Religion

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Air Force Academy hosts talk of Shroud of Turin's alleged authenticity

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 3:52 PM

A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
  • A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
UPDATE:
We received this statement from the Air Force Academy via email:
As an institution of higher learning, the United States Air Force Academy engages with a diverse set of topics and viewpoints. This talk was advertised and held under the same conditions as all other talks — without any endorsement or requirement of attendance. We are always vigilant of religious respect and freedom, and will continue to review our processes to ensure that all talks and events comply with these tenets.

————-ORIGINAL POST 3:52 P.M. THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2019————————-

The Air Force Academy allowed former physics professor Rolf Enger to present a talk espousing the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the discredited "burial cloth" of Jesus Christ. The lecture happened this week, during the school day, in an academic classroom during a "special Easter presentation."

Some say the talk, which took place four days before Easter, violated the military's prohibition against favoring one religion over another. That's especially bothersome, they say, given the history of allegations that the Academy promotes fundamental Christianity as a ticket to promotions and favored treatment.

Barry Fagin, a computer science professor nearing his 25th year at the Academy, argues the school's seeming endorsement of the talk, sponsored by the Christian Faculty Fellowship, is embarrassing in light of scientific evidence that the shroud is merely a 14th century forgery that's been proven time and again through carbon dating not to date to the crucifixion.

Academy officials did not immediately respond to our request for comment. But, in the past, the Academy has denied that it favors one religion over another, but rather has asserted it must, in accord with Air Force Instruction 1-1, balance free exercise of religion with the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. That instruction also states that military leaders "must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief."

Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein says that 23 people — cadets, faculty and staff — complained to him about the lecture. A vocal critic of what he views as the Academy's religious bias, Weinstein, a 1977 Academy grad, started his foundation in 2004.

Mikey Weinstein - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • Mikey Weinstein
Weinstein says he was told by the complainants that they were disappointed, and that many noted that this incident came on the heels of "that Chick-fil-A fiasco." (The Academy hosted an executive from the fast-food company, which supports anti-LGBTQ efforts, to speak at the Character and Leadership Development Symposium earlier this term.)

"The command climate is so toxic there, they have to come to us," Weinstein says. "It’s the utter hypocrisy from a school that prides itself on honor code, character and leadership, honesty, integrity — all of these great things, but viciously violating the Constitution, its case law and directions and instructions."

Retired Brig Gen. Marty France, a former permanent professor and department head of the astronautics department who now serves on MRFF's advisory board, wrote to Vice Superintendent Houston Cantwell and Superintendent Jay Silveria expressing concern over the lecture.

"My colleagues were shocked that this sort of briefing, not even hiding its relationship to a specific religious belief (but proclaiming it) would be held during the duty day," France wrote in the letter, obtained by the Indy.

"Sure, it's voluntary, but when many of the attendees are in uniform, wearing rank, and in supervisory roles, we know that judgments are made," the letter said. "Moreover, just posting these flyers requires DF [dean of faculty] approval, so it's fair to assume that this is the endorsed position of the Dean... Dr Enger is free to present his 'research' based on some legend that the Academy has endorsed since the Frank J Seiler Research Lab misused taxpayer money back in the 70s and 80s in an attempt to prove the authenticity of this found piece of cloth (spoiler alert—it didn't really come from the presumed era or region of Jesus). I'm old enough to have been subjected to some of these briefings as a cadet and junior officer. It was wrong for the government to do it then, and it's wrong to provide a platform during the duty day to present it now."

France suggested such presentations should be held in the Cadet Chapel or Community Center Chapel, not in an academic building during the academic day.

As Weinstein tells the Indy, "It would be one thing to do it from a religious perspective, but it’s an embarrassing lack of science at a technically science school."

Which is the beef coming from Fagin, who attended the talk and observed 40 to 50 people there.
The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago.
"I found this to be very embarrassing," Fagin tells the Indy by phone. "The best evidence we have, the overwhelming evidence is that the shroud was a 14th century forgery."

Fagin clicked through that evidence, which includes three independent carbon dating tests, all of which concluded it dates to the 14th century.

Believers, he says, argue that a fire in the cathedral where the shroud was kept skewed the carbon dating results. "The amount of carbon needed to throw it off would be more than the entire weight of the shroud itself," Fagin says, adding that the substance of the talk comprised "recycled arguments that have been refuted a long, long time ago."

