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Straight on the heels of sexual assault problems, the Air Force Academy is dealing with another form of bias in its halls:
Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.

Seperation of church and state is a myth.

Other examples of religious bias reported at the academy:

-The Air Force is investigating a complaint from an atheist cadet who says the school is "systematically biased against any cadet that does not overtly espouse Christianity."

-The official academy newspaper runs a Christmas ad every year praising Jesus and declaring him the only savior. Some 200 academy staff members, including some department heads, signed it. Whittington noted the ad was not published last December.

-The academy commandant, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, a born-again Christian, said in a statement to cadets in June 2003 that their first responsibility is to their God. He also strongly endorsed National Prayer Day that year. School spokesman Johnny Whitaker said Weida now runs his messages by several other commanders.

The highly charged religious context was enough to drive at least one appointee away:

One day last April, David Antoon and his son sat quietly in a chapel pew. Up front, 10 uniformed Christian preachers boasted about a weekly Bible study program that draws 800 students.

"Amen," one pastor said.

The Antoons had come from Dayton, Ohio, for appointee orientation. The teen was on the verge of embarking on his lifelong dream to attend the Air Force Academy.

They were surprised by the chaplains' zeal, and that the scene unfolded at the tax-funded academy, which like other arms of the military is charged with defending the U.S. Constitution and its separation of church and state.

"It was like a southern revival," said Antoon, a 1970 academy graduate. He described the atmosphere during the two-day orientation as "cultish."

That atmosphere played a role in the teen's decision to forgo his appointment and attend Ohio State University.

To its credit, the Air Force Academy is making attempts to address this bias, but such attempts have been relatively low impact to this point.  Some are not pleased with the Academy's efforts:

"They are deliberately trivializing the problem so that we don't have another situation the magnitude of the sex assault scandal. It is inextricably intertwined in every aspect of the academy," said Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, N.M., a 1977 graduate who has sent two sons to the school. He said the younger, Curtis, has been called a "filthy Jew" many times.

James Gilmore, who sits on the Board of Visitors, the Academy's governance body, addressed the heart of the problem:

"Evangelical Christians do not check their religion at the door," Gilmore said.

"I think that is not understood in American society, and as a result we're seeing a lot of condemnation of evangelical Christians because they are seen to be aggressively asserting themselves, and when it's in a governmental context, it's seen as an impingement on people."

This is the same argument that we see put forth by Bill Frist:  which comes first for Evangelical Christians, public service or service to their god?  Although, I'm sure that their doctrine says little about calling others "filthy Jews."

Originally posted to lapin on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 01:28 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Gilmore, AGAIN? (none)
    Why am I not surprised to see that SOB pop up in another case of religious zealotry....

    He wasn't shy about sucking up to the religious right when he was Governor of Virginia (interfering in another right to die case - that of Hugh Finn). So why shouldn't he be helping turn the Air Force into the Evangelical Christians' Knights Templar?

    Great diary lapin!

    - "You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"

    by Hoya90 on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 01:33:19 PM PDT

    •  Several prominent figurs in the U.S. military (none)
      and CIA are actually part of a Catholic religious order of knights (the constitutional prohibition on such orders for American citizens notwithstanding).
      •  Are you talking about the KofC? (none)
        The Knights of Columbus are the Elks/Water Buffalo/Stonecutters of the U.S. Catholic Church. If that's what you're talking about, they're about as sinister as the guys hitting the Early Bird specials at Denny's.

        Regarding Catholics and the CIA, the CIA recruited heavily from the big Catholic colleges in the 1950s and 1960s because Catholics were seen as reliably anti-communist. That's led to a rather self-perpetuating and heavily Catholic workforce.

        - "You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"

        by Hoya90 on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 03:40:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for this great diary (none)
    This shows how far down the fascist road we have come. I would recommend, but being new I don't know how to do that.
  •  ugh. (4.00)
    my niece, a brilliant, sensitive girl, was booted from the air force academy for a minor rules infraction.  The girls who spearheaded the investigation against her were angry because my niece had challenged them when they decribed the US as a "Christian Country".

    it has been two years and she is still recovering from the incident.  I hope she is able to reach out and try to help these guys.

