Saturday, May 14, 2005

When the State Becomes the Church

What happens when church merges with state? What happens when government agencies promote one religious view over another? What happens when one version of Christianity is promoted over another by government agents?

Look no further than the United States Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado where conservative evangelical Christianity is aggressively promoted, and cadets of other faiths are frequently insulted, forced to choose between mandatory academy functions and their religious holidays, and now, a Lutheran chaplain has been fired for daring to criticize the culture of religious bigotry, and religious supremacism protected and enforced on campus.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has been on the case for months, and so now are major newspapers in the nation. The Washington Post, for example, reported that "Amid a rising chorus of complaints about preferential treatment for evangelical Christians -- and command pressure on non-evangelicals -- among the 4,000 cadets, a Pentagon task force is visiting the Colorado Springs campus this week to study the religious atmosphere and propose possible remedial steps." But the fired chaplain, Capt. MeLinda Morton has not been asked to brief the taskforce.

The Post continues that surveys of cadets and alumni, "have shown that some students said they felt a heavy and sometimes offensive emphasis on evangelical Christianity, with praise for cadets who pronounce their 'born-again' status and insults aimed at Jews, Roman Catholics and non-evangelical cadets.
One staff chaplain reportedly told newly arrived freshmen last summer that anyone not born again 'will burn in the fires of hell.'"

"'Such slurs have been heard for decades on the campus, according to Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, a 1977 academy graduate who said he has repeatedly complained to the Air Force brass about the 'religious pressure' on cadets. 'This is not Christian versus Jew,' Weinstein said. 'This is the evangelical Christians against everybody else.'"

"The Air Force's new attention to the issue stems from an earlier scandal at the school in which female cadets said commanding officers ignored or played down numerous cases of sexual assault by male students."

"As part of its response to the sexual assault charges, the academy asked a team from Yale Divinity School to visit the campus during the summer training for incoming freshmen."

"'We were asked to study the quality of cadet-centered pastoral care,'" said Yale Prof. Kristen Leslie. 'What we found was this very strong evangelical Christian voice just dominating. We thought that just didn't make sense in light of their mission, which was to protect and train cadets, not to win religious converts.'"

"Morton, who was executive officer of the squadron of 16 chaplains at the academy, said she shared the concerns expressed by the study group from Yale."

"'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.'"

This is what happens when church and state are merged. Government officials will use their positions to promote their religious and religiously informed political views; they will punish and purge those who disagree; and they will persecute those in the weakest position who do not go along. They feel justified in doing so, because they claim that their religious views require them to do so.

Similar justifications were made in years past to justify institutional racism and second class citizenship for African-Americans. Racial supremacy is no longer in fashion. But religious supremacism is on the rise -- promoted by the leaders of the Christian Right and their allies in Congress and the White House.

Let's keep the spotlight on the outrageous conduct of the religious supremacists at the Air Force Academy. Religious bigotry by agencies and senior officers of the federal government must be condemned in no uncertain terms, and a culture of religious equality maintained.

[Crossposted from FrederickClarkson.com]

2 Comments:

Blogger Frederick Clarkson said...

Over at The Daily Kos, I floated a favorite slogan of mine :

"Americans for Freedom of Worship"

Someone commenting on my post discussion suggested running that slogan by this year's crop of graduation commnencement speakers.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Toad734 said...

The answer to your first question would be Iran.

9:44 AM  

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