Thursday, May 05, 2005

Evangelicals Hitting the Fighting Holes?

The current story of an investigation at the Air Force Academy into alleged religious intolerance has a rough parallel to another allegation of religious intolerance in the military.

The Navy is investigating a chaplain's allegations he was punished for theological disagreements with superior officers, including his objections to requiring sailors to participate in services at a church that accepts homosexuality.

Lt. Gordon Klingenschmitt says he was transferred ashore and given a negative job recommendation because of the religious disagreements.

Other actions cited in Klingenschmitt's personnel records include his advocacy for a Jewish sailor who wanted kosher meals and his preaching of sermons that some sailors viewed as proselytizing and intolerant.

In each case, the military is accused of an institutional bias for one "brand" of religion while simultaneously maintaining a hostile climate against other varieties of faith. The stories, so far, are one-sided as the military refuses to comment on in-progress investigations. Even a cursory review of each case's allegations brings to mind many questions.

In the AFA case, the vaunted "report" from
Americans United for Separation of Church and State seemed able to unearth only 15 "cadets and staff" to support its allegations. But just what is the composition of that group? Is it say, 12 cadets and a few professors? Or is it 2 cadets and 13 staff members with axes to grind against the academy administration? Even if all 15 were cadets, that's an infinitesimal sample from a group numbering about 4000. Hard left blogs like DailyKos have also pounced on the "55 complaints" from the AP story, but they have omitted the context of that number. According to the AP story,

The academy said it first learned of reports of religious intolerance in a survey of cadets that included 55 complaints. Some cadets accused evangelical Christians of harassing both Christians and Jews; some of the Jewish cadets said they were blamed for the death of Jesus Christ. [emph. added]

The significance here is that this 55 number does not represent a large number of formal complaints that have been investigated and documented. Essentially, these are anonymous comments submitted on a survey. With such a dubious origin, this "number of complaints" should be viewed skeptically. For a detailed look at this case, check out Hugh Hewitt's column.

In the case of the Anzio chaplain Klingenschmitt, so far all we have is his word against "no comment". Clearly, he clashed with the chain-of-command on several points, and he was in fact sent ashore and administratively punished. The chaplain's Letter of Instruction (administrative punishment) admonished him for sending emails that were critical of the Navy's involvement with a church that supported a gay-lesbian outreach ministry. While this may be a perfectly proper protest, it must be done through the chain-of-command; going around it constitutes insubordination, not a clash of "theology".

Predictably, the left has seized on these incidents to vilify the military in general and to call for the abolishment of the service academies. In this
thread (scroll down a ways), the kind people of Kos call service academy graduates "religiously intolerant sexual predators". As a 1989 graduate of the Naval Academy and submarine veteran, I can tell you that I never observed anything remotely resembling the charges in either case. The Naval Academy mission reads in part "to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically". The left hates to hear this, but moral development cannot happen in a humanistic, relativistic vacuum. If our future officers are to be imbued with the moral foundation provided by religious ethics, it is imperative that midshipmen (and cadets) be provided an atmosphere that endorses religious faith. Endorsement does not constitute coercion, and real harassment must be aggressively rooted out and prevented. But given the awesome destructive power under their control, America's officer corps must have the respect for life that is fostered by the overtly religious features of service academy life.

UPDATE: Welcome, Hugh Hewitt readers!


At 8:01 AM, Blogger Matthew said...


You are right to be skeptical of the report, it raises a lot more questions than it answers.

But to dismiss the complaints as small in number or as being of "dubious origin" is probably incorrect.

Fifteen authenticated complainants is actually a significant number.

Fifteen complainants indicates that Americans United for Church and State (AUSCS) is not merely relying on isolated aggrieved parties, but has actually made an effort to look for and find real corroboration of any problems at the Academy.

You provided a link to Hugh Hewitt.

I read Mr. Hewitt's remarks about the AUSCS report before I read the actual report.

Based on what Mr. Hewitt had to say, I was expecting the report to be a sloppy compilation of rumors and overheated complaints. But what I read was actually quite disturbing in a different way.

It seems that AUSCS has documented longstanding and pervasive religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy, as well as violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

I am reluctant to conclude that Mr. Hewitt has been disingenuous or dishonest about this, if only because I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I certainly feel misled by Mr. Hewitt's characterizations of the report and his analysis of the allegations.

