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[image,right: USAF Academy Chapel]

Officially encouraged Bible classes, at the United States Air Force Academy, taught by instructors bused in from James Dobson's Focus On The family ?

That's where the USAF Academy was at in 2004, according to David Antoon.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation [ here's the donation page, if you can offer financial support] came about, really,  through the shared experience of several parents who attended the United States Air Force Academy in the 1950s through the 1970s, founder Mikey Weinstein and others, who hoped their children would follow that path as well but discovered that in the years since they'd been at the academy the institution had changed in a disturbing and radical way. Those changes convinced these Air Force graduates that American Democracy itself was at risk.

A new article by David Antoon, Vietnam War Air Force Pilot, USAF Academy graduate, and Military Religious Freedom Foundation board member, describes those changes at the USAF academy since Antoon was a cadet there over four decades ago.

In a July 12, 2005 interview with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richardson, Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, stated, "...we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched." For over a decade, the official [US Air Force] academy newspaper ran ads stating: "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World.  If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us!  There is salvation in no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." The ads were signed by 16 department heads, nine permanent professors, both the incoming and outgoing deans of faculty, the athletic director and more than 200 academy senior officers and their spouses.

[ from an article published on Truthdig The Cancer From Within, by Military Religious Freedom Foundation board member and decorated Vietnam War pilot David Antoon ]

According to Dr. Bruce Prescott, President of the Oklahoma Chpater of Americans United For The Separation Of Church and State:

"[I]n July 2004 a chaplain practicum team from the Yale University Divinity School issued a report documenting a worship service in which Protestant cadets were so aggressively instructed to proselytize other cadets that the team "expressed a  concern that the overwhelmingly Evangelical tone of general protestant worship encouraged religious divisions rather than fostering spiritual understanding among Basic Cadets"

"I No Longer Recognize The Air Force  Academy"

David Antoon attended the United States Air Force Academy over four decades ago and went on to serve as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. As he writes, "Never, during my four years at the academy and subsequent pilot and combat training, was the word warrior used; nor, whether as a cadet or officer, did I ever encounter "Christian supremacist" rhetoric".

When Antoon's son, after receiving an appointment to attend the Air Force Academy and follow in his father's path, attended an orientation at the academy, with his father, in 2004, the word "warrior" was ubiquitous but that was far from the most disturbing shift David Antoon noticed. Part of the orientation happened at the huge, rakish and severe aluminum Air Force Academy Chapel that dominates the academy skyline, and that is where Antoon realized that the academy of today was not the academy he attended four decades prior:

My son and I then made our way to the modernist aluminum chapel, where I expected to hear a welcome from one or two Air Force chaplains offering counsel, support and an open-door policy for any spiritual or pastoral needs of these future cadets.  In 1966, the academy had six gray-haired chaplains: three mainline Protestants, two priests and one rabbi...

Instead, my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets.  Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder.  He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks.  This "invitation" was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy.  I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.

I no longer recognize the Air Force Academy as the institution I attended almost four decades earlier.  At that point, I had no idea how invasive this extreme evangelical "cancer" had become throughout the entire military

In 2005, Melinda Morton was a high ranking Lutheran chaplain at the Air Force Academy who, by the time of the 2004 cadet orientation which repulsed David Antoon and his son, had been banished from the USAF chapel floor and relegated to the chapel's choir loft. Following the following the controversy that that broke out, in 2004, concerning inappropriate Christian religious proselytization at Air Force Academy, Morton was removed from her post at the Academy. In a May 12, 2005 Washington Post story, Morton was quoted as remarking:

"The evangelicals want to subvert the system," Morton said. "They have a very clear social and political agenda. The evangelical tone is pervasive at the academy, and it's aimed at converting these young people who are under intense pressure anyway."

