Color me shocked. After the sexual harassment allegations and aggressive proselytizing toward non-Christians, the US Air Force Academy has decided that part of its duty in educating future officers is the teach them to defend the Constitution and that includes the First Amendment clause guaranteeing freedom of religion.
Cadets gather for the dedication ceremony of the Air Force Academy’s Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle worship center this spring. The center serves cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of “Earth-based.” (Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette / May 3, 2011)
Officials say an $80,000 Stonehenge-like worship center underscores a commitment to embrace all religions.
Reporting from Colorado Springs, Colo.-
In the still of a cold November evening, a small gathering of pagans, led by two witches, begins preparations for the coming winter solstice. But these are not just any pagans, and this is not just any setting. They are future officers of the United States Air Force practicing their faith in the basement of the Air Force Academy’s cadet chapel.
Their ranks are slim. According to the academy’s enrollment records, only three of 4,300 cadets identified themselves as pagans, followers of an ancient religion that generally does not worship a single god and considers all things in nature interconnected. [..]
Witches in the Air Force? Chaplain Maj. Darren Duncan, branch chief of cadet faith communities at the academy, sighs. A punch line waiting to happen, and he’s heard all the broom jokes. [..]
“We’re here to accommodate all religions, period,” Duncan says. The building of the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle on the hilltop, he says, is no different from the past conversion of chapel rooms into worship spaces that serve this year’s 11 Muslim, 16 Buddhist and 10 Hindu cadets. There are also 43 self-identified atheist cadets whose beliefs, or lack of them, Duncan says are also to be respected.
“It is very nice to have our own space,” says Cadet 1st Class Nicole Johnson, a 21-year-old senior from Florida who became a pagan after entering the academy. [..]
In addition to providing worship space, new policy dictates that all cadets take courses in understanding the religions of those who may someday fall under their command. Recently he’s fielded calls from West Point and Annapolis about replicating the Air Force’s efforts. [..]
Back at the solstice preparations, with glue guns drawn and takeout pizza within easy reach, the pagan cadets decorated yule logs with bits of ribbon and glitter. Yule logs, whose ritual burning symbolizes faith in the reappearance of the sun, will be displayed alongside the Christmas trees and menorahs in next month’s crowded religious calendar at the academy.
And though Johnson acknowledges that her beliefs are often misunderstood, she says she has taken no serious grief from other cadets, save occasional questions about whether pagans dance naked (she doesn’t) or whether she can cast a spell on commanding officers (she wouldn’t even if she could).
Do as you will, but harm no one. Wiccan Rede