As part of the academic environment at the Academy, policies on forums and speakers often result in “unusual choices” for speakers, some of whom are not even favorably disposed to the military. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, the AF Academy has invited three former Islamic terrorists who have converted to Christianity to speak as a portion of an annual political forum. One of the speakers has “criticized Palestinian sympathizers,” and has been accused by Eileen Fleming, a freelance blogger and Palestinian advocate, of fabricating his terrorist past.
Michael Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation was quick to criticize the decision to invite Christian speakers. Said David Antoon, MRFF board member:
What’s troublesome to me is this is pure ideology and it has nothing to do with academics…This is the Air Force Academy. It used to be an academic institution of excellence. It has become a political Bible college with the evangelicals holding so much influence with what’s going on there.
The criticisms come even though the MRFF didn’t know the men, hadn’t researched their background, and did not address the other people, topics, or ideologies of the forum. Apparently, the only issue with which the MRFF was concerned was the men’s Christianity.
Update: In response to concerns that the three men were Christians, another Gazette article notes that the Academy said the three would constrain their comments to, shockingly, the topic of the forum (terrorism).
As first noted on the Religion Clause, the Air Force Times reported the opening of a room in the Air Force Academy cadet chapel for Buddhists.
The paper reported that the room “opened Monday.” Notably, Buddhists have had opportunity to use the rooms in the chapel for years, so it is possible that this is simply the first truly dedicated space they have utilized. As noted in the article, dozens of faith and non-faith groups use the chapel facilities.
According to local news reports, the debate between Weinstein and Sekulow at the Air Force Academy was “cordial.” Presumably, both sides are working on their after-action reports, as none have yet been published. According to the Fox report, Weinstein had demanded to speak at the Academy and the debate was the format the Academy agreed upon. The only content yet known about the debate includes Weinstein’s assertion that Jewish servicemen not be allowed to wear a yarmulke, while Sekulow maintained they should.* Weinstein also made known his intentions to file another lawsuit against the Air Force, this one including plaintiffs that have standing. The debate can be heard here.
*Neither Weinstein nor Sekulow were entirely correct about the yarmulke. While Rabbi Goldman did lose his lawsuit in 1986 in which he sued to wear the yarmulke, the 1988 (updated in 2003) version of Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17 specifically allows the wearing of a yarmulke. There are still “exceptions,” but the Jewish headgear is the only religious apparel specifically mentioned.
According to his website, Mr. Weinstein is scheduled to debate Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the ACLJ, at the Air Force Academy on 24 April. The Academy website says that the debate is to answer the question, “What is the appropriate balance between religious freedom and official neutrality in the military?” Sekulow’s announcement is here.
The Colorado Springs Gazette has reported [link broken] that cadets feel the Academy is ‘more tolerant.’ According to the Academy surveys, 95% of Christians and 85% of non-Christians said the Academy supports religious freedom.