Submitted by: Mike Spindell
A young man named Blake Page resigned from West Point this week with five months left to go until graduation. This will no doubt be a life changing event for him and could potentially have drastic consequences. His reason for resigning was his belief that there was a pervasive influence of religious proselytizing at this famed military academy. He and other non-religious cadets are retaliated against for their beliefs and for their refusal to go along with a program that makes Christian Faith the standard for success and for receiving privileges.
He wrote an article for the Huffington Post which I will discuss and link to below. First though I want to add my own thoughts on this because I think this young man is credible and because his charges regarding West Point are not the first complaint of intolerance towards non-religious cadets at a U.S. Armed forces Academy. The U.S. Air force Academy is located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is said that this community of 416,000 people can be considered the nexus of Evangelical Christianity in the United States, if not the world.
“Although houses of worship of almost every major world religion can be found in the city, Colorado Springs has in particular attracted a large influx of Evangelical Christians and Christian organizations in recent years. At one time Colorado Springs was counted to be the national headquarters for 81 different religious organizations, earning the city the tongue-in-cheek nickname “the Evangelical Vatican“ and “The Christian Mecca”.
Religious groups with regional or international headquarters in Colorado Springs include: the Association of Christian Schools International, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Compassion International, Every Home for Christ, Focus on the Family, HCJB, the International Bible Society, The Navigators, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs, WAY-FM Media Group, Andrew Wommack Ministries, and Young Life.”
In addition to the Air Force Academy there is Fort Carson and two air force bases located in the City. Twenty percent of this County’s employees work for these facilities. Besides this large military presence: “Colorado Springs is home to the United States Olympic Training Center and the headquarters of the United States Olympic Committee. In addition, a number  of United States national federations for individual Olympic sports have their headquarters in Colorado Springs” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colorado_Springs,_Colorado#Religious_institutions
Call me paranoid perhaps, but I think that it is no coincidence that this small city, but sixty miles from Denver, at the base of Pikes Peak, has drawn such a large influx of Evangelical Christians and their national organizations. I think it is potentially an ominous sign and I’ll explain my thoughts and feelings.
There has been a long and troubling history of religious proselytizing at the Air Force Academy (ACA). In the last two decades as many Evangelical Christians flocked to this city, their efforts to make contact with both Officers, Professors and Cadets has been constant and quite successful. This outreach has also extended to the military bases and airfields in the area. I don’t believe that this interaction is coincidental and I also believe it is an attempt by the Evangelical Christian movement to increase their power by converting the military. A hall mark of the Evangelical Christian movement today is their militancy and their willingness to not only confront, but to exercise power to coerce people into accepting their beliefs. What better source of coercion than having the U.S. Armed Forces in back of you and perhaps subject to your manipulation of religious ideology. Let some of the evidence speak for itself:
“David Mullin, a former AFA economics professor, said military culture muddies the distinction between encouragement and orders, so only chaplains should speak on religious matters. “When a military commander says ‘you are encouraged to attend,’ whether it is to military officers or civilians, that is an effective order,” Mullin said. This constitutes improper proselytism, he added.
A self-described evangelical, Mullin is one of the few to openly criticize what he calls an unhealthy religious climate in the AFA. He is represented in court by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a legal watchdog. Mullin was one of five academy professors who sued unsuccessfully in January 2011 to stop a school prayer luncheon that would feature as keynote speaker a veteran who calls himself a “U.S. Marine for Christ.” He alleges his dog was poisoned after he protested about the school’s religious climate later that year.
Mullin suggests part of the problem stems from the AFA’s Colorado Springs location. The city hosts many evangelical parachurch organizations, such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, as well as New Life Church, an evangelical church founded by its former pastor Ted Haggard. He added that some of these groups have access to the academy, including cards that get them into dorms. “You have very strong encouragement — basically carte blanche access to cadets by the leadership of the academy by these groups,” Mullin said. “It is corruption, and there is substantial religious discrimination as part of this corruption,” he said. The AFA has long struggled with setting boundaries for religious expression.”