Fagin cited numerous studies of the fabric's weave, stains that believers purport to be blood  and other features of the shroud that have found it to be a hoax.
"These claims are no better than UFOs or Big Foot or astrology," he says. "The science has shown that all those things are not true. The same process that tells us all those things aren’t real tells us the Shroud of Turin is a painting."

He adds, "My views are my own and do not reflect those of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force or the Department of Defense. I only wish they did."

The The Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was housed at the Academy, due to efforts promoted by a former Academy physics professor, John Jackson.
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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Historic downtown church hosts benefit concert to pay for repairs

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 3:31 PM

Chadbourn Historic Mission Church survived the razing of a neighborhood. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Chadbourn Historic Mission Church survived the razing of a neighborhood.

Chadbourn Historic Mission Church, which survived the razing of a neighborhood to make way for America the Beautiful Park, has suffered vandalism and flood damage in recent years. It’s hosting a benefit concert and bake sale on March 31 from 2 to 6 p.m. to raise money for unbreakable Lexan window covers to protect its stained glass, as well as for flooding-related repairs.

The total cost of America the Beautiful Park — previously "Confluence Park" — amounted to more than $11 million by the time it was completed in 2005, an amount approved by Colorado Springs voters. That included more than $3 million spent on acquiring around 30 properties before construction began.

Rev. Christie Emery, a minister at the church, says she's heard one of the former ministers "literally put himself between a bulldozer and the church" to save it from demolition.

While the details of that incident are hard to verify, the national record shines some light on the building's history.

The benefit concert will raise money for window covers to protect its stained glass. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The benefit concert will raise money for window covers to protect its stained glass.
The property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, as the last remaining link to the Conejos barrio, a low-income, predominantly Latino neighborhood that was otherwise completely demolished to make way for the park. The church itself was built in 1910 or 1911, according to the Register, and originally used as a grocery store until it was rented and eventually purchased by missionary Ruth Chadbourn, along with two other trustees, in 1934 for $425.

The non-denominational church became an anchor for the neighborhood and offered services in both Spanish and English. It hosted Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts meetings, community events, and adult education classes.

In 1939, a few years after Chadbourn's death, its trustees remodeled the building to resemble a Spanish mission church. The stained glass windows were donated by the First United Methodist Church, just one of many collaborations between the church and other congregations.

Rezoning by the city resulted in many of the neighborhood's homes being replaced by commercial buildings, and by the 1990s, when the city began acquiring properties for the park, only the church and a few houses were left in the Conejos barrio.

"In October 1998, the City of Colorado Springs offered the Mission Trustees $125,000 for their property and up to $10,000 for the cost of relocating their operations," according to the building's entry in the National Register of Historic Places. "The city intended to demolish the Mission and incorporate the property in the development of the park. The Trustees rejected the City’s offer but eventually agreed to allow the city to move the Mission to a new location."

In 1999, however, the city made changes to the original park plans that allowed the church to stay.

"All of the roads and the property to the north of the Mission were torn up during construction of the park, making it difficult to drive to the building," the entry reads. "The congregation persevered and Sunday services were held throughout the project."

But the challenges continue: Emery says the terrain changes made for the park have led to flooding in the basement, and the stained glass windows — "although they're not Tiffany glass, they are Tiffany-era" — have been repeatedly vandalized.

The necessary repairs and window covers are too expensive for the small, aging congregation to shoulder alone, Emery says.

So she and her husband, local musician Bill Emery, came up with the idea for a benefit concert. It's scheduled for March 31 from 2 to 6 p.m.

Along with a bake sale and silent auction, the event will feature performances by Bare Bones Trombone Choir, Bill Emery and The Stardust Jazz Orchestra and violinist Cynthia Robinson.

A suggested donation is $10, and you can RSVP on Facebook here.

"It's a little piece of history over there, that's just, when it's gone, there will be nothing left of that actual neighborhood anymore," Emery says. "...That little area has a lot of heart and I would hate for it to just be forgotten."
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Friday, March 22, 2019

Muslim soldier at Fort Carson overruled on complaint regarding hijab

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 1:27 PM

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was overruled in her allegation of discrimination regarding an order to remove her hijab. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos was overruled in her allegation of discrimination regarding an order to remove her hijab.
An investigation about allegations a command sergeant major ordered a Muslim soldier to remove her hijab has concluded with a finding of "unsubstantiated" regarding discrimination, Fort Carson announced March 22.

