A new Earth-centered worship area at the Air Force Academy has generated wide attention and discussion over religious freedom and political correctness.
While officers say the site for pagans, Wiccans, Druids and other Earth-centered believers is in congruence with their duty to defend freedom for all Americans, including the freedom to practice religion, one Baptist pastor condemned it as idolatry.
"What we label today as 'pluralism,' God called 'idolatry,'" said Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, in a commentary in The Washington Post. "The first commandment from God was, 'You shall have no other gods before Me.'
"To openly violate this most basic law is to invite God's judgment upon our nation."
The Air Force Academy, located near Colorado Springs, currently has worship areas accommodating Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. The Earth-centered worship area – located atop the hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and designated with a circle of stones – is scheduled to be dedicated next month.
The Earth-centered worship circle was added in response to the request of cadets and active duty personnel who asked that "their religion be accommodated" by the Air Force Academy chaplaincy, explained Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould, superintendent of the academy, in an op-ed featured in The Gazette.
He stressed that the U.S. Air Force "remains neutral regarding religious beliefs and will not officially endorse nor disapprove of any faith, belief or absence of belief."
More than accommodation, however, the issue of religion is about "religious respect," Gould stated.
"Cadets learn that to succeed as an Air Force officer they must be able to support and respect the people who we lead, serve with and fight alongside even if they do not share our personal beliefs," he noted. "At the Air Force Academy we focus and will continue to focus on respect for human dignity to ensure all personnel respect the spirit and intent of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."
Megachurch pastor Jeffress acknowledged the Constitutional provision guaranteeing every American freedom of religion and worship. But he said the First Amendment "does not require government to provide a stone monument to facilitate that worship – even if the same government provides a chapel for Christians."
Recently a large wooden cross made of railroad ties was found leaning on one of the rocks at the Earth-centered worship site. Some, including Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, a pagan who helped create the new worship area, have called it a hate crime. The incident is being investigated.
Earth-centered believers meet every Monday night and have representation on the Cadet Interfaith Council. According to Longcrier, Earth-centered spirituality is relatively new, but traces its roots to pre-Christian Europe. Some traditions involve the worship of gods and goddesses, whereas others may involve only one deity or none at all.