12/15/2011 04:00 pm ET | Updated Feb 14, 2012

Southern Baptists Admit That They Oppose Religious Equality In The Military

Well, it doesn't get any clearer than this. In an article from the Baptist Press, the news arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptists have finally come right out and admitted what we at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) have known all along -- they oppose religious equality in the U.S. military.

Beyond just getting many of the "facts" wrong, the article, titled "Air Force Academy dogged by anti-Christian pressure," shows the true colors of the Southern Baptist Convention when it comes to religious freedom, stating, as if it's a bad thing, "Not only does the academy now provide worship space for all, it requires all cadets to complete religious respect training." Really? The Air Force Academy accommodating cadets of all religions and teaching religious respect is a problem? Well, maybe if you fancy yourself to be among America's "persecuted" Christians and consider religious pluralism a threat to your religion.

The article uses what has recently become a very popular talking point to shock its readers -- the Air Force Academy spent $80,000 on a pagan worship area. According to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Daniel Heimbach, quoted in the article: "... something is grossly out of proportion when the institution dedicates a $80,000 outdoor worship center to only serve 3 cadets. ... All of which leads me to wonder what in the world can explain dedicating such a large and expensive worship center for only 3 cadets. This is driven by something more than simply equity. It is something powerfully religious that is non-Christian, non-theistic and 'Earth-based' with deep pockets and a lot of political influence."

Well, first of all, the outdoor worship area did not cost taxpayers $80,000. Seriously, have any of these people using this talking point actually stopped to wonder how putting a circle of rocks on a hilltop could possibly cost $80,000? Of course not. They just keep repeating this so-called "fact" to shock their audiences. The truth is that this money was already being spent on a project that had nothing to do with the worship area.

The boulders that now form the outdoor worship area were moved from the hillside to the hilltop as part of an erosion control project that was already underway. Erosion had made these boulders a safety hazard, in danger of falling down the hillside and crashing into the Academy's Visitors Center and Cadet Chapel, so they were moved from the hillside to the top of the hill. When the 10th Civil Engineer Squadron moved the rocks to the top of the hill in spring and early summer of 2009, they arranged them in a circle.

Months later, when the pagan lay leader at the Academy was looking for a suitable site for a worship area, he realized that there already was one -- the circle of boulders that had been moved to the top of the hill during the erosion control project. All that needed to be added to the already existing site to turn it into a worship area was some flagstone to make a floor and a small altar in the center of the circle. So, no, the Academy's outdoor worship area didn't cost anything even close to $80,000. The only other significant expense has been the installation of security cameras, made necessary when some nice Christians decided to send a message by placing a large wooden cross at the site. (Anyone seeing a need for that religious respect training?)

Second, here in the good old U.S. of A., religious equality is not based on the number of adherents to a particular religion, although those "persecuted" Christians seem to think it should be, incessantly citing their large majority as the reason they shouldn't be persecuted (although just how such a large majority can cry about being the persecuted class while at the same time citing their majority status is a bit hard to wrap the brain around).

Unlike most military bases, where the various religions share the same worship facilities, the Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel has separate chapels for Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. The main floor is an exclusively Protestant chapel, with separate smaller chapels for Catholics and Jews in the basement. In 2007, a Buddhist chapel, paid for by a private donation, was added to the basement. For anybody else, there is a small "all faiths" room, also in the basement. But this "all faiths" room is not suitable for those who follow earth-centered religions and prefer to worship outdoors. Designating the stone circle as a chapel facility simply accommodates a religious group with a worship area that meets their needs, something taken for granted by other religious groups at the Academy. Whether the users of that worship space number in the hundreds or in single digits is completely irrelevant when it comes to providing a place for them to worship according to their beliefs.

The Baptist Press, like a number of other Christian news outlets, is currently reviving the nearly year old story about Air Force Academy's outdoor worship area in response to recent events at the Academy, particularly the recent change made by the Academy regarding cadet participation in Franklin Graham's Operation Christmas Child. Hey, they have to have some other juicy, if not quite true, examples of Christian persecution to generate some good outrage, right? And they also need someone to target as the big, bad anti-Christian boogeyman -- and that would be Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of MRFF. In fact, the main gist of Baptist Press article is that none of this horrible Christian persecution at the Air Force Academy is the Academy's fault; it's all the work of Weinstein.

In reality, neither Mikey Weinstein nor MRFF are anti-Christian. Of MRFF's 351 clients at the Air Force Academy, 316 are Christians themselves, both Protestants and Catholics.