The finding, released by Col. Dave Zinn, commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, found that Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya "acted appropriately by enforcing the proper wear of the hijab, in compliance with Army Regulations."

Zinn said in a statement:
Our leaders are committed to supporting Soldiers' freedom of religious expression. I have, and will continue to, take all reports of Soldiers disrespecting religious beliefs, observances, or traditions very seriously. I will ensure our unit continues to place a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.

We value diversity within our ranks and will continue to embrace our differences, which make us a stronger more well-rounded team of cohesive, highly-trained Soldiers prepared to answer our Nation's call anytime, anywhere.
Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos said in a statement that Zinn told her on March 21 that Montoya was within regulations and that she felt the back of the chapel, where she ordered Valdovinos to remove the hijab, was a private setting. Zinn also told her he would take future matters seriously and has ordered a chaplain conduct training with the command teams on various religions. He also told her, she says, that the dining staff had tried to accommodate her desire not to come into contact with pork as prescribed by her religion, but that she wouldn't cooperate.

"I explained to him I was never given that option," she says, adding Zinn said he would look into that issue.

Valdovinos also relayed to Zinn that Montoya had again asked her whether her hair beneath the hijab was within regulations, her statement says. Valdovinos has asked Zinn for an inter-post transfer, "because I feel I am being targeted." No word yet on that request.

Zinn's finding set off Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who issued this statement:
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has found that the Army’s conduct in this EO investigation along with the conduct of its senior leaders constitute only the worst type of a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of anti-Muslim bigotry prejudice and harassment. As our client has now exhausted her administrate remedies, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is hard at work determining whether or not we can file a federal lawsuit in either Denver or Washington against the Army based upon this shameful scandalous outrage of anti-Muslim hostility.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Order to remove hijab at Fort Carson spurs controversy, but versions of story differ

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 12:14 PM

Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos believes that she was discriminated against when a superior officer at Fort Carson ordered her to remove her hijab. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos believes that she was discriminated against when a superior officer at Fort Carson ordered her to remove her hijab.
It was about 3 p.m. on March 6, and Sgt. Cesilia Valdovinos’ unit was receiving training in suicide prevention at the chapel on Fort Carson.

Without warning, Valdovinos tells the Independent, Command Sergeant Major Kerstin Montoya grabbed her arm and said, “You come with me.”

Valdovinos followed her to the back of the chapel, where she says Montoya told her to remove “that.” The object at issue was Valdovinos’ hijab, a head scarf worn by Muslim women, for which she had obtained an accommodation letter last year.

Valdovinos did as she was told, but later contacted a member of the Pentagon’s chaplaincy, a colonel who’s Muslim. He told her she shouldn’t have obliged by removing the hijab, and referred her to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

With MRFF involved, run by the high-profile and vociferous Mikey Weinstein, the issue might not die soon, despite Fort Carson officials disputing Valdovinos’ account of what happened that day.

In a statement, the Mountain Post said Army leaders respect soldiers’ right to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or repercussion, but even obtaining an accommodation doesn’t mean they’re not subject to inspection for compliance with Army regulations that specify how a hijab should be worn. Fort Carson officials say that Valdovinos was clearly out of compliance on the day in question; that she wasn’t grabbed, but simply taken aside; and that she was in the presence of two female superiors when she removed the head covering.

Valdovinos denies she violated any regulation.

It wasn’t the first time Valdovinos felt uncomfortable in the Army due to her religion. After being raised in the Catholic Church, and four years after joining the Army out of high school, she converted to Islam.

In August 2017, she was promoted to sergeant and has served two tours in Afghanistan, returning most recently in fall 2018.

In April 2018, she applied for a religious accommodation, which required her to be interviewed extensively by two different chaplains, she says. On June 24, 2018, Col. David Zinn issued a letter that stated, “I approve the wear of a hijab in observance of her faith in the Muslim tradition ... a copy of this approved religious accommodation will be filed in the Army Military Human Resource Record system (AMHRR) and will remain in effect throughout SGT Valdovinos’ career.”

While in Afghanistan, however, a fellow soldier called her “a terrorist.”

“We were supposed to be a team, and it was hostile,” she says. “I was angry, but the girls around me [in my unit] helped me calm down.” Though she says she reported it, nothing came of her report and she felt it was ignored.

About a month ago, Valdovinos says, she objected to handling pork at her job in the dining facility, due to her religious requirements. Initially, her supervisor suggested she wear gloves to handle pork, but later transferred Valdovinos to a supply unit. Valdovinos didn’t file a complaint. Nor did she formally protest after she says others on post referred to her as “the girl with the hood.”