Professor Mullin says the problem stems from the proximity of these church groups, but my suspicions are that the proximity of these church groups is o coincidence, but the result of a concerted to make inroads into the military. The result is the kind of situation described in a column on 10/12/11 by Chris Rodda Senior Research Director, Military Religious Freedom Foundation; Author, ‘Liars For Jesus
“A little over a year ago, a cadet at the Air Force Academy emailed the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to tell us about an “underground” group of about a hundred Academy cadets who, in order to maintain good standing among their peers and superiors at the Academy, were actually pretending to be fundamentalist Christians. Their charade included leaving Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian music CDs laying around their rooms; attending fundamentalist Christian Bible studies; and feigning devoutness at the Academy’s weekly “Special Programs in Religious Education” (SPIRE) programs. This group of cadets had decided to resort to doing whatever they had to do to play the role of the “right kind” of Christian cadets, all the while living in constant fear of being “outed.”
In the words of the cadet who wrote to MRFF last year, who described himself as “kind of the leader” of this underground group: “If any of us gave even the slightest indication that we weren’t one of their number, our lives would be even more miserable than they already are due to the fact that we are all living lies here. Despite the Cadet Honor Code we all lie about our lives. We have to.”
Who makes up this group of over a hundred cadets who feel that they must pretend to be such devoted fundamentalist Christians? Well, surprisingly, they are mostly Christians — both mainline Protestants and Catholics — who aren’t “Christian enough” or the “right kind” of Christians for the AirForceAcademy. The rest of the group is made up of other assorted heathens, which include members of non-Christian religions, agnostics, and atheists.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/air-force-academy-cadets-_b_1007411.html
Imagine if you will, a Cadet at the AFA, who is a perhaps a Presbyterian, Unitarian, Catholic, or a Jew, who feels this pressure to be seen as faithfully religious. You are already trying to adapt yourself to a hierarchal military system that emphasizes following your superior’s orders. What if your Superior hints strongly that they will think better of you if you are seen to be religiously faithful? What do you do? Obviously, as shown above some people, unable to stand up to the stress and pressures of conformity, in a system which requires it, will “fake it” to get by. What happens though to those who don’t fake it? How do we quantify that number among those who are booted out, ranked at the bottom of their class, or leave the Academy with an unfavorable notation in their permanent military record? It’s really not possible to make such a calculation and so we must infer it. Also from HuffPost and Chris Rodda on 10/29/10:
“The AirForceAcademy reversed course on Friday and released the results of a survey that showed mixed results on the school’s efforts to improve religious and racial tolerance and limit sexual harassment.
The survey, conducted in December and January, showed improvements in making minority groups feel more accepted and in reducing the number who say they feel pressured by others to participate in religious activities.
But it found that many cadets believe that some religious and racial minorities face discrimination and harassment, and an increasing percentage of the faculty and staff believe that sexual harassment occurs at the school.
The academy superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, said the survey overall shows that many of the school’s tolerance initiatives are effective but that improvement is needed.
Gould initially declined to make the results public, saying the were a “commander’s tool” best used internally.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/29/air-force-proselytizing-christianity-evangelicals_n_775859.html
The title of the HuffPost article though is “41% of Non-Christian Air Force Cadets Cite Proselytizing” Despite Superintendent Gould’s assurances that things were improving there, more exists in this story:
“Several groups filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the data, including The Associated Press. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., also pushed Gould to go public.”
“Coffman said Friday he’s still not convinced Gould understands his responsibility to be open with the public. “I think at the Air Force Academy, they need a remedial course in American government,” he said. Coffman said the military as a whole abuses its power to keep secrets and sometimes withholds information from the public because it’s embarrassing, not because of security concerns.
