Coach Fisher DeBerry agreed Friday to remove the banner, which displayed the "Competitor's Creed," including the lines "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." ... Outgoing Air Force Secretary James Roche issued a statement Friday backing the academy's effort. "Our policy is clear. Tolerance of gender, racial, ethnic and religious diversity is required at our Air Force," Roche said.
Roche's positive statement about what the Air Force must stand for is important because it can be used to counter the inevitable complaints about how this is just another example of people trying to push God out of the government. Such complaints always really mean "my conception of my God," excluding all other conceptions and any other gods. Thus, it's not so much that "God is being pushed out of government" but that "one group's conception of their god is starting to be treated like everyone's else's god."
Apparently the banner comes from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and reads:
I am a Christian first and last.
I am created in the likeness of God Almighty to bring Him glory.
I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.
I wear the colors of the cross.
I am a Competitor now and forever.
I am made to strive, to strain, to stretch, and to succeed in the arena of competition.
I am a Christian Competitor and as such, I face my challenger with the face of Christ....
This is obviously no neutral, non-sectarian expression of civil religion. This is a prayer — adapted for the purposes of inspiring athletic competition, to be sure, but a Christian prayer nonetheless. It's absolutely inappropriate for an athletic program at a military academy to be promoting a specifically Christian prayer created by a Christian organization. What on earth was the coach thinking? How could he imagine that he could do something like this?
Jim Spencer writes about the ongoing problems:
Since August, when plans for tolerance training began, the academy has identified 55 incidents of religious bias dating from 2000, said academy spokesman Lt. Col. Laurent Fox. The complaints, Fox said, included a cadet who anonymously reported being called "(expletive) Jew" and "Christ-killer." Academy officials have no knowledge of an incident, reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette, that non-Christian cadets in basic training were forced to march in a "heathen flight," Fox said. Gone from the academy's base paper is a long-running ad signed by hundreds of staff and their families that stated, "We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World."
A Denver Post report of the general's stand brought the expected outcry from those who don't grasp why force-feeding religion - however well-intentioned - is un-American. "Our military and its customs have their origin in the same Judeo-Christian fathers as did our Declaration of Independence," Kevin Richardson wrote. A 12-year Air Force veteran noted that, "If (non-Christians) can't handle the fact that there are others out there who do not share their non-Christian world view, then they need to get out of the military and do something else." Added Kristin Lambert: "May (Christian cadets) never be pressured into silence by those who feel uncomfortable hearing about Jesus Christ."
Should the same be said of Muslim cadets shouting "Allahu akbar" ("God is great")?
The comments quoted from the newspaper are only to be expected — many conservative Christians object quite strongly when public presumptions that benefit or support their religion are dropped in favor or more inclusive language and policies that favor no particular religious positions. When public and private institutions move towards being more fair to all, neither advancing nor hindering any religious beliefs or religions as a whole, then freedom for all is enhanced. Of course, this requires eliminating special privileges once enjoyed by some. A few of those privileges might be intangible, like general expressions of favoritism, or they might be quite tangible like specific policies that advance one group over others. All of them have to end and you can count on the beneficiaries of those privileges to whine and pout over it.