Monday, February 1, 2010

As this article states, the United States Air Force Academy in El Paso County, Colorado, has recently dedicated space for a sacred pagan circle. The Academy already has dedicated sacred spaces for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier (pictured at right, consecrating an Earth-centered worship site with white sage--photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force, Staff Sgt. Don Branum) was the driving force behind this circle’s creation, but he thanks the chaplain’s office for its support and says that there was no intervention or interference against the dedication of a sacred space for his religion. A similar sacred circle was destroyed several times at the Army’s Fort Hood in Texas.

The article hails it as a triumph of religious freedom, and I agree. It quotes the Cadet Wing Chaplain, Lt. Col William Ziegler, who says, “We want this dedication service to be another example of celebrating the freedom we enjoy as well as the freedom we, as Airmen, have pledged to defend.” This is a fine example of the epitome of state-sponsored schools offering religious spaces for all of its students. However, the question then becomes, where is the line drawn?

Some people will attack the sacred circle on the grounds that there is no one God that the Earth-centric religions pray to, even if that argument is potentially irrelevant, especially as there is a Buddhist sacred space at the Academy already. They will make the argument, however, that a “true” religion has a specific deity at its head, instead of a number of deities or a focus on the natural world.

Others might argue that having separate spaces for all of these religions is implicit government support of these specific religions to the exclusion of the others not represented. Others may say that religious spaces have no place on the campus of a government-run and –funded institution, and that if the cadets at the Air Force Academy wish to attend religious services of any type they must seek it in the community. The idea of government-owned, consecrated land could be seen as an establishment of religion.

I agree that the precedent may be mildly worrying, but I also believe that it was the right thing to do. The chaplain’s office will just have to evaluate other cadets’ religious needs as they arise, and find the medium between respecting each religion and the very small populations of certain religious groups. There are religions common in the United States not mentioned as having sacred spaces of their own at the Academy, including Hinduism and the Native American Church. The article does not comment on whether there are any practitioners of either of these religions, but the reader is left to wonder if a Hindu or Native American Church sacred space will follow at the United States Air Force Academy. Again, I do not necessarily see a problem with that; however, it must be considered that at a certain point the areas of campus dedicated to different religions could outnumber the secular areas.

However, Sgt. Longcrier and his peers who follow Earth-centered religions now have a place to call their own, and this is only fair considering that his fellow cadets who happen to be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist are offered the same courtesy.


David said...

While I agree that the Air Force Academy’s ruling is a “triumph of religious freedom,” I do see an issue with the slippery slope that we discussed in class last week. It is great to see a military institution, one with such strict rules, allowing increased freedoms for its students. In a nation like the United States, founded on Judeo-Christian ideals, it is often difficult for non-traditional religious groups to gain footing. The fact that this pagan religion has been granted sacred space within the Air Force Academy shows how new ideals have become prevalent within the country.

However, one has to wonder where this freedom ends. Issues of the law, specifically religious issues, face a slippery slope. If one group finds freedoms then many more will seek the same rights. The courts will increasingly have to make decisions granting rights to religious groups. However, judges are often part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and will often present a biased opinion. As new and different religions from our own become more prevalent in society, the courts will be the institution that decides when religious freedoms should be limited.

Teresa M said...

The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has tried to be inclusive and tolerant to the religious beliefs of its cadets. The AFA Chapel built in 1962 was, at the time, considered a tribute to religious pluralism accommodating the triplet Protestant-Catholic-Jew melting pot of American beliefs (see Hutchison's "Religious Pluralism in America"). All three religions were given house in one building with the simple caveat that the Protestant space was upstairs taking up over 80% of the chapel. Forty-eight years later, the Air Force Academy is accommodating pagans with an outdoor stone-lined ring.

On one hand we might ask why a government entity is allowing itself to become embroiled in the potentially slippery-slope problem of religious accommodation. And on the other, one must recognize that the military order is one that is very familiar with dealing with ultimate issues of dying and the soul. I find it curious, however, that Chaplain Longcrier offers justification of the pagan circle through religious freedom but calls the space a place for the cadets to relax and connect with nature.