    •  Unbelievable! Outrageous! (none)
      The next time some asshole tells me about the American dream, the land of opportunity, equal opportunity, blah blah blah, I'll be sure to tell them your niece's story and the environment oppressive to anyone who doesn't loudly proclaim his or her devotion to Jesus as the AFA. Unbelievable.
  •  USAF Problem (none)
    Regrettable if all true, and I hope the USAF Academy takes quick and decisive action.  

    Let's remember though that ~77% of the Unites States population calls itself Christian, 1.3% Jews, <.5% Muslims, and the rest have no having 800 cadets, of a population of ~4000, at Bible study classes doesn't strike me as extraordinary.

    Disturbing though are the allegations of Jew baiting.  Seems to me that behavior would manifest itself only if the environment made it acceptable.  So there may be something to the story if the allegations are true.

    Finally - it may please some to know that the US Naval Academy is building a Jewish Chapel on its grounds.  It can't compete, nor should it, with the massive Chapel, but it certaintly a positive step for religious equality at one of our Service Academies.

  •  Good diary ... with overlap with another ... (4.00)
    I was about to chime in commenting about the need to check to see what has already been posted, as there was already a
    diary on this, with some 15 comments or so.  But, you have added a lot of interesting material ...

    My rant from the other diary ...

    This really is beyond the pale.  If there had been five complaints and they'd pounced on it, GREAT.  Please explain 55.  While the Air Force seems to want to avoid the same sort of controversy that occurred over the rape/sexual harassment, that they've let it get to this level is an indication that THEY JUST DON'T GET IT.
    Now, under BushCo, the question might be, "What's the big deal?  After all, those Jews and Muslims will be going to hell."  Fine to serve but just recognize that, at the end of the day no matter what you'll do, you'll end up in eternal flames ...

    Perhaps it is time to shut down the Air Force Academy.  As tax payers, we are spending over $300,000 per student to develop religiously intolerant sexual predators.  Just the sort of people that we want to be overseeing prisoners in sensitive places like the Middle East.  Abu Ghraib, anyone?

    •  Thanks, I had considered deleting it (4.00)
      but found not all material was duplicated here.  From a realistic point of view, I'm sure there are similar things happening at other taxpayer funded educational institutions (West Point, The Citadel, VMI).  Seems like the AFA is the one under the microscope.  The idealist in me hopes that these other institutions take whats happening at the AFA as a wake up call.

      Sell your cleverness; buy bewilderment.

      by lapin on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 01:43:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  RE Academies ... (4.00)
        There have been various scandals at the academies over the decades.  Cheating ... drug use and dealing ... racial discrimination / harassment ... sexual abuse ...  They are far from perfect institutions although I often find much to admire in them and (many of) those who are its students and are choosing a life of a form of public service.

        What seems notable to me is that this religious harassment was going on in the shadow of the massive investigation of sexual harassment / rapes at the USAFA and yet it took years before action seems to have happened.  WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP?  After all, that is what these academies are all about -- developing tomorrow's leaders.  And, what we see is that the US Air Force chose to put either a religiously intolerant individual or someone who was simply blind to how others might perceive his religiousity in the position of Superintendent of the USAFA.  Again, this suggests something majorly broke in the US Air Force and its leadership.  This suggests to me that the American public cannot trust the Air Force to develop its own leaders.

        Now, what did the Navy do when hit by serious scandals at the Naval Academy?  It put a four-star Admiral -- one well admired within the Navy and through the U.S. government -- in the position of Superintendent with a mandate to clean up the Academy (both in reality and in image).  The Admirals placed in charge since then have all been strong individuals -- this is not where the Navy sends its weakest people.  Similar things can be send of West Point.

        This is all about leadership.  Waiting for 55 complaints before acting does not suggest leadership.  Allowing multiple cases of rape and sexual abuse with driving out the victims while promoting the attackers does not speak highly of leadership.  The Air Force has not demonstrated meaningful leadership in solving problems at the USAFA in recent years.  Please explain to me why we should expect it from them in the future?

