Studies at U.S. Air Force Academy prolonging time until change

Just what this country needs — another task force study of what’s already been studied, analyzed and debated to death. Off we go, once again, on a prolonged orgy of navel gazing that won’t do a thing to hasten the speed with which we address the problem at hand.

The problem being studied to death this time — what some say is a climate of religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy — already is being addressed by academy officials, in actions that demonstrate to us that they’re serious about confronting the issue. Yet another investigation was launched Tuesday, which will most likely tell us what we already know and what school officials already concede.

We worry that this obsession with looking back diverts attention from the reforms already being tried, or that are readily available with a little application of common sense.
The Air Force’s naming of the task force comes less than a week after Americans United for the Separation of Church and State released a report detailing what it characterized as a pro-Christian bias at the school and threatened to sue. This followed reports of another study, conducted by a grad student at the Yale divinity school, which drew a similar conclusion.

This isn’t exactly news, in other words. Cadet and faculty surveys in 2004 pointed to a possible problem, leading to a visit in December by the deputy assistant secretary for equal opportunity. Her review helped in the creation of a religious sensitivity training program, which began in March.
The message in the training classes is clear, according to published reports: “No proselytizing, no using your position to promote a personal agenda, no posting of religious posters except with the chaplaincy’s permission and on designated bulletin boards, no promoting religious clubs.”
Top school officials have been under fire in these reports and in the press for words or deeds that might have crossed the line into evangelizing and proselytizing, which is clearly inappropriate at a public, taxpayer-financed institution. And now some clearer rules have been laid down for cadets and academy staff to follow.

It’s also probably safe to assume that all the negative publicity has had a tempering effect on any tendency by students or staff to proselytize, unless one assumes that folks at the academy and in the Air Force are politically tone deaf — which we don’t believe.

As with the academy sex scandal, we’ve again reached a point of diminishing returns when redundant studies and the prolonging of the controversy become detrimental to the desired end, which is solving the problem and moving ahead. But once these issues become this politicized, that seems to be the inevitable result.

We would be more enthusiastic about the work of this new task force if we believed the issue hadn’t been adequately studied or addressed. But everything we’ve seen points to a sincere desire from the top — Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., superintendent of the academy — to confront and resolve this issue, so the school can return its focus to where it belongs — on preparing cadets to become tomorrow’s leaders.

As for religion at the academy, the goal is deceptively simple. Every cadet is entitled to practice the religion of his or her choice, or none at all. However, no cadet should be required or pushed to practice anyone else’s religion, or any religion at all. That’s what America is all about: basic freedom.

It’s time to learn from those mistakes, make whatever course adjustments are required, and march forward.