February 20, 2009
USAF Officer: "Fundamentalist Christian
Influence Ever Present"
I first off wanted to thank you and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation for all of your hard work fighting for
the rights of every day military members. I know it's not an easy job,
as I've seen your courageous cause tarred and feathered in a number of conservative media
outlets. I wanted to express to you my disappointment in the actions (or
inaction) of a new administration that I actively supported. Before I do
that I should introduce myself.
I am a [rank withheld] in the United States Air Force, graduate of the United States Air Force
Academy, and son of an Air Force officer. I was raised in a Catholic
household, and while I retain some of those fundamental values I
consider myself to be somewhat non-practicing, and I certainly do not
let my religious beliefs ever come into play in the workplace. And it's
not just for the sake of "political correctness". Any good officer knows
that trying to inject religious teachings into our diverse military is
detrimental to morale and good order and discipline. Demanding
responsibility and an adherence to the Air Force Core Values is more
than enough. Yet I'm astonished to see that many in our profession do
not feel the same way. Let me assure you that a fundamentalist Christian
influence is ever present in our Air Force, whether I witness it
personally or I hear stories from other Air Force members. Whenever I
bear witness to these instances it's always disappointing, and sometimes
downright uncomfortable. In fact, often it can be terrifying.
I couldn't hope to remember every incident and record it here, but I'll
try and give a few examples that will paint the picture of the kind of
atmosphere that is being created in our air force.
When I came into basic training at the US Air Force Academy we went through
a processing line. Now most of basic training is a blur, but I remember
standing at strict attention, staring straight ahead, and feeling the
cool air on my newly shorn head. Basic training being what it is, we
were surrounded by steely-eyed upperclassmen, all screaming so loud we
could barely hear ourselves think. We filed through the chaplain station
to get our dog tags made. A cadet who would later become my friend was
standing right in front of me, and I heard the exchange between him and
the chaplain as the chaplain asked what religion he wanted stamped on
his dog tags.
"None, sir, I'm not religious"
The chaplain could have simply complied, or nicely asked the cadet to
explain himself further . Instead he asked, "Well son, what religion
were you raised with?"
"Well then that's what we'll put" replied the chaplain.
With every fiber of my being I wanted to protest for him but I knew that
basic training was about survival, and the last thing anyone wants is to
be singled out. The cadet in front of me stepped aside and silently
marched to the next station of the in-processing line.
That was my first day in the Air Force.
Then there was the first day of relaxation in basic training. After what
seemed an interminable length of time (weeks?) spent bracing our backs,
reciting memorized Air Force knowledge, low-crawling through dirt, doing
rifle runs, and being scrutinized by our cadre we were finally given a
few hours to relax, and act like normal human beings. This was
Chaplain's Day, and we had to sit on logs in Jack's Valley and listen to
some sort of Christian presentation I barely remember. I wouldn't ever
attend something like this under normal circumstances, but I wasn't
going to miss my one opportunity to sit normally, and speak freely with
From that time I've witnessed many incidents that amounted to what
seemed to be a subtle endorsement of Christianity: Flyers for Passion of
the Christ in the Academy cafeteria hall on every table, an Academy
hosted lecture from an intelligent design proponent (with no
counter-presentation from a classical evolutionist to give balance),
stories of commanders trying to push strict Christian beliefs on my
fellow officers' units, Christian rock concerts hosted on Air Force
bases, posters with prayers on the walls, and constant mandatory events
with group prayers-and the prayers are almost always Christian. There
are too many to list.
To the untrained eye, each of these incidents, examined in a vacuum, may
seem innocuous. Yet, when you add everything up, and weave it into the
fabric of everyday life, what you have is an atmosphere where Christians
are made to feel very welcome, and every non-Christian, and particularly mainline Christians (non-evangelical fundamentalist), has to just put up and shut up. And this is where the real
tragedy lies. I've met more than one young, bright college student who
was considering joining the military but decided the culture didn't seem
very open to a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Humanist. Thousands of the
smartest young people in America avoid military service as a result of
the exclusionary atmosphere created by all the little Christian
endorsements. Many more young officers, and some troops who've come to
me, are leaving the military. There's always a variety of reasons a
person decides to make such a change in their life, but I've often heard
the phrase "too conservative", and "too Christian" enter into the
equation. Young, thoughtful, intelligent non-Christians simply don't
feel as if they belong. And the Air Force will suffer the consequences
in the form of a sort of "brain drain."
Furthermore, this coupling of Christian and military is well-known
outside of military circles, and I can imagine knowledge of this only
emboldens enemies who wish to cast the U.S. presence in the Middle East
as a modern Crusade, in order to recruit more violent Muslim extremists.
As someone raised in a Christian household where we were taught never to
impose our religion on others this is distressing. And as someone who
has lived with the Air Force my entire life, it's disappointing. Adding
to that disappointment is the lack of action I've seen from the new
administration. I actively supported (off-duty of course)President
Obama's candidacy, and I hoped that as part of the change he was
bringing to so many areas of our government he would give some attention
to the religious coercion and abuse of power in our military. I'm
holding out hope that he simply has a lot on his plate and will get to
us eventually, but after his choice of pastor for the inauguration,
among other things, I must say I'm worried. Still, I believe the best
chance we've had in decades is during this administration, and I thank
you for fighting for all of us who simply want an atmosphere of
openness, equality, and respect in our military.
[name, rank, and military unit withheld]