This past week the Air Force Academy released a report on an investigation of religious intolerance at the school. Reports had included a top officer claiming if cadets didn’t believe in Jesus they would go to hell and some cadets referring to another as a “filthy Jew”.
The Air Force investigating team “found a religious climate that does not involve overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members’ needs and a lack of awareness over where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs.”
The report commends progress at the academy during the past two years, but notes that commanders and supervisors still need more explicit guidelines regarding religious expression.
Anyone who doubts the wisdom of this recommendation need only read the report’s section describing the investigating team’s meeting with 16 coaches. Several seemed utterly at sea in terms of how and whether they can discuss religion, with one saying “he leads his team in prayer and invokes Jesus’ name regularly.”
Most of these government investigations lead to blathering and posturing in Congress as each party tries to capitalize on the results. It happened this week when Rep. David Obey (D-WI) offered an amendment to the military appropriations bill calling on the secretary of the Air Force to “develop a plan to ensure that the Air Force Academy maintains a climate free from coercive intimidation and inappropriate proselytizing” which was what the report recommended.
Most reasonable people would see Obey trying to uphold religious liberty but instead, as is the usual GOP motive, Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) accused the Democrats of waging war on Christianity. He said on the floor of the House:
“The long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. It continues unabated with aid and comfort to those who would eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage being supplied by the usual suspects, the Democrats. Like moths to a flame, Democrats can’t help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians.”
Hostettler’s remarks are for lack of better words – damn stinking lies. There is no war on Christianity in America. No one is trying to “eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage” (whatever that means). Obey’s amendment was to support religious liberty at the school – nothing more.
If Hostettler’s remarks were off the wall, another Republican made even more shocking remarks:
Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, said: “I, too, am a Christian, and one of the basic tenets of my faith is that I must share that faith. I am instructed to go and tell. And the going and telling of that involves looking someone face to face and explaining the tenets of my religion, one of which is a heaven and a hell.
“If I were to do that at the Air Force Academy, then I could be accused of abusive and coercive proselytizing and be charged, and that is not the case.”
Obey angrily rejected that claim, saying the issue was coercion by officers and supervisors, not religious free speech.
“No one is objecting to anyone trying to talk about religion,” the Wisconsin Democrat said. “What they are objecting to is the malicious and mean-spirited attacking of other people for the religious views that they do or do not hold.”
In the debate, Hostettler also suggested that “proselytization” really means “forced conversion” to Christianity, and that no such “proselytization” has occurred at the school.
No, Rep. Hostettler, “proselytization” doesn’t mean “forced conversion”. It is the “going and telling” someone about your faith even if they don’t want to hear it. It is the act of telling someone about your faith and trying to convert them which is what the officers and supervisors did at the Academy and what the Air Force report found.
Military members have a right to express their religious views but not in a coercive manner as happened at the Academy.