Column: U.S. Air Force Airbrushes Religious Liberty Yet Again
Fox News reported a few weeks ago about how the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., removed a Bible verse from a cadet's personal whiteboard. I am personally so disappointed that the branch of service that I served in to protect our freedoms is now trying to suppress them.
When one walks the dorm halls of the Air Force Academy, one immediately notices the hundreds of whiteboards hanging on students' doors. This past week, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., cited Air Force officials who explained that cadets "often use these boards to display items, quotes or other things that reflect their personality or from which they draw inspiration." I guess the Bible is the wrong type of inspiration, at least according to some Air Force leaders.
The host of "Fox News and Commentary," Todd Starnes, reported that Mikey Weinstein, director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said that "29 cadets and four faculty and staff members contacted" his "organization to complain about the Christian passage." Within two hours of Weinstein's calling the academy and filing a complaint, the cadet's whiteboard had been whitewashed.
Why is it that 29 cadets and four faculty members can exercise their anti-religious sentiment by communicating their grievances against the display of a Bible passage but a single cadet cannot exercise his own pro-religious sentiment by communicating his faith on his own personal whiteboard?
According to The Blaze, as a result, many cadets revolted in protest and solidarity by posting their own passages from the Bible and the Quran on their whiteboards.
Outside the academy, a new billboard has been posted near the entrance to the Air Force training school by the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, according to WorldNetDaily. The billboard contains a picture of the presidential faces on Mount Rushmore — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt — and addresses Air Force cadets: "Are you free to say So help me God? They did." The bottom contains the coalition's Web address: militaryfreedom.org.
Despite everyone's efforts to encourage religious freedom among Air Force Academy cadets, chaplain Gordon J. Klingenschmitt, Ph.D., recently and sadly reported that "Air Force Academy government lawyers continue to threaten cadets with punishment for posting Bible verses on their personal white-boards, according to a Christian attorney who spoke to the lawyers and several cadets."
I agree with retired Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, now executive vice president of the Family Research Council, who explained to Starnes: "Once the academy allowed cadets to use these whiteboards for their personal use, censorship of religious commentary is unacceptable. Either the Air Force Academy is very confused about the Constitution of the United States or they don't really believe in the liberties that are provided by that document. In essence, what they are doing is preparing young men and women to defend the Constitution while at the same time depriving these cadets of their own constitutional liberties."
Unfortunately, the Air Force's whiteboard whitewashing isn't the first prohibition of religious expression in U.S. military circles. There have been many others since our current president took office. Here's a sample:
—The Air Force Academy apologized for merely announcing Operation Christmas Child, a Christian-based charity and relief program designed to send Christmas gifts to impoverished children around the world.
—Air Force officials stripped religious aspects from a 20-year-old course on "just war theory."
—Yet, as reported in the Los Angeles Times in November 2011, the Air Force is building an $80,000 Stonehenge-like worship site for those who practice "Earth-based" religions, including "pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths."
—Walter Reed National Military Medical Center drafted policy that prohibited individuals from using or distributing religious items during visits to the hospital.
—Boykin, though he is a war hero, couldn't speak at the United States Military Academy because of his Christian faith.
—The Marine Corps considered tearing down a Camp Pendleton cross meant to honor fallen heroes.
—The Navy relocated a live Nativity scene at a base in Bahrain to the chapel area.
—The Department of Veterans Affairs censored references to God and Jesus during prayers at Houston National Cemetery.
—The Pentagon released regulations forcing chaplains to perform same-sex weddings, despite many chaplains' religious objections and the fact that members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus had worked tirelessly to ensure that the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2013, which was signed into law in January, included key religious freedom protections for service members generally and chaplains specifically (Section 533).
—The Pentagon revoked approval to use the logo of each service branch on the covers of Bibles sold in military exchange stores.
What is going on in the U.S. military? Apparently, the military's urge for neutrality is officially and fundamentally transforming into hostility against faith and religious expression.
What is so difficult to understand about the free exercise clause in the First Amendment, which says the feds "shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion?
What is the White House's response to all the military omissions and prohibitions of religious freedom and expression? Absolute silence. Apparently, the Oval Office never received Edmund Burke's message: Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.
Long gone are the days when the commander in chief wrote the prologue to the Gideons Bibles given to service members, encouraging them to find strength and courage from the contents. That's what President Franklin D. Roosevelt did before the start of World War II: "As Commander-in-Chief I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul."
The only fight left is for we the people to defend our First Amendment's freedom of religion, not espouse or enable the freedom from religion. Start in your own town, and take the battle all the way to Washington.
Write or call your representatives and then the White House to voice your opinion about the assault on religious liberty occurring across our land and what you think should be done about it. You can reach the White House by calling 202-456-1111 or by visiting http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments.
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