But she did file a complaint with the post’s equal opportunity office on March 7 following the hijab incident, she says. The incident startled Valdovinos. She says when she asked Montoya if she had authority to impose such an order, Montoya said, “I can,” and told her she wanted it removed so she could “see my hair.”

Valdovinos, who stands 4 feet, 11 inches, says she removed the garment partway, but Montoya told her to remove it completely, and she complied. Montoya then told her to “get out of here,” she says.

“I felt naked without it,” she tells the Indy. “It’s like asking you to take off your blouse. It felt like I was getting raped, in a sense.”

Fort Carson officials, however, tell a different version of the story via email. They say soldiers with special accommodations still must meet standards of appearance. The hijab must be worn close to the hair and jaw lines, not covering any part of the face, and the hair cannot be worn down.

“According to sources who were present,” Carson said, “Sgt. Valdovinos’ hair was visibly out of regulation. Her senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) [Montoya] and a battalion staff officer, both female, stepped outside with Sgt. Valdovinos so they could speak to her privately. At no time did the senior non-commissioned officer touch Sgt. Valdovinos.”

Another soldier who witnessed Valdovinos being summoned by Montoya tells the Indy that Valdovinos was grabbed by the upper arm. The soldier spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisal from superiors.

Asked about that, Carson provided a written statement from Cpt. Brooke Smith, who observed the entire incident. She said Montoya tapped Valdovinos on the shoulder, but didn’t grab her.
Smith’s story correlates with Carson officials’ written statement, which states that Montoya asked Valdovinos to remove the hijab “in order to verify whether or not her hair was within regulation” and “discovered that Sgt. Valdovinos’ hair was completely down, which is not allowed while in uniform.”

Montoya then told her to “put her hair back in regulation and to not let it happen again,” Carson’s statement said.

Carson also offered a statement by Zinn, who said, in part, “I will ensure our unit continues our tradition of placing a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”

He also noted there is an inquiry into Valdovinos’ claim.

Valdovinos says that she is upset because for Muslim women, removing the hijab in public isn’t allowed — the Quran dictates that certain parts of a woman’s body, including her hair, are to be seen by her husband only.

MRFF founder Weinstein argues that since Valdovinos had secured a letter of accommodation from her commander, demanding she remove the hijab is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Army regulations. (Carson didn’t respond to this allegation when asked by the Indy.)

“This woman has been spiritually raped,” he says. “This rips asunder good order, morale, discipline and unit cohesion.” It also serves up a “public relations bonanza for our Islamic extremist enemies” who wish to paint the war on terror as a war on Islam or a clash of world religions, he claims.

Weinstein commended Valdovinos for coming forward, noting she’s a woman of color — her father is Mexican and her mother, Navajo — and is Muslim. “It took a tremendous amount of courage for her to stand up for herself,” Weinstein says.

Valdovinos says she’s willing to take a lie-detector test in regards to the incident. And she claims that her hair was not out of compliance. “Of course when she made me take off my hijab my hair fell out of the bun it was in,” she says.

She also notes that her accommodation letter doesn’t contain specifications on how her hair is to be pinned.

Weinstein vows to file a complaint with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, as well as seek “just punishment of the Army perpetrators.”

Meanwhile, Valdovinos says she hopes those at her post will come to accept her more fully. “I just want them to understand, just because I’m Muslim, I’m not different. I’m still myself, and I’m still going to fulfill my duty.”
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Chick-fil-A executive's planned speech at AFA draws criticism

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 10:20 AM

The Falcon football team kneels in the end zone to pray in a past season, a show of religion opposed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Falcon football team kneels in the end zone to pray in a past season, a show of religion opposed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
UPDATE: Two organizations, the National Organization for Women and the California Council of Churches, are urging Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria to "disinvite" Rodney Bullard from the Academy's Character and Leadership Symposium.

The letters:
We've asked the Academy for a comment and will update if and when we hear back.

—————-ORIGINAL POST 10:20 A.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13, 2019————————-

A speaker at the Air Force Academy's Character and Leadership Development Symposium on Feb. 21-22 has drawn the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Rodney Bullard, vice president of Chick-fil-A's vice president of corporate social responsibility, is an Academy grad, but the MRFF says Chick-fil-A has a record of funding anti-LGBT groups.

