Air Force Academy Creates Worship Space for Pagan Cadets

Article excerpt

In what is being hailed as a major advance in military religious liberty, officials at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs have agreed to provide worship space for a group of Pagans.

The circle of stones was created after adherents of Paganism and other nature-based faiths asked Academy officials for worship space. The Academy already contains a chapel, and officials agreed to honor the request.

Observers say the move is significant. Four years ago, the situation regarding religious freedom at the Academy was grim. An air of evangelical Christianity permeated the facility, and cadets were encouraged to see films like "The Passion of the Christ."

During a training session for cadets, an Academy chaplain urged evangelicals to convert their classmates to their brand of Christianity. He told cadets that those not "born again will burn in the fires of hell." Non-Christian cadets complained of harassment and intolerance.

Calls and e-mails poured in to Americans United, and AU Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee spearheaded an investigation. Katskee interviewed more than 20 cadets, former cadets, faculty and staff and reviewed other documents and information.

Afterwards, Katskee and Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan prepared a 14-page report detailing incidents of religious intolerance and bias by evangelical Christians at the Academy.

Four days after the AU report was delivered, Defense Department officials announced the creation of a task force to examine the religious climate at the Academy. An Air Force press release stated, "[L]ingering allegations from sources such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State are being taken very seriously by the Air Force. …