The 2004 controversy led to an official attempt to introduce "religious sensitivity training" at the Air Force Academy but efforts, by Melinda Morton and other Air Force Chaplains, to shape the new curriculum were dramatically watered down:

"We were all giving our lifeblood to this," she says, "and trying to do it in a very balanced, helpful, educationally inspiring way for the cadets and for the staff." Many nights the trio worked until the wee hours of the morning, she remembers, and their spouses would bring them hamburgers from Wendy's.

The chaplains regularly presented drafts to faculty and staff members for comment. "At every turn, we were confronted by a very hostile evangelical community," Ms. Morton says. "It became obvious to us that the goal of the academy was simply to kill this program, ... morph it into something worthless."

When the senior Air Force chaplain, Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, saw a version of the RSVP program, he asked her, "Why is it that in your presentation the Christians never win?"

Other officials who reviewed the curriculum cut out proposed discussions of proselytization, Ms. Morton says. The chaplains had also suggested including clips from Schindler's List and a film about American Indian spirituality, she says, but Air Force officials nixed those ideas, citing time as an issue. After multiple drafts, RSVP went from 90 minutes to 50 minutes.

Years Later...

A recent Military Religious Freedom Foundation report has detailed how "Military Ministries" from Campus Crusade For Christ have been welcomed (apparently) by commanders of US military basic training facilities onto Lackland Air Force Base, Fort Sam Houston, and elsewhere. The director of Campus Crusade For Christ's Military Ministry, in videos the 497 million dollar a year organization has been so bold as to post on YouTube and Google Video, claims its ministries have been, literally, integrated into basic training at those facilities.

Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, U.S. Army (ret.) is the Executive Director of Campus Crusade's Military Ministry. Tapped in 2005 to lead the ministry, Dees has moved aggressively to embed Military Ministry on US basic training facilities and so exploit their potential for indoctrination. He wrote, in Military Ministry's October 2005 "Life and Leadership" newsletter:

"We must pursue our particular means for transforming the nation -- through the military. And the military may well be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure. Militaries exercise, generally speaking, the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens...."

In short, US Basic training facilities of the United States military are being co-opted, by fundamentalist organizations, such as Campus Crusade For Christ, to indoctrinate military personnel and basic training recruits in a form of Christianity that is almost certainly heavily politicized, if quietly so.

This should concern all Americans ; as I've recently described, the Founder Of Campus Crusade For Christ rejected the Theory Of Evolution (and even co-authored a book in "Intelligent Design" and held that American public education had been co-opted as part of a vast "anti-God" conspiracy that went back to the Renaissance and included communist and socialist ideology, atheism, and the ACLU.

The USAF "Rocky Mountain Bible College"

David Antoon outlines, by simple numbers, how radical the transformation at the Air Force Academy has been:

It seemed that my beloved United States Air Force Academy had morphed into the Rocky Mountain Bible College.

The academy chaplain staff had grown 300 percent while the cadet population had decreased by 25 percent:  from six mainline chaplains to 18 chaplains, the additional 12 all evangelical.  The academy even gained 25 reserve chaplains, also nonexistent in earlier times, for a total of 43 chaplains for about 4,000 cadets, or one chaplain for every 100 cadets.

There is extensive empirical evidence to back up David Antoon's assessment. Dr. Bruce Prescott, head of Mainstream Baptist and Prsident of the Oklahoma AU chapter, provides a crisp overview in the Mercer University Center For Baptist Studies "Monthly E-Magazine":

The Air Force has documented concerns about the propriety of the "religious influence" of evangelical Christians at the Academy since the mid-1990s.   Concerns recently escalated when 1) in February 2004 a faculty survey raised the issue of religious bias at the Academy, 2) in May 2004 a graduating airman filed a complaint with the Air Force Inspector General’s Office alleging that the Academy discriminates against non-Christians, 3) in July 2004 a chaplain practicum team from the Yale University Divinity School issued a report documenting a worship service in which Protestant cadets were so aggressively instructed to proselytize other cadets that the team "expressed a  concern that the overwhelmingly Evangelical tone of general protestant worship encouraged religious divisions rather than fostering spiritual understanding among Basic Cadets," 4) the Academy’s Fall 2004 Cadet Social Climate Survey revealed that "30% of non-Christian cadets responding believe that Christian cadets are given preferential treatment" while "over 50% of all cadets responding agree that religious slurs/comments/jokes are used," and 5) in April 2005 when the legal department of Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a report on "Religious Coercion and Endorsement of Religion" at the Academy and asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to correct the problems.

