That Air Force train keeps rolling

I have been meaning to get back to this story the second half of the week, but many other things kept getting in the way. Over at the Los Angeles Times, reporter David Kelly continues to roll with the story of evangelical abuses at the Air Force Academy.

The big news is that there still is no sign of balance in all of this. It seems that 90 percent of the Air Force Academy’s cadets are Christians, but there is no sign of their side in the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps they are guilty as sin and not answering their telephones. Perhaps Kelly does not want to talk with them. Perhaps this is a railroad job at the government level and the Christians — the bright ones and the not-so-bright ones — are deep in their bunkers.

The bottom line: Readers have no way to know. The stories are so blindingly one-sided that it is hard to tell.

I tend to follow church-state issues rather closely, having done a master’s degree in the subject. I can tell you, from experience, that Americans United for Separation of Church and State is involved in a whole lot of valid cases. No reporter would ignore this group’s work, even if, in this era, it is as fiercely partisan as Focus on the Family.

You see, the more valid the church-state case, the more likely you are to see other groups get involved — on the left and the right. The best solutions to these kinds of problems almost always come from broad, broad coalitions. Look for efforts that involve the Southern Baptist Convention (right) as well as the Baptist Joint Committee (left), the Alliance Defense Fund as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

There is a great NPR series going on right now on many issues related to this story. Here are reports on culture-war lawyers, the Alliance Defense Fund and a health-class curriculum battle. This NPR series, on Christianity and the public square, is precisely what the Los Angeles Times series is not. It’s balanced American journalism, as opposed to European-style advocacy reporting.

Anyway, what we have going on out at the Los Angeles Times is half of a church-state debate. Where oh where is the other half? When will we get that side of the story? Check this out, from Kelly’s latest report about the formation of an official task force:

Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group based in Washington, released a report on cases of alleged religious insensitivity at the academy and sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that raised the possibility of a lawsuit. . . .

The Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, will head the group — which will include members of the chaplain service, the Department of Defense, military attorneys and possibly outside organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League.

So now we see the roots of the story.

Again, let me stress that it seems clear many of the issues being raised in this flap are valid. But so are the First Amendment rights of the Christian students on the campus and in the military. Free speech can cause tension. But I think it is one of those rights the military exists to protect.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • donzelion

    This one would be hard to get the “other side” to speak on, since the other side was ordered not to speak without approval in this case.

    The interesting question: why are 90% of the cadets evangelistic Christians? Less than 30% of America’s population is.

  • ceemac

    Is this really a story about First Amendment rights?

    I don’t think so.

    This is a story about harassment and abuse of power.

    The cadets’ superiors are applying pressure to try to make them adopt the superiors’ religion. This is like a boss putting pressure on employees to do something that is not job related. That “something” could be anything from sex to buying his kids raffle tickets.

  • pdb

    A little perspective is needed here. I don’t doubt that 90 percent of the AFA cadets reported that they are Protestant or Catholic. The question is how many are actually practicitng. My child, who is about to graduate from the Naval Academy, which draws from the same applicant pool as the AFA, estimates that about 15 percent of the midshipmen are active Christians, either Protestant or Catholic, i.e. they attend church regularly and participate in religious groups on campus. A smaller subgroup would acutally evangelize, i.e. they talk about their faith to friends or invite them to religious activities, and could therefore be accused of religious harrassment.

    Frankly, any Christian cadet who values his or her military career would be a fool to talk to a reporter. However, a reporter could contact civilian leaders of these groups to get their perspective. They are easy to find and I bet would be willing to talk to a reporter they considered to be open-minded. I would also like to see a reporter ask for some evidence that these anti-semitic comments/actions originated with evangelical students. That is certainly the implication in these stories.

  • http://na Tom Ray

    I’ve never thought about advocacy journalism as being confined to European news media. Usually I think of Fox News when I think of purported journalism that advocates a particular point of view.