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Air Force Academy's Christian Evangelicals do military a favor

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The following article appeared in the June 13, 2005, edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in response to Richard Cohen’s article that was critical of Christian zealotry at the Air Force Academy. You can’t mistreat the Koran, but you can mistreat a cadet who sent out an e-mail to fellow cadets that included religious themes. Only in the new Amerika:

Recently, newspapers and newscasts all over America have reported they were stunned by the fact that evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy have openly shared their beliefs with other cadets and faculty members. These Christians have been portrayed as villains since the Boston Strangler and only slightly better than the Butcher of Baghdad. As a 1968 graduate of the Air Force Academy who served 20 years on active duty, including a tour as a flight instructor, I would like to set the record straight about what is going on there and has gone on for decades.

The central fact that is almost totally ignored or misrepresented by the press and political activists is that there is no such doctrine as separation of church and state in the Constitution. What, the First Amendment says is that "Congress shall, make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."It was written to ensure that the federal government would not require everyone to be a member of the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church and to guarantee that every U.S. citizen would be able to freely express his or her religious beliefs without fear of being sent to prison or executed.

So what the cadets and others at the academy are doing is totally within the boundaries of the Constitution. As a matter of fact, for Congress to pass any law prohibiting Christian from sharing their faith would violate the First Amendment. The Academy Should ensure that no one is subjected to, unwanted badgering, but a good discussion about religious beliefs is just as stimulating and enriching as an exchange about the pros and cons of using nuclear weapons.

During my four years at the academy, some cadets shared their beliefs openly with others. They had Bible studies in their rooms and no one ever felt put upon. We just accepted these evangelicals as the "good guys." Perhaps if more cadets had listened to them during my four years there, or if the football coach had put up a Christian banner in the locker room as today's coach has done, we would not have lost scores of football players in two separate honors scandals. Christianity attempts to hold people accountable and teaches that there are consequences for bad actions.

Department of Defense study of returning Vietnam POWs found that those who religious fared far better in their captivity than those who were not. Of the POWs I know personally, those with a steadfast Christian faith showed no ill effects from their years in the hands of the North Vietnamese. Perhaps if more servicemen and women were exposed to Christianity, it might help them if they later were taken prisoner. It also might prevent prisoner abuse by our own armed forces. And in case the last academy scandal has been forgotten, a stronger Christian belief system might prevent sexual abuse incidents as well.

From a personal standpoint, I wish that I had listened more closely to the "good guys" in my squadron who were Christians. It might have saved me from some dumb decisions while I was a cadet. I will always be grateful for one academy graduate who continued to share his beliefs with me while we were pilots in Vietnam. He tweaked my curiosity to see if there was really more to the Jesus thing than I had picked up in the Episcopal Church while growing up. I became a Christian and it changed my life.

Recently, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen defamed Christian servicemen by writing, "They know how to fly but maybe they don't know what they are flying for." He better believe we know what we're flying for, and why many of our friends and fellow servicemen have died fighting for this country. We do it so that he can have the freedom to spout his demeaning rhetoric and so that I and every other citizen in this great nation can exercise our religious beliefs without fear of persecution.

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