        19 April 05, Day 1315 ... Osama still "wanted dead or alive"

        by besieged by bush on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 02:01:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I think Bush might agree with your comment. (none)
      Perhaps it is time to shut down the Air Force Academy.  As tax payers, we are spending over $300,000 per student to develop religiously intolerant sexual predators.  Just the sort of people that we want to be overseeing prisoners in sensitive places like the Middle East.  Abu Ghraib, anyone?

      Except the part about this being a reason to shut down the Air Force Academy.  This administration might think we want more religiously intolerant sexual predators.

      •  Nervous about this ... (none)
        Considering how General Boynkin's inspector general investigation re his religious activity while in uniform has been postponed indefinitely, have to imagine that there are many in the Administration and its fundamentalist zealots who will be rather upset if anyone is actually punished for 'telling it like it is' to those non-Christians.  

        Again, as I posted, "Now, under BushCo, the question might be, "What's the big deal?  After all, those Jews and Muslims will be going to hell."  Fine to serve but just recognize that, at the end of the day no matter what you'll do, you'll end up in eternal flames ..."

        19 April 05, Day 1315 ... Osama still "wanted dead or alive"

        by besieged by bush on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 01:52:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  It is indeed a pervasive military wide problem. (4.00)
    And, the fact that the Air Force Academy is a couple of miles from Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs, and the the Academy is best know for its chapel doesn't help.

    Gilmore, of course, like most commanding officers in the U.S. military, doesn't understand the importance of neutrality towards religion when one is in an official capacity in government.

    The fact that clergy are on the government payroll in the military (since not integrating clergy with military units would deny expeditionary forces any religious leadership) further exacerbates the situation.

    As plausible as it is based on location that the Air Force Academy has such a pervasive problem it is also ironic.  The Air Force embraces modernity as its reason for being.  While Armies and Navies have existed, and produced traditions, for millenia, the Air Force is young.  (Although, timing is a factor here is well.  The Air Force Academy was in its formative first few years when "In God We Trust" was placed on coins, the Eagles started distributing the Ten Commandments, and "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.)

    The Air Force is also the service where a chaplincy is least necessary to protect the rights of service members.  The Academy's students could easily find churches in the surrounding community.  The vast majority of Air Force bases, even those that provide bases sorties to combat zones, are not themselves in places where going to off base churches is impossible.  Aviano, Italy (one of the key bases for the support of the Iraq War) is not Bagdhad, let alone Minot in the Dakotas (where many of our long range bombers are based).

    Of course, there is the question of whether the Academies are necessary at all.  They are very expensive, and ROTC programs are a good alternative that already fills much of the need for the officer corps, although one could argue that the case for the Air Force Academy with its specialized equipment requirements is better than the case, for example, for West Point.


  •  Wow, surprising (none)
    Considering that the Air Force ihas a reputation as the more "liberal" of the four services (with the Navy and Marines being highly traditional and the Air Force being more open to women).  Of course, the Air Force's "liberalism" is relative to their other services not the general public.
    •  The airforce has the "tradition" of LCWB (none)
      Last Class With Balls.  Ask an AF officer about it.  

      But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.

      by calipygian on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 02:43:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not sure what you mean (none)
        I'm not ensure what exactly you mean by that statement so I'll have to ask.

        However, the reputation I referred to above was something I learned from a Politics of the Military class taught by a female retired Air Force Lt. Col.  However, she entered the service through OCS, so perhaps Air Force Academy graduates have a more conservative outlook than OCS and ROTC officers.

  •  "Liberal" means many things ... (4.00)
    In many ways, the Air Force has the weakest discipline ... you'll have enlisted calling officers by their first names, something you would not see in the other four (don't forget Coast Guard) services.

    This is a leadership / discipline issue -- that it got to the level it did indicates a lack of leadership to enforce discipline.  The Army / Marine Corps and even Navy / Coast Guard, once it was decided that the "lines" had been crossed, leadership and discipline would step in and the problem would disappear.

    One of the amazing things, to change gears a bit, about the military's general attachment to the Republican Party and "conservatism" is that the military is -- generally -- the closest thing to achievement of Johnson's Great Society.  

