Shutting Up Airmen Isn't Kosher: Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the Air Force Academy, has filed a lawsuit attempting to force the academy to halt proselytizing and evangelism on duty based on the doctrine of the separation of church and state. (Colorado Springs Gazette, 11/9/2005) Some Christian groups counterpunch that they have a First Amendment right to share their beliefs with others. Aside from the constitutional issues at play, Weinstein is right to worry about how Jews and other non-Christians are treated at the academy but wrong about focusing on evangelism. As someone who practices Judaism, I am not offended when someone else shares how accepting Christ as their personal savior changed their life. Nor do I expect them to be offended when I share the joy I feel when I keep kosher. True, evangelism can turn into bullying--I could be called a Christ-killer, a Christian could be called an infidel, an atheist may be told she is bound for hell, etc.--and such uncouth behavior needs to be discouraged for the sake of corps cohesion.
However, the academy should not solve its perceived problem of intolerance by shoving religion in the closet. To the contrary, the problem for Jews is not Christian evangelism but systemic intolerance of the actual practice of Judaism. If Jewish airmen do not have regular access to kosher meals, if they are not supported in their attempts to properly observe shabbat and Jewish holidays (made instead to attend football games on Yom Kippur), how can the academy be accused of anything but intolerance? I suspect that Moslem airmen might have the same type of complaint.
The Academy needs to support religious cadets, not force them underground. For evangelical Christians, this may mean being able to share their faith in appropriate settings. For Jews, this may mean being able to work with a rabbi to find ways to excel at the academy without compromising religious observance. Email me your comments.