Let's be fair. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is taking credit for the sun rising 30 times while the superintendent "trusted" his leaders to get the word out. After 27 sunrises, there was no action. Then came a sign, and then two more sunrises, and then dissemination to the cadets. Today, another sunrise, and still the faculty haven't seen the letter, unless of course they drive to work and pass the Woodman and Lexington intersection where the billboard it. This is no longer a religious expression issue. It has become a question of leadership.
I just finished reading this article and think Pam Zubeck nailed it. Those of us who have spent a lot of time on the inside of the institution recognize how tired the leadership has become with Mikey Weinstein. Just the mere mention of his name causes eyes to roll. They try to ignore him because, in their words, “His message is always the same.” And they’re right.
The question that is almost never asked, however, is whether or not the mantra he’s been articulating for the past six years is justified? To answer it, one needs to look only at the data.
John Rosa immediately “got it” in 2004 when he admitted there was a widespread, endemic problem when he said in a speech to the ADL, “I’ve got a problem with my staff, I’ve got a problem with my faculty, and I’ve got a problem with the cadets -- and that’s everybody.” General Rosa was an exemplar of integrity for the institution because he didn’t have any interest in making things go away. He was clearly committed through his actions to lead USAFA. Unfortunately, he retired within a year and was replaced by someone who had no knowledge or experience of such issues. Back to Square 1. The structure of the personnel system guaranteed that every four years, all institutional memory would be lost. Structurally, the strategy that emerged was to be patient and hopefully Weinstein would go away and tire of the endless chain of "newbies" who had no knowledge or ownership for sins of the past.
I remember the turning point in November 2004 during the first RSVP (Respecting the Spiritual Values of Persons) training session. The training was the first response USAFA had commissioned to increase awareness of USAFA personnel to the proselytization issues. At the end of the two hour session attended by 300 senior USAFA leaders (officer, civilian, enlisted and cadet), the last question was asked by a cadet, and it was the first that had any behavioral implications. The then-command chaplain had the microphone when the cadet asked: “Sir, can we have Bible studies in Cadet TV rooms?”
The chaplain paused for a moment, and then answered:
“Well, you ask a very good question. Here at USAFA we are blessed to have a great number of resources for spiritual expression. We have the Cadet Chapel with a catholic, protestant, Jewish and all faiths area. We have the Oasis Club in Sijan Hall with plenty of rooms for religious meetings and gatherings that are always available. In each Cadet Group, we have a dedicated chaplain who has a conference room that could be used for such purposes. So, to answer your question, if using a common-use room like a Cadet TV room would disenfranchise the use for others who might not want to participate, then it would probably be inappropriate to have a Bible study in it.”
I vividly remember looking at around as people were shaking their heads in agreement. It was an excellent answer, especially on the fly. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, they get it.” But that only lasted about three seconds. We were all shocked when the then-commandant unexpectedly stood up, grabbed the microphone from the hand of the head chaplain, turned to face the audience and said: “Yeah, I’ll give some guidance. You wanna have a Bible study in a Cadet TV room, no problem.” He handed the microphone back to the chaplain and sat down. Silence. Ten seconds later, everyone was thanked for their attendance and dismissed, and from that day forward, it was a downhill slide. Weinstein’s mantra was born.
Since that day, there have been no real changes that regulate BEHAVIOR -- and every system is perfectly designed to yield the behaviors observed. Although the USAFA rhetoric towards religious expression has evolved, there have been no substantial policy changes. Thus, every four years, there are all new people, and it’s Groundhog Day over and over again. Mikey understands this better than anyone, and thus, his message is still the same.
There is a culture of silence on the inside for anyone who disagrees with the sanctioned institutional perspective that every thing has been fixed and is fine. If that were the case, they’d be far more transparent and give Weinstein everything he asks for. The fact that they obfuscate and obstruct is data that only emboldens him. No one would like to see the MRFF go away more than Mikey Weinstein. Given we all would like to see it go away, we should all behave in ways to see that such is a fait accompli. But because for the reasons that many of the other contributors here have suggested, such an eventuality is very unlikely.
It takes great courage for someone like Mikey Weinstein to persist as he has. For those of us who took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, giving in is not an option. Weinstein took that oath and lives by its creed every moment of every day. I'm inspired by people like Mikey who have the tenacity and courage to do what most of us wouldn’t.
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