February 19, 2010
The latest sign of change at the Air Force Academy: an emergency “bat-signal” for religious intolerance.
Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 academy graduate and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said that he and Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould devised a code word only they know in case Weinstein needs to reach Gould with concerns about religious liberty on campus.
“We have our own bat-signal,” Weinstein said Friday, referring to the beam of light used to summon Batman in the DC Comics series.
The pair reached that accord after their relationship grew strained last month after a large cross was left at an Earth-centered worship circle on campus, Weinstein said before speaking at the 2010 National Character and Leadership Symposium. The controversial Weinstein had four armed guards with him during the appearance on campus.
The academy staff member who requested the outdoor worship area, Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, labeled the incident a “hate crime” and complained to Weinstein that it was being downplayed by the administration.
Weinstein said he had trouble reaching Gould to discuss the incident. He now blames a “series of communication breakdowns” at the academy for sending the erroneous message that Gould wasn’t taking the cross seriously.
Weinstein said he is satisfied that the academy is fully investigating the incident. Having a means to reach Gould with any concerns is a positive step in the work to make the academy religiously neutral ground, he said.
“We had a bad 96-hour period where I felt like we had fallen back to the bad old days,” he said. “Our relationship is stronger than ever.”
The academy’s religious climate has been a source of controversy since critics alleged a widespread bias toward evangelical Christianity five years ago. Weinstein helped push the trouble into the national spotlight. He said he received 50 threatening phone calls at his New Mexico home in the lead-up to his appearance at that academy.
Before a standing-room audience of several hundred cadets, Weinstein warned them against using their authority to impose religious views on others.
While wearing the uniform, he said, “there’s only one religion: patriotism.”
“There’s only one Crescent Moon, there’s only one Star of David, there’s only one Crucifix. That’s the American flag.”
The incident involving the cross — which was fashioned from two railroad ties propped against a rock at an outdoor worship area — is under investigation.
The academy will likely announce its findings soon, said Capt. Corinna Jones, an academy spokeswoman. She said she did not know if any suspects had been identified.
Longcrier, who works as a lab technician in the astronautics department, said today there haven’t been any problems since he reported the cross in late January.
“Hopefully, with all the media attention and the briefing (cadets have) received, it won’t happen from within,” he said, pointing out that the campus is open to members of the public.
The 17th annual symposium also featured retired generals, baseball great Tommy Lasorda, a veteran of a famous battle in Afghanistan and the secretary of the Air Force. Weinstein was a natural fit for the two-day conference because he raises legitimate questions for every cadet, an organizer said.
“On complex topics like this, they have to make up their minds,” said Col. John Norton.
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