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Tolerance gone wild
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
By Al Maurer
You may have heard about the controversy surrounding the construction of a pagan worship site on top of the hill behind the Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy.
Of course, the stone circle constructed by the civil engineers goes by the more politically correct name of Earth-Centered Worship. The superintendent, Lieutenant General Michael C. Gould, defends the decision as supporting religious rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
The general is mistaken. The portion of the First Amendment of the Constitution regarding freedom of religion states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
Which phrase supports the erection of the stone circle? Establishment of religion means exactly that: establishing a religion or a denomination of a religion as the official state religion like Islam in Iran or the Church of England in the United Kingdom. Building someone their own worship circle does not “establish” religion; it does lend government support to that religion—in effect, legitimizing it. That has been ruled unconstitutional and so this act the general claims is constitutional may well be the exact opposite.
The second phrase is clear enough. If the Academy had not erected this special worship place, would they have been prohibiting the free exercise of religion? Since 1970, when mandatory chapel attendance was ruled unconstitutional, cadets have been free to worship or not as they choose.
I’m afraid the general is on the wrong side of the Constitution. But it does not matter: the issue is really all about a misplaced sense of toleration. It’s not really about the Constitution at all.
According to Lt Gen Gould, it’s about toleration of and respect for all beliefs. Cadets are taught that to be a leader of integrity they must have complete toleration for all beliefs. To act otherwise would not be fair. In other words—ironically—in order to lead they must give up their own beliefs and impartially support all belief systems.
That’s asking too much. It is a position that is the result of fuzzy thinking and a lack of historical knowledge. Edmund Burke wrote regarding the leaders of Revolutionary France:
We hear these new teachers continually boasting of their spirit of toleration. That those persons should tolerate all opinions, who think none to be of estimation, is a matter of small merit.
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the revolution in France, 1790
A proper spirit of toleration may allow us to tolerate activities and beliefs we don’t approve of, but we still have a right to our opinions about those beliefs. We should not be forced to approve or support those beliefs, as the general and the Academy seem to think.
This misplaced spirit of toleration is indeed toleration gone wild. As classmate Robert Marsh wrote to me:
There’s a battle for ideas, and those without intellectual rigor are winning. I don’t care that this silly circle exists, but let’s use it as a springboard to emphasize how important the big ideas really are – those ideas that form the foundation of the constitutional republic we all enjoy. The foundational belief behind western culture is a belief in the primacy of reason over authority and superstition. The religions behind the circle, at their core, do not really celebrate reason.
By building a stone circle the Academy is not merely acceding to the demands if a fringe group; they are not just being tolerant. They are actively approving and promoting pagan worship.
OUR VIEW: Jesus, hate crimes and the Air Force Academy cross
If you left the cross, have the
courage to come forth
Thursday, February 4, 2010
By Wayne Laugesen
Editorial page editor, for the editorial board
A poll regarding this issue is available at the original article page. Click here to visit the original article.
From the comments section on Gazette.com:
phoenixblue wrote: Traveler -- I *was* in the Middle East. I deployed to Iraq a year and a half ago and served honorably. Incidentally, the chaplains there accommodated a Pagan group of about 20-30, of which I was a part.
I was lucky. I made it home alive. Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Stewart, a Pagan, was killed in action in Afghanistan. So when you insinuate that Pagans are somehow not as patriotic as you, you do Sergeant Stewart's memory and my service a grave misservice ...
... one that compels me to ask, when will *you* go to Iraq or Afghanistan? When will *you* sacrifice in the name of your country to defend the rights of people who call you evil and demand that you repent from your religion?
A hate crime has two components: 1. Hatred, which is not a crime, and 2. A crime.
Examples abound. Marty Marshall and his white family walked from a fireworks display in Ohio in June. A group of black teens attacked them, yelling “this is a black world.” Marty suffered severe head trauma. It seems like a hate crime.
Three white racists chained a black man, James Byrd Jr., behind a pickup in 1998 and dragged him to his death. It seems like a hate crime.
Some hate crimes are not violent. In 2004, the state-subsidized Washburn University, in Kansas, commissioned a Boulder County bigot to craft a sculpture for the campus. He sculpted a Catholic bishop with a penis on his head. It was state-sanctioned denunciation of one religion, in violation of the First Amendment. It seems like a hate crime.
This brings us to the large cross leaned against a sacred rock in a new pagan worship area at the United States Air Force Academy. Mikey Weinstein, the oft-maligned and misunderstood director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said someone left the cross as a “fundamentalist Christian gang marker,” and a “giant turd” in a sacred place. He said the act was absolutely a hate crime. If necessary, he will try convincing the FBI to investigate.
