When Hollywood imitates life 

This is how deeply evangelical Christian proselytizing at one of the most prestigious public military academies in the country has woven its way into Americana.

Several weeks ago, the season premiere of the ABC prime-time drama "Boston Legal" (which stars William Capn Kirk Shatner) featured a case involving a Jewish man who believed his civil rights were violated when Christian co-workers held Bible readings at work. In one scene, a Christian lawyer bragged: We have the presidency, we have the House of Representatives, we have the Senate; Christianity is even the official religion at the Air Force Academy, where we are a member of Team Jesus Christ.

Even Hollywood sometimes gets it right.

This week, the Washington Post broke the story about how a missionary husband-and-wife team, employed by Colorado Springs ministry The Navigators, is working full-time at the Academy. In a four-page newsletter to supporters obtained by the Independent, the couple, Darren and Gina Lindblom, highlighted their work at the Academy, where they apparently have been given unsupervised reign over what they call their "Navigator Cadet Ministry Team."

"Praise God that we have been allowed access by the Academy into the cadet areas to minister among the cadets," the Lindbloms wrote. "We have recently been given an unused classroom to meet with cadets at any time during the day. This was a true answer to prayer."

The newsletter was dated Oct. 11. That was less than a week after Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 Academy graduate, filed a lawsuit accusing the institution of fostering an environment of religious intolerance -- and just weeks after the Air Force issued new guidelines instructing officials to avoid obvious proselytizing at the tax-funded institution, and to be sensitive to all religions.

The U.S. Senate, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and numerous evangelical Christian groups have jumped into the fight to preserve rampant Jesus-saving at the Air Force Academy, other religions be damned.

This Tuesday, Nov. 15, Jay Sekulow of the Washington D.C.-based religious American Center for Law and Justice sent a mass e-mail to supporters seeking signatures from people who "want to protect the rights of military chaplains to pray in Jesus' name." As of press time, Sekulow had collected 80,000 signatures on his "Petition to Protect Military Prayer" to be delivered to President George W. Bush, whom he hopes will enact an executive order in Jesus' name.

Weinstein's own Air Force Academy experience was in a climate not even vaguely close to the one at the institution today, he says. His research suggests that the insurgency of preaching there coincides with the influx of local Christian nonprofits in the past two decades, most notably Focus on the Family, whose world headquarters is but a couple of stone's throws from the Academy. Last week, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian law center co-founded by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, filed a motion in opposition of Weinstein's complaint, presumably in Jesus' name.

And just who is Weinstein? In his words, he certainly is not a garden-variety, tree-hugging, chardonnay-sipping West Coast liberal. He graduated with honors from the Air Force Academy, the second of three generations of military academy graduates. He worked as an attorney in the Reagan administration's White House and was Ross Perot's general counsel. He even married his wife, who is from Colorado Springs, in the Academy chapel.

Yet, he notes, "The right wing has made me out to be a godzilla trying to take away people's ability to say 'God bless you' when you sneeze."

He's had Academy officials tell him that Dr. Seuss, Jack Benny, Albert Einstein and, yes, Anne Frank, are all burning in hell because they were Jewish. "Don't have my government telling me that little Anne Frank is burning in hell," he says.

The sprawling, 128,000-acre military school in northern Colorado Springs already has 16 full-time chaplains available 24/7 to cadets of all religions, including Catholics, Jews and Muslims. And that's not counting the senior brass -- heck, even football coach Fisher DeBerry's done his share of well-publicized proselytizing, including placing that aforementioned "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ" banner in the locker room.

-- degette@csindy.com


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