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Ken Masugi- Columnist

Ken Masugi is the Director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Local Government. Its purpose is to apply the principles of the American Founding to the theory and practice of local government, the cradle of American self-government. Dr. Masugi has extensive experience in government and academia. Following his initial appointment at the Claremont Institute (1982-86), he was a special assistant to then-Chairman Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After his years in Washington, he held visiting university appointments including Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. Masugi is co-author with Brian Janiskee of both The California Republic: Institutions, Statesmanship, and Policies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) and Democracy in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). He is co-editor of six books on political thought, including The Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism with Branford P. Wilson, (Ashbrook Series, 1997); The Ambiguous Legacy of the Enlightenment with William Rusher, (University Press, 1995); The American Founding with J. Jackson Barlow and Leonard W. Levy, (Greenwood Press, 1988). He is the editor of Interpreting Tocqueville's Democracy in America, (Rowman & Littlefield, 1991). [go to Masugi index]

Hunting Religious Zealots at the Air Force Academy
The politically correct assault on religion at the Academy in Colorado Springs...
[Ken Masugi] 5/9/05

Having taught for three years at the Air Force Academy, I have strong opinions about the institution, mostly highly positive. The overblown reaction to alleged religious intolerance at USAFA is a topic we have previously commented on. The latest iteration (David Kelly, LAT) seems to stretch some plausible concerns into silliness: "A history instructor ordered students to pray before a final exam...." What is omitted from the article is an assessment of why some cadets feel a need to assert themselves against those of different faiths.

The same moral corruption and temptation that prevails on ordinary college campuses [see my posts on Tom Wolfe's novel I am Charlotte Simmons] appears to be receiving a healthy response in affirmation of one's faith. That religious conviction has its excesses in religious zealotry is an old story. Studying the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln is the best cure for such behavior; that's the approach I took in teaching political theory at USAFA. But what's the chance of that cure being pushed by the Rev. Barry Lynn and all the consultants doubtless being enlisted in confronting this latest jolt to the preparation of young officers?

In his reporting on alleged religious discrimination by evangelicals at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Dan Kelly of the LA Times presents what amounts to a brief for Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (See our previous post on this issue. I taught political science at USAFA for three years and saw problems as well as excellence; see this post): Nowhere does Kelly, whose latest article is here, quote a cadet or anyone else who might offer a different perspective.

To the extent there are abuses and conflicts, they should be seen in light of other problems. For example, the time allotted (virtually every cadet minute is planned) for religious clubs to meet was effectively curtailed, in what was apparently some bureaucratic struggle. Some Christians felt that their ability to practice their faith was under attack. Kelly reports “The [critical outside] report's authors were told that cadets who refused to attend chapel after dinner were marched by upperclassmen back to their dorms in a ritual called ‘heathen flight.’” That, I’m reliably told, is a terrible misrepresentation of a joke: Having an hour of rest or study was regarded as a bonus. The “heathens” might well be devout cadets who preferred solitude; the “ritual” was not religious hazing. Did Kelly not realize that many evangelicals felt uncomfortable at declining alcohol at raucous unofficial parties and events? And that they were harassed for not behaving like, well, like most college students do? Hence might not any faculty encouragement of evangelicals in fact have helped serve a disciplinary (i.e., secular) purpose?

In defense of Kelly, it is difficult to get cadets, who think the media is out to get them, to talk. And they may have been ordered not to talk. But enterprising reporters should have been able to get the other view, not one that plays to stereotypes about evangelicals and the military but one which more accurately portrays life at USAFA.

Finally, some moving thoughts by an Academy graduate who contacted me:

....The Academy has been under attack for a long while. Most of the attacks, no matter how baseless (consider how few of the "sexual misconduct" cases have actually been found to have merit since the initial outbreak of the scandal), erode the Academy's core. The Academy since its inception has embraced four pillars, one of them being "spiritual". Yet in my time there, I watched the cadets embrace this pillar with more fervor than had been seen in years, yet it seemed that the leadership constantly tried to hold back this fervor....

[R]eligious freedom was a vulerability for the Academy as a government instituion. Clearly the Academy has put itself in other much more vulnerable situations. Consider ... the fact that it houses male and female rooms, not just in the same building, but sharing the same hallways with rooms right next to each other. This has put the Academy in an extremely vulnerable position as they realize that college age males and females, cadets or not are subject to temptation. Yet we have not seen a movement to get rid of this because it would express to the public a feeling that males and females would not be equal (as "separate but equal" is a foul taste in the mouth of America) Likewise, the Academy knows that when it has a huge population of life living faithbound cadets ... it is vulnerable to attacks of "separation of church and state" issues. What it does not fear and does not consider itself vulnerable to is an attack on its prevention of the free expression of religion. Hence it is easier to tell a Christian group that it may not meet between certain hours on campus (much like public high schools may try to enforce), than to try to encourage as much free faith as possible....

How far have we come? I reflect upon what the soldiers under George Washington would have thought if their commander was told that he would not be allowed to pray publicly for them before they fought for their country….

I think that the Academy like I said is a soft spot in America. It is the best and brightest of our nation. We want them to represent what America stands for. Integrity and professionalism are high on the list. The Academy was established on the fact that a cadet's life should be balanced among his academic, military, athletic and spiritual duties. This was how a professional officer should be developed. Excelling in one area but not at the cost of lacking completely in another. For example the smartest cadet at the Academy would still be disenrolled if his military bearing was unacceptable, or he was unable to pass the tests of his physical fitness. In the same way, all cadets are always encouraged to develop their spiritual core. Their moral compass is found here. Yet this is with an understanding that it does not have to be one common religion to meet this goal, merely the freedom to practice any religion which would support the core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all We Do.

Unfortunately those who do not understand these concepts (whether it be media personalities or liberal political activists) have aligned themselves with ex-cadets who also perhaps did not understand them, in an effort to cast down the goal of developing a spiritual center for the future officers of America. Male and female cadets worshipping together as brother and sister of a common spiritual heritage are certainly not the ones who would be sexually assaulting one another. Those who pray with one another for pure hearts of integrity are not the ones sitting before the [disciplinary] honor board.

Yet we see that so far the answers to every recent Academy "problem" have been secular in nature. "Female cadets have possibly been mistreated? Then we shall tear down the words 'Bring Me Men'" [above the archway leading to the grounds]…. "Give them secular sensitivity training and this also will alleviate these problems." Only time will tell what the results of choosing psychological development over spiritual development will do to the officer corps of the future. But it is my firm belief that with each blow of the hammer on the spiritual pillar of the USAF Academy, we have lost just a little more of what makes America what she is... tOR

[Note: More on this from Hugh Hewitt and Col. Buzz Patterson.]

copyright 2005 Claremont Institute.


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