Wednesday, April 20, 2005

THE U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY can add religious harassment to its list of unfriendly behaviors. Students at the USAF who are not Christian have been aggressively proselytized (at an institution paid for by public taxpayer dollars); and, even worse, have been verbally attacked and intimidated by the good, devout Christians on campus. Some of those taunted and insulted are Jewish. They face the usual slurs; being Jewish myself, I know them all too well.

Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate and a lawyer in Albuquerque, said that his son Curtis — a sophomore at the academy — had been called a "filthy Jew."

"When I visited my son, he told me he wanted us to go off base because he had something to tell me," Weinstein said. "He said, 'They are calling me a … Jew and that I am responsible for killing Christ.' My son told me that he was going to hit the next one who called him something."

The problem got even worse after Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was released.

Hundreds of movie posters were pinned up in the academy dining hall advertising the film. Cadets did mass e-mailings urging people to see it.

School leaders denounced the e-mails, saying students should not use government equipment to promote their religion.

At that point, officials began looking into the situation.

Colorado Springs, where the USAF is located, is the Grand Central Station of right-wing fundamentalist and evangelical Christian groups. One of those groups, Focus on the Family, has already managed to turn this around into an example of Christians being persecuted, and the group's vice-president of public policy, Tom Minnery, even implied that, since 90% of the USAF's student body is Christian, they have a right to bully and force their beliefs on the other 10%.

"If 90% of cadets identify themselves as Christian, it is common sense that Christianity will be in evidence on the campus," he said. "Christianity is deeply felt and very important to people … and to suggest that it should be bottled up is nonsense. I think a witch hunt is underway to root out Christian beliefs. To root out what is pervasive in 90% of the group is ridiculous."

Apparently Minnery believes that "deeply felt Christian beliefs" include the need to tell non-Christians they are going to hell if they don't convert, and to accuse Jewish students of killing the Jewish rabbi they call Christ. And let's not forget that "deeply felt Christian beliefs" have not been viewed by many of the cadets at the USAF as an impediment to raping and sexually harassing dozens of female cadets over the years.

If condemning vicious attacks on non-Christians, and raping female cadets, constitutes "rooting out Christian beliefs," perhaps those particular Christian beliefs need an overhaul.

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