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Saturday, February 11, 2006

The American Taliban

The U.S. Air Force Academy has once again revised its rules on religion according to this Washington Post article. But whether it's an improvement depends on where you sit. It's like the old joke about the man whose son breaks his leg and a neighbor rushes to tell him how bad it is. The man phlegmatically says, "It all depends. It could be bad, it could be good." Turns out that because of the son's broken leg, he's spared from having to go to war, so the neighbor tells him the broken leg was a good thing. But, once again, the father calmly replies, "It could be good; it could be bad." Because the son didn't go to war, he never got a pension or a chance at going to college on the GI Bill. To this the father replies, "it could be good; it could be bad..."

I think you get the point of the joke, which is that whether something is good or bad depends on your perspective.

So, if you're an evangelical Christian, the newly revised Air Force regulations are a good thing, as compared to the original revision, which came in response to investigations into the Air Force Academy's policy of allowing evangelical commanders, coaches, and upperclassmen to proselytize non-Christian students. Groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State had charged that undue pressure was being brought on cadets of minority religions or non-believers.

Evangelical groups and conservative Republican members of Congress pressured the Academy to cave into the demands of intolerant Christianists who are really no better than the Taliban. They are the ones who insist that they must force their beliefs on others and who overstep not only the Constitutional boundaries of separation of church and state but also all boundaries of good taste and respect for others' rights.

They insist that their rights, either to free speech or to practice their religion, are being infringed upon whenever they are prevented from forcing their own faith on a captive audience. But more and more that is coming to remind me of a schoolyard bully who demands protection for his Consitutional right to swing his arm freely even if in doing so, his fist lands a punch that gives me a bloody nose.

I am afraid that sensible people are going to have to convince him that his right to swing his arm freely does, in fact end at the tip of my nose and if he swings too far, he might just lose that arm.

Likewise, insist upon walking all over the rights of practitioners of minority religions, and trashing the protection of the Constitution, could lead to a backlash someday. The important thing to remember is that Christianity is not always the majority faith tradition in every location even in the United States. And the same principles of separation of church and state and of religious tolerance that protects non-Christians in Colorado (where the Air Force Academy is) may protect Christians someplace else where they may find themselves the minority faith. Tolerance is a good principle that never hurt anybody. Its opposite, though, has harmed countless numbers of people.

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