Whoever left the cross exploited the most sacred object of Christianity for an act of confrontation.
Unfortunately for Weinstein, it may not be considered a crime to leave a religious object on federal land. Unless it was a religious statement sanctioned by authority, it is unlikely a First Amendment offense.
To those who feel abused by a handful of self-righteous and obnoxious academy dominionist Christians — people who have complicated life for the majority of Christians who are kind, compassionate and respectful — the large cross was hurtful.
Lots of Christians agree. Rachel, an evangelical and close friend of Weinstein, interprets the Bible literally. She’s “to the right of Rush Limbaugh,” opposes abortion and believes the only way to heaven is through Jesus. The 60-year-old law firm CPA has discussed with Weinstein her concern for his soul (he isn’t Christian). Yet she believes the cross was left as a disgusting insult to non-Christians.
Rachel told The Gazette she supports Weinstein’s work because it protects her right to hold religious beliefs that some consider extreme. She can’t stand seeing the cross used as a weapon of intimidation.
Weinstein insists he isn’t against the cross or Christians. He views anti-Christian art, such as Washburn’s penis-topped bishop, as offensive and sad. Weinstein said he would vigorously fight any such expression on military property.
Air Force Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould has made great strides toward religious respect at the academy. He ordered Air Force chaplains, engineers, and heavy equipment operators to help build the pagan worship site.
Still, Weinstein perceives a lackadaisical response by Gould, whom he has counted as a friend, and a general lack of outrage regarding the unwelcome cross. Gould disputes that, saying he ordered the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to get on it immediately. Gould said he and his staff have worked hard to create an atmosphere in which cadets and staff feel safe to report religious hostility.
“It was a very hateful symbolic act, and I will not tolerate it,” Gould said. “If I find out who placed the cross there, that person will pay the price. We are working on this as hard as we can, and we aren’t slow-rolling anything.”
If you placed the cross, please come forward. Only the weakest Christians fear avowing their own actions. Christ, refusing to disavow his teachings, carried the cross to his death. Yet some coward or cowards carried the cross, abandoned it on a rock, and ran away. It’s a weak and petty disgrace to Jesus, and it’s disrupting our military.
Air Force cadets train to defend freedom, most importantly the freedoms of religion and speech. If cadets of any religion are intimidated about matters of faith, they cannot fully value the freedoms they have sworn to uphold. For that reason, Weinstein and Gould must quickly resolve their dispute, working to develop a campus that values the free, unimpeded practice of constructive religious beliefs.
Each man must ignore supporters who want them in conflict — the type who might just as well attend a dog fight. The core values of the Air Force are integrity, service and excellence. They are values that bolster religious freedom for all, and values Weinstein and Gould each hold sacred.
Wiccan Worship Area
Vandalized with Cross
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
By Ed Brayton
The Air Force Academy has had a long history of problems with Christian proselytizing and religious coercion and they've made a good deal of progress in dealing with it, thanks to the efforts of Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. They recently established a place for Wiccans to hold their worship services on campus -- and some moron decided to put a cross there.
The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions.
But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there.
I don't like the concept of desecration, but let's go ahead and call it that because that is certainly what the Christians would call it if someone put a star and crescent or a pentagram in a chapel. Mikey is criticizing the school for not making it public when it happened, but it does look like the school is taking this fairly seriously:
Although he credits the academy's superintendent, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, with an improved climate of religious tolerance, Weinstein criticized other academy officials as trivializing the incident, which he said was not revealed to cadets.
Rhetorically addressing academy officials, Weinstein said Tuesday, "It's been two weeks -- were you going to get around to telling them about this horrible thing that happened, and why haven't you?"
Academy spokesman John Van Winkle said officials reported the situation to those on base and issued a message reiterating the school's policy of religious tolerance and respect.
In a statement, Gould said, "We absolutely will not stand for this type of destructive behavior. I consider this no different than someone writing graffiti on the Cadet Chapel."
I do hope they find out who did it (though that's not likely) and punish them as severely as they would someone who would do the same thing to any other religious space.
Christians Desecrate Wiccan Religious Site at Air Force Academy
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
In response to DeeDee Correll's article: "Cross found at Air Force Academy's Wicca Center" from the New York Times.
By Michael Leon
Evangelical Christians are at it again. The proselytizing only-through-Christ bunch have now taken up desecration of non-Christian religious sites: Not Jews this time but Wiccans. What the hell goes through the minds of these evangelicals who think they can tell other religions—at a military academy no less—what to believe? At their core, evangelicals who despise pluralism are infantile.