I urge anyone who is concerned about this report to read it, and see for himself what I am talking about.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger CDR Salamander said...

Well put, well stated. I especially like the visual: a bunch of guys with "Fellowship Hall pot-luck" bellies, oversized study bibles, boxes with snakes and ill-fitting suits (I fit the bill with at least one of the above) running across the deck looking for their fighting hole.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger CDR Salamander said...

ARRGHHHHH, there is Matthew again with a cut-n-paste he keeps putting everywhere. Gee wiz Matt. Diversity is important: in comments sections. I think this is the 4th or 5th time I have seen you post this WORD FOR WORD on different blogs.

You have two blogs of your own. If you want everyone to read the same thing over and over, put it there. Don't use up others space (like I keep doing responding to your blog-o-spam).

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Matthew said...

CDR Salamander,

You are posting at the same blogs I am. I have no problem with that, because if you want to be heard, then you should be heard.

While I did copy some paragraphs here from a comment I left on your website, I typed it out this time instead of cutting-and-pasting it.

I tried re-writing the paragraphs, but the original wording expressed what I had to say a lot better.

How about answering my points instead of complaining how my comment takes away from diversity in this debate? Just how does recycling a comment reduce diversity anyway?

I can understand how running into me again could be frustrating to you, but I am promoting discussion, not wasting space.

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Eric said...


Thanks for the intelligent comment.

However, I am always skeptical when a group with an avowed agenda (e.g. AUSCS) "finds" data to support their cause. I, too, have read the report, and can see that it is riddled with statements that begin "we have been told", "it has been reported to us", "we have learned", etc. Statements like these do not constitute, in my mind, "authenticated complainants". In fact, only on page ten does the report actually describe a specific incident involving a specific individual.

But my larger concern here is the mission of the AUSCS to use the establishment clause as a weapon to force compliance with its view of the United States. This group seems utterly determined to completely erase all traces of religion from government. My point is that the moral foundation built by religious institutions is an essential element of the moral development of military officers.
Also, my own experience at the Naval Academy (which included a brief 1987 exchange period at Air Force) does not square with the dismal picture painted by AUSCS.

I can see how someone reading the report would be concerned, but I submit that a one-sided "report" from a strident advocacy group should be viewed skeptically if for no other reason than on general principle. I have also attempted to offer my personal experiences as a rebuttal to the gloomy and alarmist tone of the report. Until I see a specific individual stand up and describe their own experiences, I will remain skeptical of AUSCS.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

Eric, thanks for responding and for the compliment.

I too am skeptical, but not to the point of being dismissive. Any judgement I make of the AUSCS report is tentative, pending the results of the Air Force investigation.

I think you get to the heart of the matter here:

But my larger concern here is the mission of the AUSCS to use the establishment clause as a weapon to force compliance with its view of the United States. This group seems utterly determined to completely erase all traces of religion from government. My point is that the moral foundation built by religious institutions is an essential element of the moral development of military officers.

I agree with you that religion, morality, and spirituality are very important in the military.

In a place like the Air Force Academy, where men and women are trained to be leaders with life and death responsibilities, the military is allowed some latitude in religious matters that is not permitted elsewhere in the government.

Yet this is precisely why the rules are so important and why boundaries must be clearly defined and respected. The staff and cadets should be encouraged to discuss and share their religious beliefs and experiences, but religious harassment and bullying should be prohibited.

It should be made crystal clear that there are no official negative consequences for not being born-again or for not being Christian. And aggressive religious proselytizing outside of chapel should be discouraged and punished.

If AUSCS wants to go further than this, and make the academy a religiously sterile environment, then that is all the more reason for the academy to do a good job of policing itself. The academy must hold itself to a high standard of religious tolerance and respect. Otherwise it is merely inviting outside inquiries and monitoring that is not likely to be very friendly.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Erik Mann said...

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At 12:36 AM, Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 12:28 PM, Blogger Roberto Iza said...

That comment was not meant for you,
Eric. I meant to flame the anti-Navy
dork who dumps on the New Jersey.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Erik Mann said...

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At 2:36 PM, Blogger Roberto Iza said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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