USAFA Prof, MRFF Activist Barry Fagin Files Report on the Shroud of Turin
US Air Force Academy Computer Science professor Barry Fagin is continuing his role as an inside source for Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s vendetta against religious freedom at USAFA. Last Wednesday he attended an Easter-themed presentation (only because he wanted to report on it) sponsored by Christian Faculty Fellowship on the topic of the Shroud of Turin. As dutifully repeated by the MRFF mouthpiece, Pam Zubeck [emphasis added]:
Barry Fagin…argues the school’s seeming endorsement of the talk…is embarrassing in light of scientific evidence that the shroud is merely a 14th century forgery…
Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein says that 23 people — cadets, faculty and staff — complained to him about the lecture…Weinstein says he was told by the complainants that they were disappointed…
A former insider, former Col and now retired BGen Marty France, moved directly from USAFA to Weinstein’s board and wrote a letter to USAFA complaining about the presentation on the Turin Shroud [emphasis added]:
“My colleagues were shocked that this sort of briefing, not even hiding its relationship to a specific religious belief (but proclaiming it) would be held during the duty day,” France wrote in the letter, obtained by the Indy.
“Sure, it’s voluntary, but when many of the attendees are in uniform, wearing rank, and in supervisory roles, we know that judgments are made,” the letter said. “Moreover, just posting these flyers requires DF [dean of faculty] approval, so it’s fair to assume that this is the endorsed position of the Dean…”
Ever helpful, France provided a solution:
France suggested such presentations should be held in the Cadet Chapel or Community Center Chapel, not in an academic building during the academic day…
So let’s check things off.
The brief happened during the day. There’s nothing wrong with that. Other briefs are allowed to happen during the day, too — even religious ones. In point of fact, it appears the brief was scheduled during the lunch hour. Seems like a convenient courtesy to those who would like to attend.
The brief happened in the academic building. There’s nothing wrong with that. Other briefs are allowed to happen there, too. This is actually an old complaint from the MRFF, just with an updated flavor (here’s an example from nearly a decade ago). It’s little more than a mild variation on “you can have your religious freedom only if you keep it between the four walls of your church/home.”
The participants were in uniform. Perfectly acceptable. The Air Force has recognized that attending briefings and religious exercise are not impermissible merely because of wear of the uniform. By France’s logic, even going to chapel in uniform — nay, merely being seen darkening the door of a religious service — would be prohibited to avoid “judgments” being made. (Interestingly, the MRFF has never complained of non-Christians exercising their religious freedom while in uniform…)
The posters required official approval. Sure they did. As France noted, every poster requires approval, so this one was treated equally. But every poster requiring approval does not mean the approver endorses of the event advertised on every poster. (That’s an illogical conclusion unbecoming of an engineer.) Of note, the creator of the poster went out of his way to put a disclaimer on it [emphasis added]:
Sponsored by Christian Faculty Fellowship (CFF), a non-governmental organization. Speakers do not represent any official position of USAFA or the US Air Force. The US Government does not endorse any establishment of religion, but per AFI 1-1 para 2.11, every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all.
The silent poster had a full-throated disclaimer, and still Weinstein’s minions claim “endorsement” — and coercion:
It was voluntary. Good on France for actually admitting that — but shame for implying that voluntary isn’t actually voluntary. The presentation was announced on a sheet of paper on the wall — and, as noted above, had a lengthy statement attesting to its non-governmental nature and official advocacy for religious freedom (including non-religion). If someone finds that “coercive” (as opposed to “voluntary”), they have a really sensitive intestinal constitution.
Some MRFF complainants were “disappointed.” Noted, but not actionable. Is there a realistic expectation that religious liberty should be restricted over their “disappointment”? As a counterexample, quite a few Christians were “disappointed” in USAFA’s creation of a pagan circle. Is their disappointment similarly worthy of restricting someone else’s religious liberty?
The shroud is a fake. This is where Fagin, France, and Weinstein spent the most emphasis. And that investment of time and emotion tells you that’s what they care about — the content of the religious beliefs in the presentation.
But people who actually support religious freedom — as opposed to those who use the moniker only for fundraising — will tell you whether the Shroud of Turin is a fake or not is irrelevant. The presentation could just as easily have been on Muhammad’s Mantle, the Ark of the Covenant, or Monty Python’s holy grail. The ability to participate in religious exercise, as enshrined in the Constitution and explicitly protected in Air Force Instruction 1-1, does not hinge on the general agreement with nor the reasonableness of the beliefs. Indeed, if everyone agreed, no protection would be necessary.
If you think a presentation is impermissible because you think the beliefs are ridiculous, you are not an advocate for religious liberty.
Instead, you are a bigot.
Mikey Weinstein called the beliefs “embarrassing”. BGen (ret) Marty France called them fake. Barry Fagin equated the beliefs with “UFOs or Big Foot”.
The fact the presentation was made voluntarily available to the 40-50 attendees during the lunch hour is irrelevant to the MRFF. These three object to the religious beliefs. That’s why they care.
While well-paid, Weinstein is ultimately as harmless as he is impotent. France, while still being paid as a retired General officer, is at least retired. The harm he can do is rather limited, compared to the negative influence he potentially had while on active duty and actively overseeing USAFA cadets.
Fagin, on the other hand, is an active instructor at USAFA — he teaches, leads, and mentors US Air Force cadets every day. Simultaneously, Fagin is openly working for the MRFF, and Fagin openly criticizes religious beliefs (any religious belief) as dangerous.
To borrow some of Mikey Weinstein’s sensationalism, how can Fagin’s cadets now feel “safe” around him, or be assured they’ll be treated fairly — especially if Fagin finds out they have some of those “not harmless” religious beliefs Fagin has said he finds “repugnant”?
It is disturbing that a serving USAFA faculty member would publicly criticize religion and support restrictions on the religious liberty of USAFA cadets because he has a personal issue with religion. (That said, given Fagin’s long tenure and recent thrust into the spotlight, it is likely he has already planned his exit strategy.)
As with most of the MRFF’s diatribes, the bigoted remarks of the trio won’t likely be called out — though they will also be largely ignored. Instead, the incident will simply remain another stain on Mikey Weinstein’s reputation as he claims a self-contradictory “moral high ground” for military religious liberty.
As this incident shows, however, rather than “military religious freedom”, the goals of Mikey Weinstein — as well as his acolytes Barry Fagin and BGen (Ret) Marty France — are precisely the opposite.