered both claims he is “well-funded” and “an atheist” to be “defamation.” As to the former, many outlets have begun to highlight the fact Weinstein is extraordinarily well-paid as the “president” of the “charity” he personally runs. As to the latter, Weinstein has added to the confusion by describing himself as a “Jewish agnostic who prays” and essentially saying he doesn’t have enough faith to be an atheist.

Other groups have more accurately described Weinstein as “anti-Christian,” to which Weinstein provides the mechanical response that is little different than those who say they ‘have black friends so they can’t be racists.’ Given Weinstein’s attacks on the religious liberty of Christians in the US military, and the fact he founded his organization to “fight” Christians, speak to his true motivations.

For his part, Weinstein characterized the petition as “Christian tyranny and oppression” and called its organizers and signers “bigot[s]” who “lie, cheat, and steal.”

Think about that for a minute. The petition calls on USAFA to “protect the religious expression of our U.S. Air Force Academy cadets.” A self-appointed protector of the Constitution finds that “tyranny” by ‘lying’ Christians? Weinstein has, yet again, demonstrated his insatiable hatred for Christians — at least those Christians who don’t practice his approved version of their faith.

The AFA recognized that hypocrisy as well [emphasis added]:

“A better example of tyranny is the effort to squelch free speech simply because you disagree with it,” Rios said. “If the Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants to see tyranny, perhaps it should look in the mirror.”

Ironically, former Army Captain and current atheist Jason Torpy took a swipe at both the FRC and Weinstein’s MRFF. (There has been bad blood between Torpy’s atheist MAAF and Weinstein’s MRFF for some time.)

Jason Torpy…told CP that he felt many “organizations use the Air Force Academy to stir up fear and outrage among their constituents.”

“The voice of the cadets is often lost, and their voice says they just want to focus on the business of being Air Force officers,” said Torpy.

He’s actually correct. Ever since Weinstein’s original complaints in 2005, USAFA cadets have repeatedly bemoaned the fact that non-events are overblown in the press — and that USAFA potentially reacts to that overblown press to the detriment of morale. It is telling that an activist atheist would call out Weinstein for using USAFA to “stir up fear and outrage.”

Of course, Weinstein relies on that very fear and outrage to fill his “charity’s” coffers — which do little more than pay his quarter million dollar paycheck. If publicity and money are what really matter, Weinstein’s vendetta makes a lot more sense.

Also at World Magazine, repeated at Baptist Press.