On March 8, 2013, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) aggressively mobilized to very publicly protest only the latest incident in a long, checkered history of heinous unconstitutional insults to the cadets, faculty members, and staff at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, CO. Our protest attracted a plethora of electronic (TV, radio, and internet) and print media attention, including that of the editorial page of the uber-conservative Colorado Springs Gazette newspaper. The degrading insult in question this particular time was the circulation of a link to a fundamentalist, homophobic Jewish Orthodox website known as “Judaism 101.” The link was contained in a “Notice to Airmen” (NOTAM) of Religious Accommodations circulated by the Academy’s nefarious Chaplain’s Office which is, itself, a serial abuser of the Constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state. The link was used as an accompaniment to explanations on the origins and meaning of the major Jewish holidays. This public protest by MRFF came shortly after our civil rights foundation erected a billboard in Colorado Springs lambasting the Academy’s disgraceful and inappropriate usage of that web link.
What struck us as absolutely astonishing was that while Christian holidays were linked to a reputable and well-known About.com website administered by a bona fide expert on the religion, the USAFA chaplaincy linked Jewish holidays to an obscurantist website run by an admitted “traditional, observant Jew” who is neither a rabbi nor a Jewish Theologian. The website’s authordoes say that she has “put in a lot of research.” In other words, the author, Ms. Tracey Rich, is wholly and officially unaccredited and uncredentialed in definitive matters of the Jewish Faith.
The linking to a hobbyist website administered by a hardcore traditionalist was not, however, the only issue that concerned us. Indeed, the issue might have slipped past the MRFF radar if it weren’t for the fact that 21 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBQ) USAFA personnel contacted us, distressed over material on that so-called “Judaism 101” website which depicted homosexual activity as akin to “kleptomania,” among other pernicious hardcore social conservative positions on the website. Needless to say, such material should have absolutely no place in the hallowed halls of U.S. Military academia.
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Notwithstanding the foregoing, we at MRFF were anything but surprised that the editorial luddites at the conservative orgy which constitutes the Colorado Springs Gazette would suddenly defend the circulation of this sickening link in the name of some twisted and tortured conception of “academic freedom,” which it disingenuously hails as “essential to intellectual progress, free thought and freedom itself.” Its pedestrian and unintelligible screed was published the very morning of MRFF’s protest rally against the Academy. Ah, marvel once again at the malodorous stench from the opiners at that literary rag! Witness in rapturous wonder the utter lack of grasp of even the remotest Constitutional realities by the largest newspaper in that town. Behold, a community which has justly been called the “fundamentalist Christian Vatican” and their newspaper which functions as the mouthpiece for the fascists at neighboring Focus on the Family and their prejudiced ilk of fellow Christian supremacist travelers.
Let’s be clear: the paramount responsibility of USAFA brass is to promote good order and discipline, support Department of Defense (DoD), USAF, and other Executive Branch Policy, and above all, to maintain clear consistency with the Constitution that all servicemembers are sworn to protect and defend. When the Chaplain’s Office at USAFA links to “Judaism 101” without a single disclaimer or caveat in regards to its incontrovertibly myopic and contentious content, the clarion message communicated is one of absolute endorsement and unbridled validation. This entire controversy could have been avoided by (a) not including ANY links to non-DoD sites; (b) including a distinctive disclaimer noting that USAFA does NOT endorse or take responsibility for content on the website beyond that portion of the site specifically linked to; or (c) specifically stating that while the link included had some factual information about Judaism, significant amounts of DoD policy run directly counter to this information and it should NOT be viewed at all as necessarily consistent with DoD policy. Better yet, USAFA might have used one of the actual MILLIONS of other links that exist to effectuate the “educational” mission it arguably was trying to accomplish.
Academic freedom is something that our foundation fervently values. Indeed, the most vociferous opponents of essential intellectual inquiry are usually our Bronze Age-mired, fundamentalist Christian foes. That having been said, we must note that USAFA, like West Point and Annapolis, was never designed to be the bastion of scientific learning and research that is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nor was it created to dominate college athletics like many other universities and colleges. Nor was it established, as more than merely some would like, to be the sectarian Bible college that is Bob Jones University. It is a military training organization, first and foremost. While USAFA does offer classes for credit on the Philosophy of Religion as well as related special topics classes taught by highly qualified instructors, a distinction needs to be made between free inquiry and discussion and some biased bigot spouting off views that are steeped in the vilest forms of old-school anti-gay prejudice. Even in those classes offered at USAFA, a basic expectation of professors (per Air Force Instruction 1-1 Section 2.11) is that they refrain from making statements endorsing one religious perspective over another. The overall religious climate at USAFA is so wretchedly miserable that we at MRFF were also compelled to post the predecessor language to AFI 1-1 Section 2.11 (former USAF Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz’s directive of September 2012) word-for-word on a billboard last year in Colorado Springs. Such is the rapaciously repugnant level of Constitutional dereliction at this once-proud federal military Academy.
The administrative and professional military world of USAFA is indeed literally galaxies apart from your typical public classroom. It is a military institution, not a junior college or divinity school. Leaders at USAFA are duly bound by oath to adhere to public law, to follow Constitutional guarantees that ensure “No Religious Test” as well as providing for the free practice of, and non-establishment of, religion to maintain good order, discipline, and morale. It is absolutely impermissible, and criminally unlawful under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, that USAFA personnel feel that they can willy-nilly endorse one religious view (almost always fundamentalist or Dominion Christianity) over others or even no faith at all. It is not only outrageous but a full blown national security threat that they, or anyone else in DoD, feel secure in the knowledge that they can use their Academy bully pulpits (or email addresses, Twitter and/or Facebook accounts, blogs, or home pages) with utter impunity as an insidious means of denigrating otherwise permissible personal views, lifestyles, or politics that are well outside of the realm of the Profession of Arms. It’s not within their prerogative to link to some political sites without linking to ALL political sites. Likewise, they can’t pick and choose among religious sites that may appeal to them on some level, personally, yet concomitantly serve to viciously marginalize those who are serving honorably at USAFA or anywhere else in the U.S. military.
Listen up now; don’t get us wrong. MRFF’s only dog in this civil rights fight is the Constitution of the United States of America, and those DoD and USAF regulations, directives, and instructions that universally protect those precious civil rights of our servicemembers. When USAFA deliberately and unequivocally links to a very public internet site, clearly using its official means to do so, it is anything but a stretch of the imagination to believe that the views expressed on that site are an outright and overt endorsement by the Academy. MRFF made sure that USAFA was alerted to this ignoble fact by a demand letter sent by me to none other than the current Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Mark Welsh. However, instead of owning up to and accepting their blatantly obvious error and mistake – hey, nobody’s perfect, we all make mistakes – USAFA made a fully conscious decision to leave the dubious, uncredentialed, and hate-causing link active. Period. In all fairness, reasonableness, and rationality, what OTHER conclusion can we logically draw, glean, and surmise besides “Deep down, they really DO endorse these hateful views?”
Did USAFA perpetrate this disgrace via cold, calculated purpose? Or did USAFA merely negligently mess up for the umpteenth time regarding religious respect and dignity? Does it even really matter either way? Sadly indeed, we at MRFF are left with no other choice but to once again repeat our mantra with respect to USAFA’s abhorrent and sordid stewardship of matters pertaining to religious respect and disrespect: “Sufficiently advanced incompetence is completely indistinguishable from malice.”