One of the groups that submitted a FOIA request for the survey, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, asked to have a representative at a briefing Gould conducted Friday but was turned down. Academy officials said the briefing was for media and that the foundation would be mailed the documents it requested. Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the foundation, accused the Air Force of reneging on an invitation it had extended to his foundation and said Gould was trying to muffle opposition. Weinstein said the religious climate at the academy is worse than Gould portrays it. He said he has heard from 172 cadets, faculty and staff at the academy who say they face religious pressure, mostly from evangelical Christians at the school, and are afraid to complain for fear of reprisals.”
Another article also references the situation that exists at the AFA:
“An underground group of cadets says yes, and they say they have to pretend to be fundamentalists so they will be considered cadets in good standing. Mainline Protestant and Catholics, they say, are not considered “Christian enough.” A survery of the climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy, based in Colorado Springs, showed need for improvement. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation says that nearly one in 5 of the cadets questioned reported being the target of unwanted proselytizing, and 23 cadets — 13 of whom are self-identified Christians — say they feared for their physical safety, given their religious beliefs. You can read more here.” http://blogs.courant.com/susan_campbell/2010/09/is-the-air-force-academy-under.html
There is frankly too much material on the religious problems at the AFA for me to present more than all the links listed above. In the interests of fairness I will list some more links below that shows that many Evangelicals have a different viewpoint. If you would like that viewpoint then please click the following links: http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=36782 and: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/religion/christianity/air-force-academy-caves-anti-christian-activist and: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctpolitics/2011/11/air_force_acade.html.
The title of this piece is “West Point and Religion” and my opening paragraph dealt with the resignation of Blake Page from West Point five months before he was due to graduate. I’ll let him explain why:
“As the President of the West Point Secular Student Alliance (SSA), a Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) affiliate, and first Director of Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Affairs at West Point, I have been in a position to hear countless cadets recount their personal stories of frustration in dealing with the ongoing oppressive and unconstitutional bigotry they face for being non-religious. Cadets often come to me to seek assistance, guidance and reassurance in response to instances of debasing harassment. Many here are regularly told they do not deserve a place in the military. They are shown through policy that the Constitution guarantees their freedom of, but not from religion. Many are publically chastised for seeking out a community of likeminded people because it is such a common belief that Humanism and other non-religious philosophies are inherently immoral and worse. “
“The title West Point Graduate carries a great deal of weight in this world. Those who earn it are given a “golden ticket” and wear a “ring of power” which will certainly carry them to successful careers with doors flung open in the military, in business, even in personal relationships; as so many are seduced by the historic prestige of the United States Military Academy. All of these things seem enticing, but for me personally they are not worth it. As I write this, I am five months from graduation. After nearly three and a half years here, there is no reason to suspect that I would be in any way incapable of completing the final requirements and walking across the stage in Michie Stadium with diploma in hand in another 174 days. Choosing to resign at this point also carries significant risk. The Army may seek recoupment in the form of about $200-300k which I will personally owe, or an additional term of up to 5 years of enlisted service. What could possibly compel me to pass over this incredible opportunity in exchange for such harsh penalties?”
“While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country. These are strong words that I do not use lightly, but after years of clear personal observation I am certain that they are true.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blake-page/west-point-religious-freedom_b_2232279.html
Considering the pressures, possible dangers and the sacrifice this young man is making by resigning from West Point I find his story credible and at the same time by linking it to what is occurring at the Air Force Academy, chilling from a Constitutional perspective. My belief is that many, but not all, of those who are in what is deemed “The Evangelical Christian Movement” are radicals cut from the same cloth as the “Islamic Fanatics” that many in this country fear and despise. This includes the James Dobson’s, Ralph Reeds, Franklin Grahams and Pat Robertson’s. They espouse a form of Christianity that is militant, intolerant and thirsting for power over all. The have amassed great wealth and have supported some of the most regressively radical politicians in this country. As we now see they are trying to extend their tentacles into the Military. If they succeed to any large degree we will indeed be at risk of this country turning into an oppressive theocracy. Will they succeed? Will we let them overturn our Constitution and substitute a Christian simulacrum of “Sharia Law”. What do you think? Am I indeed paranoid?
Submitted by: Michael Spindell, guest blogger.