Chick-fil-A has been working on changing its image, as we report in the Feb. 13 issue.

In a letter to Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, MRFF demands the school withdraw its invitation to Bullard and calls the decision to invite Bullard "another wretched example, in a long line of such despicable instances, of fundamentalist Christian-based homophobic oppression by USAFA."

Rodney Bullard, former U.S. Attorney who worked at NASA. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • Rodney Bullard, former U.S. Attorney who worked at NASA.
The MRFF likened the invitation to asking "Harvey Weinstein to speak at a USAFA forum on women’s civil rights." Weinstein is a Hollywood producer facing charges of sexual assault.

MRFF also notes the Academy has invited other speakers in the past which MRFF deemed inappropriate, thus leading MRFF to accuse the school of "pushing a sectarian, fundamentalist Christian, religious extremist agenda."

MRFF represents 12 LGBT clients among the Academy's cadet wing, staff and faculty, the letter says.

We asked the Academy to respond to MRFF's protest of Bullard's appearance but didn't hear back before the Independent's press time. But we did hear after that, so are posting the response from an Academy spokesperson in full:
We selected speakers whose stories will highlight this year's theme of
Leadership, Teamwork, and Organizational Management. Each speaker will focus on the value, successes, and challenges at the personal,
interpersonal, team, and/or organizational levels. Their wide-ranging
backgrounds, diversity of thought, and comprehensive leadership experiences will enable their listeners to appreciate the many opportunities life offers in fashioning pathways to success. That each speaker has an individual viewpoint on different aspects of our culture enhances the NCLS mission to present a rich variety of outlooks and perspectives to our audiences, which we feel is in keeping with the tenets of a liberal education.

NCLS participants are free to choose which presentations they attend, and we're confident that each speaker's presentation will prove invaluable to our cadets to aid in their character development and in honing their leadership skills in their pursuit as Air Force officers. 
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Monday, October 29, 2018

Vigil planned to honor victims of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2018 at 12:25 PM

YAIR ARONSHTAM
  • Yair Aronshtam
Following the slaughter of 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Oct. 27, the Temple Shalom and Temple Beit Torah will co-host a prayer vigil in Colorado Springs on Monday, Oct. 29, starting at 5:30 p.m.

Authorities took Robert Bowers, 46, into custody following the shooting that also injured six others, and CBS News reports that U.S. Attorney Scott Brady says federal prosecutors will seek to pursue the death penalty against Bowers. He was to make a first appearance in court Monday, Oct. 29.

According to the charging document, CBS reports, Bowers told one officer, "They're committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews."

The local prayer vigil will feature prayers of healing for those victims who survived the attack and are still being treated for their wounds and honor those who died, the Temples said in a release.

From the release:
All members of the community are welcome to attend. The vigil will begin at 5:30 p.m., and will feature prayers, music and speakers. Participants will include local clergy, elected officials, and other civic leaders. The vigil will take place at Temple Shalom, 1523 E Monument St., Colorado Springs, CO.

In a time of such tragedy, we hope that this gathering will provide a venue for the beginning of healing, the beginning of comfort, and the beginning of a pathway forward.

In addressing his congregation, Rabbi Jay Sherwood of Temple Shalom wrote, "We must never let hate and fear impede our march toward peace and righteousness. We will walk out of the darkness and continue to be a light unto the nations."

May the memories of those murdered in this horrific attack be a blessing.

Temple Shalom was founded in 1971 in Colorado Springs, Colorado and today is a vibrant congregation of more than 250 families which conducts itself according to the principles of both the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements. Its mission is to promote a spiritually centered community that inspires Jewish values, life and learning.

Temple Beit Torah is a Reform Jewish Synagogue founded in 1992 and located in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado. Temple Beit Torah strives to provide a warm and truly all-inclusive Reform Jewish community. We are committed to strengthening all of our members in their Jewish identity and knowledge. 
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers issued this statement:

This was a tragic weekend in our nation where we saw reprehensible hate crimes against the black and Jewish communities including an attack and an attempted attack on two places of worship. Such crimes are disgusting acts of cowardice and I want to personally express my deepest condolences to all who grieve; both here in Colorado Springs and across the nation. The Constitution of the United States expressly protects our right to religious freedom and the City of Colorado Springs is committed to upholding that precious right. Let it be known that this city will not tolerate acts of racial, religious or ethnic prejudice and those who would commit such acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
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