All The way Up To The Pentagon...

As Antoon discovered, the ["encouraged"] Monday night Bible classes held weekly at the Air Force Academy were taught by bused-in members of James Dobson's Focus On The Family and Ted Haggard's New Life Church. But, the pattern extends all the way up to the highest reaches of the Pentagon, as David Antoon details:

In December 2006, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought media focus to the Christian Embassy Evangelical Organization and its now famous video...

Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, who suggested in the film that his religious beliefs trump country and his oath to the Constitution, was cited last year for sending e-mails to military subordinates and contractors advocating they vote for a particular candidate for Congress, arguing that there are "not enough Christians in Congress." West Point graduate and Army Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen, who was filmed stating "We are the aroma of Jesus Christ here in the Pentagon," is now commandant of cadets at West Point.  West Point graduate Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, another Christian Embassy star, was the "voice" and "face" of the press conferences at Qatar.  His office is famous for the creation of the "Rambo" Jessica Lynch fabrications and the manipulation of the killing of Pat Tillman into a recruiting and media event.  West Point graduate and evangelical  Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, involved in the investigation of Tillman’s death, stated publicly that Pat Tillman’s family was not at peace with his death because they are atheists who believe their son is now "worm dirt." Air Force Academy graduate Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, assigned as the senior U.S. military officer in Turkey at the time the Military Religious Freedom Foundation brought the Christian Embassy into media focus, was questioned by Turkish officials about his membership in a radical evangelical cult.

Many of MRFF's charges concerning the Pentagon officials who appeared "Christian Embassy" video were later confirmed in a Pentagon Inspector General Report(link to PDF of report)

In mid September 2007, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit, in Kansas District Court, that alleges a widespread pattern of religious abuses in the military. Here is a PDF of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's most recent lawsuit


Fundamentalist Christian right "para church" ministries have literally become integrated into the United States military in a pattern that goes from the Pentagon on down to the base level. Many of these ministries have recently been invited onto US military bases and even onto basic training facilities to - run "religious education" programs and evangelize recruits. The budgets of these "military ministries" have increased considerably over the last few years and their efforts seem to have accelerated. In other words, as the  political influence and clout of the Christian right has ebbed somewhat recently, fundamentalist influence in the military appears to be growing

The Raw Calculus Of Power

An extremely reductionist, clinical approach to achieving power targets highly specific points that determine power and are power in the most basic and brutal sense. We can infer such thinking to be at work, perhaps, in the GOP domination of [highly insecure and easily hackable] electronic voting machine technology. But in rawest terms the real power in America lies with the US military and especially with the Air Force which does not possess the absolute ability to control but does hold absolute power to destroy.

Since George Washington refused the advice of those who exhorted Washington to declare himself king and instead disbanded the army, the involvement of the US military in civilian affairs has been taboo. But there are clear indications that taboo is weakening. Last year, the John Warner Defense Appropriation Act for Fiscal Year 2007 effectively nullified the Posse Comitatus Act which prohibited US federal and National Guard troops from being used for domestic law enforcement. The 2008 Defense Appropriations Act went on to articulate circumstances under which such use of regular US army and National Guard troops might be used.

Even as legal barriers against the domestic use of the US military have been torn down, as suggested below the members of the US military may be increasingly coming to hold the view that the true "Christian" heritage of the United States has been stolen by societal forces and groups that are at the least less than wholesome but at worst positively satanic, "anti-God".