    Go to a military base ... you can safely walk the streets at all hours ... parents have subsidized child care ... color / race is pretty close to irrelevant ... opportunity is (mainly) related to performance ... health care is available to all ...

    This is about the most socialized of elements of American society ...

    And, if we could say these things of all American communities, what a better nation we'd be.  

    •  other FIVE (none)
      if we are going to pick nits lets also not forget the Us Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point

      Grandpappy was literally drafted from his law practice at the age of 43 to help run the place (in 1942- he'd been in the Navy in WWI) so don't tell him it wasn't a Military service.

      Knowledge is power Power Corrupts Study Hard Be Evil

      by Magorn on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 02:37:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely ... (none)
        As my grandfather's house was virtually at the gate, should not have forgotten it as an academy ...

        On the other hand, there are the uniformed services and believe that is what was being discussed.  (If counting academies, knock off one from the count as the Naval Academy serves both Marine Corps & Navy.)

        19 April 05, Day 1315 ... Osama still "wanted dead or alive"

        by besieged by bush on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 02:56:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  But then we'd have the Hexagon (none)
        and not the Pentagon. Or do the US Merchant Marines not rate an entire wall to themselves?

        Back to the diary, my Dad was in the AF '62-'66. Reading this kind of stuff always has me trying to figure out what kind of forces were influencing his young life back then.

  •  This doesn't surprise me (none)
    The Air Force isn't really that "liberal" an organization -- during the early years of the Cold War it was literally a hotbed of just unbelievably fanatical anti-communism. If you think the intel spun by Bushco was something, the BS being spewed out by Air Force intelligence circa 1950 would make your head explode. Curtis LeMay was, frankly, nuts.

    Sponge Bob, Mandrake, Cartoons. That's how your hard-core islamahomocommienazis work.

    by Benito on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 02:07:42 PM PDT

  •  Just the AFA? (none)
    This seems to be just another chapter in the story of the evangelical Christian corruption of all our institutions.
  •  Straight up unconstitutional (none)
    breaking both the first and second amendments to the constitution.
  •  Lets just focus (none)
    on the good that the church does. No need to alienate potential voters.

    "I was a prominent member of a temperance organization till I deviated from the path of rectitude." J.H.HOLLIDAY

    by kd texan on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 03:16:20 PM PDT

  •  Back to the "brown shoe days" (none)
    Brown shoe is a reference to a time long ago when the Air Force was the Army Air Corps.

    Until the early 70s "chapel formation" was mandatory.  A cadet had to attend chapel every Sunday.  They marched to the chapel and when they were dismissed some went to the Catholic floor, others to the Protestant floor, yet others had a synagogue and even an LDS area in the bottom floor.

    Cadets were not permitted to go anywhere else and once in the pews, they had to kneel and pray and in general act as if they were participating, no studying allowed for example.

    Only a few brave souls rebelled.

    One cadet managed to sue all the way to the Supreme Court and win, around 1972.

    Since then the religious right has been chipping away.  

    Before the recent events, even the honor code was changed from: We will not lie cheat or steal nor tolerate among us anyone who does to We will not lie cheat or steal nor tolerate among us anyone who does, so help me God (or something to the effect).

    These people are relentless and their ultimate goal is world Theocracy.  The Air Force Academy is just a microcosm.

    Image Hosted by; an oasis of truth.

    by Shockwave on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 04:12:17 PM PDT

    •  You can always substitute (none)
      the words "I do so affirm" in place of "so help me God".  Everytime I have re-enlisted I've done that.  It's raised eyebrows, but fuck 'em, its my re-enlistment.  

      But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.

      by calipygian on Tue Apr 19, 2005 at 04:24:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Where are Jim Wallis and other 'moderates'? (none)
    Religious so-called moderates who talk about finding common ground should be leading the charge against state- and taxpayer-funded religion such as this. They would have the most credibility.
  •  Non-Christian Air Force Cadets Cite Harassment (none)
    From the Los Angeles Times today

    here; an oasis of truth.

    by Shockwave on Wed Apr 20, 2005 at 07:58:55 AM PDT

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