The United States Air Force Academy has worship spaces for most of the world’s major religions. But until last year, cadets who followed Earth-based religions – including Pagans and Wiccans – were lacking a proper area to practice rituals in.
Now, about four to seven of the 4,300 USAFA cadets gather each week at the academy’s new pagan ritual site, called the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle, to participate in what the academy says are “smudging ceremonies, meditation and ceremonial magic.”
Meade Warthen, chief of the Media Relations Division for the academy, told The Christian Post in an email, “Three cadets have formerly identified themselves as Pagan. Currently, there are no self-identified Gardnerian Wicca, Dianic Wicca, Seax Wicca, Wicca, Druid, or Shaman cadets.”
The LA Times reported that to date, there are no witches among the cadets this year either. "But the two spiritual leaders for all Earth-based religions – one a civilian, one an Air Force reservist – are witches and regularly cast spells, which they say is not so different from offering prayer.”
The conservative group Family Research Council argues that the new worship space is more about political correctness than religious freedom.
“Despite what the secular movement believes, our government is under no obligation to spend taxpayer dollars elevating fringe groups,” FRC said in a statement.
The academy decided to build the worship space after cadets put in a request for it last year, which was then approved through the academy’s chain of command. Another reason the academy cites for the new site is the First Amendment.
In a statement to The Christian Post, the USAFA said First Amendment freedoms don’t “just apply to the mainline faith groups, i.e., Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, Muslim, etc. It also applies to atheists, secularists, freethinkers, and those belief systems usually classified under the umbrella term of ‘Earth-Centered Spirituality,’ i.e., Pagans, Druids, Wiccans, etc. Whether anyone likes or agrees with that or not does not change the Constitution.”
The academy added, “The mission of the Chaplain Corps is not to advance religious diversity, but accommodate it when and where possible when asked to do so. We were asked to do so, and we responded in a manner that maximizes the utilization potential of the resource investment.”
The resource investment in this case totaled $80,000.
The ritual site is situated on a hill above the Cadet Chapel and has two Stonehenge type rings of boulders. Inside the boulders sits a low propane stone fire pit. Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, NCO in charge of the Academy's Astronautics laboratories, worked with the chapel to create the worship area. Sergeant Longcrier became Pagan shortly after arriving at the academy in 2006.
"When I first arrived here, Earth-centered cadets didn't have anywhere to call home," he said in a USAFA release. "Now, they meet every Monday night, they get to go on retreats, and they have a stone circle. ... We have representation on the Cadet Interfaith Council, and I even meet with the Chaplains at Peterson Air Force Base once a year to discuss religious climate."
When asked if they will continue building religious sites for other religions, the academy said it “will take new requests from different cadet faith communities for space as they come.” In each case, the USAFA will look at available resources, the number of cadets who participate in those religions and the space requirements for the rituals.
Earth-centered spirituality includes traditions such as Wicca and Druidism. Some Earth-centered traditions involve the worship of gods and goddesses, whereas others may involve only one deity or none at all. Reincarnation is a popular concept, as is rebirth and celebrating the cycle of the seasons.