One of the hallmarks of American Constitutional Democracy has been a steadfast refusal, on the part of the military, to exert its influence on US government:

Unlike New World and formerly Spanish colonial governments which can trace their cultural heritage back to colonial Spain, the tradition from which American government sprang was one in which military interference in civilian and governmental affairs was viewed with much greater skepticism than among its Iberian-derived cultural and governmental counterparts.

A New Dolschtosslegende ?

That cultural tradition now stands danger of being compromised for the very simple reason that the founders, of those Christian fundamentalist "military ministries" that target the US military and are being integrated into US basic training facilities, have held (and hold) that church-state separation has gone much too far, that America was originally founded as a Christian nation, on  Biblical principles, and that much of the alleged 'moral decay' and crime of our age, indeed almost all manner of ill afflicting (or alleged to afflict) America can be traced to Supreme Court decisions which, for example, barred sectarian teaching of the Bible in American public schools. "God has been chased from the Public Square" is the accusation which has become so deeply embedded in American discourse that it gets echoed now by Democratic Party presidential candidates.

The villains in that narrative of complaint, which we can reasonably presume is being insinuated into the US military (because the financial backers are hard-headed businesspeople who are accustomed to getting results on their investments), tend to be judges, public school teachers, most of Hollywood, those who believe in Evolution (or science proving Global Warming even), liberals, gays, sometimes Jews but certainly secular and liberal Jews, and all who would oppose the transformation of the United States into an overtly and aggressively "Christian Nation".      

In short, a sharp and religiously based ideological animus, against specific parts of American civilian society, is being infused into the United States military, the most powerful military on Earth and which possesses the ability to lay waste to the surface of the Earth many times over and even, perhaps, to end life on Earth as we know it.

The "Wrong Sort" Of Christians

Those who initiated the fight to prevent the US military from being transformed into an indoctrination machine that stamps  a politicized, right wing fundamentalist Christian religious ideology onto military cadets, recruits, and the officer corps alike were of the US military itself, and their motivation lies, in part, in a shared outrage that the previous trend in the  US military, towards an uneasy but genuine balance that would preserve the religious and philosophical freedom  rights of US military members, has been reversed so radically that thousands of military members have lodged complaints, most of those anonymous from fear of retribution, with MRFF and the severity of the problem is reflected in the fact that 90% of those complaints come not from professed atheists (who exist in the military in numbers much greater than in the US civilian population, in foxholes even).

90% of complaints registered with MRFF come from Christians who simply are not the right sort of Christians, that is to say they are not fundamentalists who hew to a literal reading of the Bible (whatever that is supposed to be) or that the Bible is literally true such that the Earth was literally created, with a whoof and a puff of smoke, some 6,000 odd years ago, per a chronological accounting of Genesis meticulously detailed in the 19th Century.

MRFF's Fight

The organizational mission of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is to fight for the right of US military personnel to hold whatever religious and philosophical beliefs they choose, and abuses of that right, detailed in David Antoon's article noted here and opposed by Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation, are simply abuses of religious and philosophical liberty.

The percentage of fundamentalists in the US military has very likely risen in the past decade, and that is an issue US civilian society needs to grapple with. Meanwhile, it is not an easy or comfortable thing, especially for civilians not familiar with the culture of the US military, to concern themselves with that institution or involve themselves in criticizing it. But, the religious transformation of the US military has only accelerated since David Antoon's son declined in 2004 to attend the United States Air Force Academy, with considerable regret, due to the aggressively evangelical climate which has come to prevail there.

That process will not likely stop regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican gains the US presidency in 2008. It will only stop, and be reversed, to the extent that more Americans come to the realization that, if we do not recognize and oppose this process, our very democracy may be at risk.

*****

image, below: detail of 1960's era stained glass window, in the Memorial Chapel at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, former home of the Strategic Air Command (now renamed the Strategic Command) depicts iconography of sanctified nuclear war fighting. Note apparent mushroom cloud shapes, lower right.

 

 

Originally posted to Troutfishing on Mon Nov 12, 2007 at 04:12 PM PST.

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