Damn right. As Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), I’ve worked day in, day out, alongside the Foundation, for many, many years to educate Americans about the blatant and sadly overlooked bastardization of our Constitution which has been, and continues to be, occurring 24/7 in the military.
“Catastrophe" is winning my friends.
While at the highest level, we remain in serious need of virile leadership, I was pleasantly surprised this past week when the USAF Academy’s (USAFA’s) new Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, reflexively pulled rank to decisively and potently shut down a disgusting display of racism that recently occurred at my alma mater. The bigotry there isn’t new; but after some low-life scumbags scrawled racist slurs on whiteboards located outside their dorm rooms at USAFA’s cadet-candidate prep school, Silveria’s speech was refreshingly charged with the electrical current of moral authority. Indeed, he made it crystal clear that in no way would this expression of bigotry be timidly tucked under the rug at USAFA. Bravo.
MRFF applauds his efforts. But, having seen what we have at USAFA over many long years...having been personally touched, jaded and burned by the Academy’s culture of fundamentalist Christian religious bigotry, and having represented countless Academy cadets, faculty and staff, all facing prejudice because of their religion or because of their lack thereof, MRFF finds itself wanting to hear much, much more from Lt. General Silveria.
Well, at least 8 words more.
Silveria lost out on the golden, diamond-encrusted opportunity to address the most insidious, widespread, long-lived root cause of bigotry at USAFA. He failed to mention, in a truly mind boggling way, the undeniable pink elephant in the room — no, the raging HORDE of pink elephants in the room:
I am speaking of USAFA’s seething culture of fundamentalist Christian religious bullying and supremacy—more specifically, the Academy’s frat like, fundamentalist, good ol’ boys club, where cadets, faculty and staff are labeled “outsiders” and are mistreated should they sacrilegiously fall outside of a discriminatory ideology held as “gospel" by the Academy’s key power players.
Your efforts were valiant, Lt. Gen. Silveria; but, you fumbled the pigskin at “first and goal," and the game is over for now, sir.
Yes General, cadets “should be outraged not only as [airmen] but as human [beings]” at the recent racist display. Yes General, the Air Force would be both “naive” and “tone-deaf” not to acknowledge the Academy’s racist history and the current climate of racism in the military let alone in America as a whole. And yes, sir, “the power of…diversity comes together and makes [the Air Force] that much more powerful.”
You spoke to a crowd of 5,500 USAFA subordinates and effusively warned them of bigotry’s “horrible language and horrible ideas.” But, sir, when you had their silent attention, and said that you had a “better idea…”
“If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you can't treat someone from another gender, whether that's a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out. If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can't treat someone from another race, or different color skin, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out…”
YOU MISSED OUT ON THE BEST IDEA.
YOU MISSED OUT ON DECISIVELY MENTIONING THE ONE THING WHICH, ABOVE ALL ELSE, IS THE DAMN MOTHERLOAD OF BAD IDEAS IN THE AIR FORCE.
YOU NEGLECTED TO MENTION THESE 8 WORDS:
“OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR RELIGION, OR NO RELIGION.”
“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect,” be they a “man or a woman” or “from another race, or different color skin,” or sexual orientation, or religion, or no religion, “then you need to get out.”
General, sir, I wish you had said that.
Silveria came sooo close to an “A-Triple-Plus” grade instead of an “A-minus." Here was his opportunity to address not only USAFA’s troubling record of racial discrimination, but its even more egregious and wretched record of fundamentalist Christian dominance and persecution as well as discrimination against LGBTQ and against those with different religions and those without religions.
We at MRFF have, for well over thirteen years, made national headlines regarding our USAFA clients' turmoils on these exact fronts. Christian religious-extremist bigotry at USAFA has been the status quo for so long you’d have to be living in a gutter not to have heard of MRFF’s many battles with this insidious threat.
For example, after 4 years of postponed litigation, MRFF recently won a FOIA victory against the USAFA. The Academy settled and paid thousands of dollars of MRFF's litigation costs to our tenacious litigators in a landmark case which revealed a gross, fundamentalist evangelical Christian-tainted agenda aimed against complying with our request for information.
For crying out loud, USAFA’s new Commandant of Cadets, Brigadier General Select Kristin E. Goodwin, is OPENLY GAY. Mentioning LGBTQ wouldn’t have come from far out in left field. Though not an actual MRFF client, MRFF vehemently backed Goodwin throughout her ultimately successful struggle; bringing national attention to this crucial uphill battle.
MRFF has 379 cadet, faculty and staff clients at USAFA. 334 of them are practicing Christians. I graduated from USAFA as have 2 of my sons, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and my brother-in-law. I’ve witnessed, first hand, the tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic climate there. It’s hard as hell to stand up to the in-group religiously minded bullies as an outsider when you feel the whole USAFA culture is against you.
Religious bigotry and illicit fundamentalist Christian proselytizing are the #1 sources of problems MRFF hears about at USAFA--whether those problems are targeting LGBTQ or non-fundamentalist, evangelical Christians (example).
MRFF commissioned a billboard in 2013 blasting a “gay cure” guru. An allegedly “ex-gay” Fundamentalist Christian who, while masquerading under the title: “Chief, Coaching Development,” at USAFA’s “Center for Character and Leadership Development,” openly promoted the pseudoscientific, Christian influenced, anti-gay “conversion” therapy.
Earlier that same year, I spearheaded a MRFF sponsored outdoor protest rally at USAFA after displays of sexism and homophobia (see protest rally photos here).
The plethora of examples demonstrating USAFA’s problems are legion. Here is yet another one blatantly showcasing USAFA’s culture of selective inclusion. Lt. Gen. Silveria, sir, in your speech you talked about the need for absolute "dignity and respect”, right? Yet, to this very day, secularist, atheist, agnostic, and humanist USAFA cadets are banned from any representation on USAFA’s much-ballyhooed “Cadet Interfaith Council.” These individuals, like their comrades holding different religious beliefs, are equally important assets to the Academy. Indeed, they desperately want to participate with their fellow cadets. Why do you allow them to be shunned, sir? Several years ago they were allowed to be fully represented on that official USAFA Cadet Interfaith Council but, for the past 4 years or so, they have been TOTALLY banned. How does such faith-based ‘apartheid’ satisfy your demand for “dignity and respect?”
Now, one media outlet, The New York Times (NYT), in the last sentence of its story titled: “Air Force General Addresses Racial Slurs on Campus: ‘You Should Be Outraged,’” mentions, “the academy has also come under fire for religious intolerance and insensitivity.” That’s a step, the NYT does link a reference to Congressman Steve Israel, (who was the first recipient of MRFF’s Thomas Jefferson Award). But that none of this appears until the last sentence in a prestigious media outlet is troublesome.
Ironically, the Colorado Springs Gazette did mention MRFF briefly in it’s article on Silveria’s speech; but that reference curiously disappeared after a revision. The media needs to speak up. For genuine and lasting change we need to educate the masses. No education catalyzes catastrophe. We need more people mentioning those 8 words, and shouting them at the top of their lungs.
It shouldn’t take some racist statements on a USAFA dorm whiteboard to bring this dialogue to the national attention. After all, it was just a few years ago when MRFF brought to national attention, an earlier iteration of USAFA’s bigoted dorm whiteboard problem.
When all is said and done, Lt. General. Silveria’s speech was still masterful.
Had he added those 8 words (“or sexual orientation, or religion, or no religion”) it would have been something else...
It would have been epic.