Whose God Is Their Co-Pilot?

The U.S. Air Force Academy faces charges that it has allowed rampant evangelization on campus

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

For civil liberties groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which investigated some of Weinstein's claims, the allegations suggested "egregious, systemic and legally objectionable violations" of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, as it said in a letter to the Department of Defense. Congressional reaction, however, has been split. Last month Steve Israel, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced what he thought would be a popular amendment to a defense-spending bill requiring the Air Force to submit a plan ensuring religious tolerance and full religious freedom at the academy. Opposition by the committee's Republican majority was so fierce that he withdrew it. Said Republican committee member Walter Jones: "I think we've got too much concern about political correctness." Jones is pressing for hearings on religious repression within the military--but he means repression of Christian expression, such as not permitting chaplains to offer public prayer "in Jesus' name." Tom Minnery, public-policy head of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, based in Colorado Springs, argues that "cadets are trained to give the ultimate sacrifice. They ought to be encouraged to grapple with the ultimate meaning in life, and they ought to be encouraged to make a decision about God, one way or another."

That sentiment is a long way from current constitutional jurisprudence. It also happens to be quite distant from the military norm. While irritations do occur (a group of evangelical chaplains has been suing the Navy for years on claims of alleged career discrimination), Evangelicals have usually found ways to give witness without offending the military's doggedly maintained principle of pluralism. This week's academy report may provide hints as to whether this admittedly tricky model can survive as Evangelicalism becomes more assertive and its critics more defensive. Meanwhile, if the report is released as expected, academy personnel will have precisely one week to digest it before the next impressionable first-year class arrives, on June 29. --With reporting by Jeff Chu/New York, Rita Healy/Denver, Maggie Sieger/Chicago and Douglas Waller/Washington

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page