And nobody stopped the cadets from participating in Operation Christmas Child. All MRFF did was get the Academy to place this clearly religious program under the auspices of the Academy chaplains rather than the command structure, in accordance with the Air Force Chief of Staff's recent memorandum on "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion." But, oddly, while criticizing MRFF for getting the Academy to put Operation Christmas Child under the chaplains, the article also cites that same Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor quoted above about the outdoor worship area actually agreeing with MRFF that this was the right thing to do: "Daniel Heimbach ... told Baptist Press that the Operation Christmas Child reversal is understandable because the program genuinely does promote Christianity and should be handled by the chaplains." So, what is the problem? MRFF, the Academy, and this Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor have all said that the right thing was done!

But wait, there's more. The Baptist Press brings up another story from a while back to further demonize Weinstein -- the one about MRFF getting the Air Force to remove what some Air Force officers had nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes" portion of the ethics training for its nuclear missile officers.

From the article:

"What is most concerning is criticism of the just war class, said Heimbach, who has worked in defense- and domestic-policy positions in Washington in both the executive and legislative branches.

"'That the western tradition of just war ethics has included biblical as well as classical influences is simply a matter of history,' Heimbach said. 'Although academy courses are no place for religious indoctrination, neither should they deconstruct what actually has occurred as though religion does not exist.

"'Teaching of the history and development of just war history should be fair and objective whether at a military academy or at a religious seminary.'"

Well, we're a little off on the facts here, too. First of all, this wasn't a course at the Air Force Academy. It was the nuclear missile officer training at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. And, second, this wasn't a matter of teaching about the history of both biblical and classical influences on Just War Theory. This was slide after slide of Bible verses, with the big heading of "Christian Just War Theory" on every slide, ending with Revelation 19:11 -- "Jesus Christ is the mighty warrior." Is it any wonder that this presentation was nicknamed the "Jesus Loves Nukes" speech?

The presentation also included a slide of former Nazi and SS officer Werhner Von Braun, not as a scientist but as a moral authority promoting the Bible, quoting Von Braun, upon surrendering to American forces in 1945, saying: "We wanted to see the world spared another conflict such as Germany had just been through and we felt that only by surrendering such a weapon to people who are guided by the Bible could such an assurance to the world be best secured."

Twenty-nine of the thirty-one Air Force nuclear missile officers who initially came to MRFF for help in getting this training stopped were Christians -- both Catholics and Protestants. These thirty-one officers were soon joined by thirty-eight more, thirty-two of whom were also Christians.

(For more details on the contents of the "Jesus Loves Nukes" training, see my post from September.)

The Baptist Press article also includes some outrageous things said by Mikey Weinstein. It quotes a local pastor saying that Weinstein "even says the Constitution is to guarantee both freedom of religion and freedom from religion." Yikes!

Then there's this crazy stuff they found on MRFF's website:

"The Military Religious Freedom Foundation believes religious freedom 'takes on an additional importance in the current international environment, where religious motivations are an increasing rationale for waging conflict.

"'At a time when the United States is encouraging greater religious freedom in Muslim nations, it is imperative upon America to show by example that religious pluralism is a viable and preferred option,' the website says. 'Any sign of hypocrisy in United States policy, official or otherwise, toward the free exercise of religion within the military makes it more difficult to convince others to follow our nation's chosen path.'"

Pretty radical stuff, huh? All that crazy talk about America setting an example of religious freedom for the world.

The Southern Baptist Convention aren't the only folks to have recently shown their true colors when it comes to their opinions on religious equality in the military. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which continually calls MRFF an atheist and anti-Christian organization (despite the fact that  96% of MRFF's clients are actually Christians), finally came out and admitted what they really mean by anti-Christian. They mean anti-what the ACLJ and other fundamentalists like the Southern Baptists consider to be the "right kind" of Christians, which doesn't include all those "mainliners" -- you know, all those Protestants who are apparently anti-Christian.

In a very telling moment during the ACLJ's November 8 radio show, Jordan Sekulow said of Mikey Weinstein: "This is a guy who goes after anyone who is an evangelical. He's fine with, you know, the mainliners, the denom... -- but it's the evangelical Christianity -- the dominionists that he thinks are trying to take over the U.S. military." That's right, Sekulow came right out and confirmed what MRFF has been saying for years -- that the reason the overwhelming majority of MRFF's clients are Christians, both mainline Protestants and Catholics, is that they are not the "right kind" of Christians for their dominionist and fundamentalist military superiors -- or for the ACLJ and the Southern Baptists.