As for David's previous comment that the potential exists that religious space may soon outstrip secular space, I find this type of worried argument to be disingenuous. The "courts" that David mentions are not even a part of this landscape as this is not a court situation. In fact, this seems to be a situation (which could admittedly backfire one day)that the academy chaplains (supposedly representing several faith traditions) agreed would be appropriate. I find this refreshing, albeit tardy.

Lauren P said...

In my understanding of Sgt. Brandon Longcrier’s accomplishment of establishing a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions, I do not see how the chaplain could not have been supportive. The First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees religious freedom and free exercise of religion in our nation, which means that the chaplain would not have any legitimate grounds for oppressing the followers of Earth-centered religions from exercising their religion. The Air Force Academy in this situation offered space to followers of other religions and therefore it would have been oppressive to the Earth-centered followers if the base did not allow them to practice their religion in their own sacred space. However, I agree that this type of practice by the military may create a slippery slope. Perhaps, instead of trying to accommodate all of these different religions, the Air Force Academy should not endorse any religion and not provide space for any specific religion to worship. Rather the Air Force Academy could provide one nondenominational space for worship. If and when there is no more space for followers of other religions to create their own area for worship, this idea may become more practical and equal (treating all religions the same).

Rob K said...

I find this to be a very interesting situation, as many have already noted. Obviously, the issue at hand is the outward sponsorship or establishment of a religion on government-owned land, and in this case, on the campus of a government-run military university. I see the slippery-slope issue as the driving force behind the safe worship area for the Earth-Centered religion. As another student posted, the school funded the building of a chapel aimed at supporting the “Protestant-Catholic-Jew melting pot of American beliefs,” and this has allowed the other religious affiliations to receive similar freedoms and support in the time since. In this particular case, however, I wonder how much of the issue is the actual support from the school, instead of just the latest manifestation of the slippery slope. At no place in the article does it state that the school is providing funding for this space, and the large rocks were initially moved because of safety hazards they presented in their original location. I wonder if this has garnered the attention it has because the Earth-Centered religion is the least mainstream, and some fear the repercussions of allowing a truly foreign belief system to gain any status whatsoever.

Jessica B said...

I actually think these religious circles are a good idea. No one seems to be offended by them, and additions seem to be accepted. And as long as they continue to be, and there is no mandatory belief, participation, or involvement in any way, there doesn’t seem to be a problem. Yes, the slippery slope becomes an issue, and when that issue comes up I believe the academy can accommodate. As the writer says, “The chaplain’s office will just have to evaluate other cadets’ religious needs as they arise, and find the medium between respecting each religion and the very small populations of certain religious groups.” I think what’s most important here are the circumstances. The cadets at the academy know they may have to risk their lives to defend our country; which stands for the idea that those rings can exist there, together, symbolizing religious acceptance of anyone who wants to be included. If religious circles on the grounds of the institution make the cadets feel protected, safe, or whatever it may be, they deserve to have that comfortableness as long as no one is offended or discriminated against.

E.Levy said...

Quite frankly, I don’t understand how the Air Force could deny the right to a sacred pagan circle without infringing on an individual’s constitutional rights. Just as Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims all have specified areas for their religious matters, so too should any other religious affiliated individual. While one could define religious affiliated in broad terms, and argue upon that point, the fear of a slippery slope is not enough to deny this inalienable right.

JoeyM said...

For those that don't understand individual religions I can see how it is difficult to understand the violence and the negative views towards opposing religions. Peace is a great thought and should be the practice that we all have. Just because we strive for peace does not mean that "coexistance" is an acceptible practice. Have you all seen those coexist bumper stickers? of course you have. They are wrong. The great commision is clear. Don't get me wrong. force os not the answer, but it is okay to speak out against other religions. It is actually religious to do so. It is an expression of faith. If I went to that academy I would speak out against this pagan circle. If I was in-charge there I would disban the circle entirely. It is my religious duty.