Dispatches from the Creation Wars

The New York Times reports on growing controversies over religious indoctrination and possible establishment clause violations at the nation’s service academies. And the complaints are coming from cadets at those academies:

Three years after a scandal at the Air Force Academy over the evangelizing of cadets by Christian staff and faculty members, students and staff at West Point and the Naval Academy are complaining that their schools, too, have pushed religion on cadets and midshipmen.

Some details on specific accusations:

At the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., nine midshipmen recently asked the American Civil Liberties Union to petition the school to abolish daily prayer at weekday lunch, where attendance is mandatory. The midshipmen and the A.C.L.U. assert that the practice is unconstitutional, based in large part on a 2004 appellate court ruling against a similar prayer at the Virginia Military Institute. The civil liberties group has threatened legal action if the policy is not changed.

But the academy is not persuaded.

“The academy does not intend to change its practice of offering midshipmen an opportunity for prayer or devotional thought during noon meal announcements,” Cmdr. Ed Austin, an academy spokesman, said in an e-mail message.

In interviews at West Point, seven cadets, two officers and a former chaplain said that religion, especially evangelical Christianity, was a constant at the academy. They said that until recently, cadets who did not attend religious services during basic training were sometimes referred to as “heathens.” They said mandatory banquets begin with prayer, including a reading from the Bible at a recent gala.

But most of their complaints center on Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, until recently the academy’s top military leader and, since early May, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. The cadets and staff said General Caslen, as commandant of cadets at West Point, routinely brought up God in speeches at events cadets were required to attend.

In his farewell speech to the cadet corps this spring, General Caslen told them: “Draw your strength in the days ahead from your faith in God. Let it be the moral compass that guides you in the decisions you make.”

The groups of cadets and midshipmen, who do not know each other, echo the same view: that the military, regardless of its official policies, by emphasizing religion, especially Christianity, at events that students are required to attend sends the message that to be considered successful officers they have to believe in God.

“Nowhere does it say that you have to be a good Christian officer or Jewish officer or Muslim officer: You need to be an officer dedicated to the Constitution of the United States,” said Steven Warner, who graduated from West Point last month. “They tell us as an officer you have to put everything aside, all your personal stuff. But religion is the one thing they encourage you to wear on your sleeve.”

Cynthia Lindenmeyer, a 1990 West Point graduate who was a civilian chaplain at the school from 2000 to 2007, offered a similar view.

“As a cadet, you are at a very vulnerable place in your spiritual development,” she said, “and you want to be like the people who mentor you.”

I think we can attribute this directly to Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Because they’ve taken a stand against such abuses in the military it is inspiring others to come forward because they know they’ve got someone standing behind them now. Before that, they would just have sat by silently and allowed it to continue.