Tuesday, June 21, 2005


What part of "coercive and abusive" do they fail to understand?

Via talkleft, I find that there was a dust-up yesterday in Congress over sense of the Congress language in the Appropriations bill that would have expressed disapproval of "inappropriate" prostelytizing.

Here is original language in the bill:


(a) SENSE OF CONGRESS.--It is the sense of Congress that--

(1) the expression of personal religious faith is welcome in the United States military, but coercive and abusive religious proselytizing at the United States Air Force Academy by officers assigned to duty at the Academy and others in the chain-of-command at the Academy, as has been reported is inconsistent with the professionalism and standards required of those who serve at the Academy;

(2) the military must be a place of tolerance for all faiths and backgrounds; and

(3) the Secretary of the Air Force and other appropriate civilian authorities, and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and other appropriate military authorities, must continue to undertake corrective action, as appropriate, to address and remedy the inappropriate proselytizing of cadets at the Air Force Academy.


(1) PLAN.--The Secretary of the Air Force shall develop a plan to ensure that the Air Force Academy maintains a climate free from coercive religious intimidation and inappropriate proselytizing by Air Force officials and others in the chain-of-command at the Air Force Academy. The Secretary shall work with experts and other recognized notable persons in the area of pastoral care and religious tolerance to develop the plan.

(2) REPORT.--Not later than 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report providing the plan developed pursuant to paragraph (1). The Secretary shall include in the report information on the circumstances surrounding the removal of Air Force Captain Melinda Morton from her position at the Air Force Academy on May 4, 2005.

Let's recall what was going on there. "Heathen flights" were organized to intimidate cadets who did not want to go to chapel. Jewish cadets were called "[expletive] Jews" and Christ-killers. Cadets seeking passes to go to freethought meetings were denied while cadets seeking passes to go to Christian churches were permitted to go. (Church and State, Vol 58, No. 6, June 2005, pp 8-11). The superintendent of the Air Force Academy has admitted there is a problem and thinks it will take up to six years to fix it. Hence, the request that Congresscritters, who after all must recommend which lambs are sent to the slaughter young people will attend, express the view that their constituents not be subjected to, um, "coercive and abusive religious proselytizing" from people above them in the chain of command.

Sounds good to me. Doesn't sound so good to Republicans, though.

Congressman Hunter offered an amendment to gut the language in the bill, as follows:


(a) Sense of Congress.--It is the sense of Congress that--

(1) the expression of personal religious faith is welcome in the United States military;

(2) the military must be a place where there is freedom for religious expression for all faiths; and

(3) the Secretary of the Air Force and the Department of Defense Inspector General have undertaken several reviews of the issues of religious tolerance at the Air Force Academy.

(b) Report.--

(1) RECOMMENDATIONS.--The Secretary of the Air Force, based upon the reviews referred in subsection (a)(3), shall develop recommendations to maintain a positive climate of religious freedom and tolerance at the United States Air Force Academy.

(2) SECRETARY OF AIR FORCE REPORT.--Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the congressional defense committees a report providing the recommendations developed pursuant to paragraph (1).

The reason given for the changed language was basically that there wasn't an official expression by the Air Force that there was a problem, and that the Congress should give them time to finish their report.

Actually, this should be a no-brainer. If they didn't like the idea of indicting the Air Force academy based on news reports, they could have amended to strike "as has been reported". So, as far as I am concerned, we can take Hunter and the folks who voted for this amendment at face value: "Coercive and abusive prostelytizing" is a-ok with them.

Notice, the language does not prohibit prostelytizing - it prohibits coercive and abusive proselytizing by a cadet's superiors. Now, you can argue that this is a subjective judgement that is rather difficult to make. That's not what Hunter and his allies did. They argued that the sense of Congress language was attacking all proselytizing, and furthermore, it would prohibit impromptu gatherings of soldiers for religious services.

I live in an area where the high school kids think it's important that the Jewish kids know they are going to burn in hell for eternity if they don't become Southern Baptists. So I am very aware that the line between proselytizing and coercion or abuse is difficult to draw. However, I think it's important to make the attempt, rather than to have an anything goes kind of situation.

