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GUEST COLUMN: Academy should allow many ideas to flourish

By: Bentley Rayburn
April 20, 2014 Updated: April 20, 2014 at 8:30 am
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It was reported recently in The Gazette that once again in the face of pressure to do something, Rep. Doug Lamborn wrote another letter. This time it was to the Secretary of the Air Force "urging revision of Air Force regulations to permit more expression of service members' beliefs in the workplace," according to The Gazette.

What caused this latest letter writing episode was the report last month by a variety of websites that after complaints by Mikey Weinstein, the director of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Air Force Academy officials "removed" a Bible verse from a white board mounted outside a cadet's room.

The white boards are used by cadets to leave notes and messages and in the squadron in question are fixed on the wall immediately outside each cadet's room. At issue was the posting on one such board of a verse from the Bible, to wit, Galatians 2:20.

To be sure, there are a couple of important things that neither Weinstein, Lamborn, nor the Air Force Academy seem to fully understand - first is the Constitution of the United States, second are Air Force regulations, third is the proper place and role of the university in our culture, and fourth is the kind of men and women we want to graduate from all of our military academies.

The Constitution is clear, the government cannot restrict your free exercise of religion. Posting a Bible verse on a white board is not like yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Nobody can state with a straight face that the act of posting a Bible verse on a white board infringes or damages anyone else's constitutionally protected individual rights.

Air Force regulations are just as clear. Air Force Instruction 1-1. para 2-12 is without equivocation in stating that Airmen "should confidently practice [their] own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own."

The young man or woman who posted this note was affirming his or her beliefs and certainly not being disrespectful of anyone. The university has always been looked at as an institution where young adults come not only to be educated but to wrestle with the important issues of life - particularly what do I believe (about any subject) and why? That process requires the give and take of ideas, even the most important ideas of life - is there a God or not and if there is, has He spoken to me?

To walk away from creating a culture at the Air Force Academy where ideas are expressed, debated, defended and strengthened is to make it a third-rate school, hardly deserving to be called a real university.

And what kind of men and women do we want to graduate from our military academies? Ones who would cower at the thought of polite confrontation over important issues of life and who have the professional courage to stand up for what they believe? Or, wishy-washy people who keep their mouths shut because somehow, somewhere at some time they might offend somebody. I don't care if you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or agnostic, or whether you believe we should buy more F-22s or not, if you don't know what you believe and why you believe it - in all areas of life - you are not going to be a strong leader.

And isn't that what the academies are supposed to produce?

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Bentley Rayburn is a former cadet wing commander and a graduate of the Class of '75 and retired as a major general in the U.S. Air Force.

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