The anything goes situations tend to get a little out of hand, as occured in Santa Fe ISD , the home of the famous high school football prayer case. In Santa Fe, the complainants were Mormons and Catholics. They were afraid to speak in public, so an American Baptist family spoke for them. Texas Monthly did a great article on the atmosphere at that school, it was basically extremely hostile to anyone who was not a Southern Baptist. So this case, which is quite frequently cited as part of the bias against Christians in the culture war, was actually an inter-sectarian dispute which involved some pretty heavy-handed abuse by one sect of Christians of anyone who did not belong. I think when you dig a little deeper into these cases of religious intolerance, you frequently find dynamics such as this - and you end up with Christians on both sides of the issue.

In short, to phrase it as non-Christians against Christians is a red herring. It's more frequently a subsect of Christians against everyone else, and indeed, in yesterday's debate, members of Congress noted this.

For example, from Congressman Israel:

And, Mr. Chairman, I will just state for the record, with respect to the Air Force Academy, by one estimate, of the 117 Academy cadets, staff members and faculty members who complained about religious intimidation and proselytizing, eight happened to be Jewish, one happens to be atheist, 10 happen to be Catholic, and all of the rest happen to be Protestants.

So this is not being for or against any one faith, I would say to the gentleman. This is about respect for all faiths.

From Sheila Jackson-Lee:
Air Force officials have acknowledged the problem, which initially surfaced in early May 2004 when a survey of present and former cadets revealed that some students felt that `born-again' Christians received favorable treatment and that persons of faith that did not consider themselves born-again had been verbally abused. These reports are unacceptable; truly we can not tolerate even the hint of religious intolerance or persecution anywhere in our nation, but especially not in any sector of our Armed Forces. Our brave men and women in the Armed Forces are fighting and in many cases are dying to protect the idea of religious freedom for all Iraqis, it would be a true shame if religious intolerance were given even the slightest legitimacy here in the United States.

Anyway, I got a little ahead of myself. These comments ensued after Obey of Wisconsin offered an amendment to essentially restore the original language in the bill and in the wake of Hostettler's outburst. Here is what Hostettler said in its entirety:

Mr. Chairman, the long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. It continues unabated
with aid and comfort to those who would eradicate any vestige of our Christian heritage being supplied by the usual suspects, the Democrats. Do not get me wrong. Democrats know they should not be doing this. The spirit of, if not the exact, language in the underlying bill added by the Democrat ranking member, the gentleman from Wisconsin was offered by a Democrat in the Armed Services Committee during consideration of the fiscal year 2006 DOD authorization bill.

The author of that language in the authorizing committee, the gentleman from New York, has suggested since that time that ``extremist groups'' are behind the removal of language similar to his. I and others who spoke in opposition to that amendment had never even heard of the notion of such an amendment until the gentleman from New York actually offered it during the committee markup. And so I am curious as to who these extremists are that the gentleman from New York spoke of.

Mr. Chairman, we may never know because that is the nature of this debate, name-calling of unspecified people and groups who hold a world view different than many of these Democrats. And, as I said, Mr. Chairman, Democrats know they should not be doing this. Following the overwhelming opposition voiced at the DOD markup, the Democrat ranking member of the committee requested the gentleman from New York to withdraw the amendment, which he did. Like moth to a flame, Democrats can't help themselves when it comes to denigrating and demonizing Christians.

Translation. Objecting to "coercive and abusive" proselytizing is anti-Christian and part of the war on Christianity that's going on in the US. Nevermind that common decency and common sense would dictate that calling a young man who wasn't alive 2000 years ago a "Christ-killer" is not a great idea. Nevermind that the majority of bias complaints involved Christians complaining about the heavy-handed tactics of other Christians. Again, it's about treating people of all faiths with dignity and respect.

I don't expect someone like Hotsettler to get it, but there are many moderate Christians who read little snippets about cases such as this and about the culture wars who are still forming their opinions. Give them some facts if you run into them. Let them know that it's not a situation of non-Christians against Christians, but rather about sectarian Christians trying to monopolize the definition of what's a Christian. Ask them whether they think that calling people Christ-killers or harrassing people who don't choose to go to chapel is consistent with their understanding of the Bible and their practice of Christianity.
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