USAFA Chaplain Colonel Robert Bruno stands up for atheists

USAFA Chaplain Colonel Robert Bruno stands up for atheists January 9, 2012

Pagans at the Air Force Academy in Colorado now have an outdoor equivalent of a chapel to practice their religion(s). Immediately, Christian groups expressed concern over the $50,000 Falcon Circle at USAFA.

wiccan falcon circle earth based spirituality USAFA air force acadamey

Col. Robert Bruno, the academy’s senior chaplain said:

The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion does not just apply to the mainstream faith groups. It also applies to atheists, secularists, freethinkers and those whose belief systems are usually classified under the umbrella term ‘Earth-centered spirituality,’

“A denial of constitutional rights to one threatens the constitutional rights of all.”


Don Branum wrote a surprisingly brilliant article about the situation on the USAFA’s website back on Dec 27th. I really appreciated this tidbit:

By way of comparison, the Cadet Chapel that now houses Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist worship areas cost $3.5 million to build — in 1959. That would be more than $25 million in today’s dollars, or enough to build 500 Falcon Circles.

So let’s revisit the original question: Why did the Air Force Academy build an “outdoor Stonehenge” for just a handful of cadets?

The Air Force Academy did it because it’s the right thing to do. The Academy did it because those cadets will spend years of their lives putting service to their country before themselves. The Academy did it because those cadets asked for nothing more than what some 80 percent of Americans take for granted: the freedom, as illustrated in Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Religion” war bonds painting, to worship “each according to the dictates of his own conscience.” And the Academy did it because they may one day be asked, as Army Sgt. Patrick Stewart was asked, to give the last full measure of devotion.

The unwavering efforts of people like Rev. Barry Lynn and Mikey Weinstein have surely paid off.

And atheists are desperately trying to get our place at the table too. It’s hard for us because so many civilians just don’t understand how the chaplaincy works. We’re making progress, but even atheists like Penn Jillette need to educate themselves about what is admittedly a bit of a head-scratcher.

Atheist groups are still currently banned from meeting in a meaningful way on every Army base, as per chaplain regulations.

The DFGLs seeking to provide religious services in U.S. Government controlled facilities must submit an

application with the approval and sponsorship of a local Chaplain to either the SrCH or the senior command Chaplain

at the division or higher level in deployed situations. The SrCH or appropriate command Chaplain endorses the request

and forwards to the appropriate IMCOM or MEDCOM Chaplain for approval. DFGLs will not conduct services before

approval by the IMCOM or MEDCOM Command Chaplains

My application fulfilled all of the requirements a year ago. The second wave of applications are similarly stuck in the mud. We can’t raise funds (read: be self-sufficient). We can’t advertise on the same scale. And we sure as hell can’t use the ‘religiously neutral’ chapels for our meetings (like many Unitarian churches that allow ‘interfaith’ use of their buildings to atheist groups).

Comments from people like Colonel Bruno keep people like me going. I know for a fact that there is a silent majority that willingly accepts atheists. This is a rare example of a religious person vociferously demanding equality for all – including atheists.

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  • Len Blakely

    Do you have a glossary handy for the poor Canadian trying to read this?

    The DFGLs seeking to provide religious services in U.S. Government controlled facilities must submit an

    application with the approval and sponsorship of a local Chaplain to either the SrCH or the senior command Chaplain

    at the division or higher level in deployed situations. The SrCH or appropriate command Chaplain endorses the request

    and forwards to the appropriate IMCOM or MEDCOM Chaplain for approval. DFGLs will not conduct services before

    approval by the IMCOM or MEDCOM Command Chaplains

  • Passerby

    DFGL – Distinctive Faith Group Leader. The point of contact for a religious group on post. Does not have to be a chaplain.

    SrCH – Senior Chaplain, or the ‘head honcho’ for the chaplains on a post. Usually Colonel or Lt. Col if staffing is tight. (At least, this is what I think this is. I’ve never seen this one before, and I can’t find an online definition.)

    IMCOM – Installation Command. Oversees housing, community and quality of life issues on a post.

    MEDCOM – Medical Command. Oversees medical needs for Soldiers and community members.

    Hope this helps.

  • Passerby

    P.S. – It’s ‘Installation Management Command’ for IMCOM. My bad.

  • Justin Griffith

    Passerby – thank you for the makeshift glossary there.

    Absolutely 100% accurate 🙂

  • Barry Johnstone.

    About time that some common sense was heard!

  • I’d much rather that religion was taken out of the military altogether and chaplains were replaced with qualified mental health professionals. While I understand that if the government is going to use public money to build Christian clubhouses, it must do the same for every “belief” group. However, using public money to support any of this nonsense is just plain wrong and they should get out of the myth business altogether.

  • Dale

    @Len Blakely You weren’t a WO with the Strats in 87-88 were you? I know the chances are slim but I just had to ask. I’ve seen your name around here a couple of times now.

    I pity you Americans in the service with all this religious crap. Never had to deal with it in Canada.

    In 85-86 my neighbour in married quarters in Calgary was the Protestant Padre for my armour unit. He was quiet, mild, meek, a very nice man. I found out a couple of years ago he had just retired as the Chaplain General of the Canadian Forces as a Brigadier. I find it hard to believe someone like him could have had similar success in the US military. They seem to like their chaplains more vocal and militant.

  • Len Blakely

    @passerby- Thanks for the glossary.

    @Dale- No I’m not a Strat, gravy is for potatoes not for drinking. Only been in since ’91.

  • Passerby

    @markns – I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one. Though I would prefer that the Chaplaincy didn’t have as large of a role in influencing command decision as they do now, I think that a Chaplain’s Corps is a good thing for those Soldiers in our military who do believe. It gives them an outlet for their faith and people to share their faith with.

    I may think that the premise is back-a**-word, and that their scripture and their prayers are bunk, but their beliefs are important to them and their well-being is important to our mission accomplishment. If anything, I’d like to see more chaplains, but of varying faiths and creeds instead of the overwhelming Christian population we see now. It’d give more of an emphasis on those who don’t believe in mainstream Christianity, and be an important symbol of pluralism for our armed forces.

    Then again, that’s just me.

  • BirdManBlue

    The chaplaincy should be totally revamped. We should not be granting military rank, pay, and benefits to people based upon their externally endorsed religious beliefs. That violates the establishment clause of the Constitution and makes coercion by officers of higher rank (and all chaplains are officers) a real threat. Instead, recognizing that there are bases and locations where it cannot be assumed that our service members can find apprpriate ways to practice religion or be counseled religiously, the government should provide either civilian contractors or allow volunteers from specific, needed religions to serve the need of our service members.

    And, BTW, let’s not all think that Chaplain Bruno is a “saint” here. He still insists on distinctly Christian prayers to start annual awards ceremonies at USAFA–a practice endorsed by senior leadership. He, and most of the USAFA chaplains, were strongly against the stone circle long before they were for it. Strong pressure from Lynn, Weinstein, and senior Air Force leadership external to USAFA (e.g., at the Pentagon) led to them “seeing the light.”

  • Dale

    @Len Blakely – I’ve was out of the Strats three years before you joined but why would you associate them with drinking gravy? Has some bizarre new custom started up since I left? 🙁

    Does the US have more and more bizarre acronyms or are we just used to ours?

  • geocatherder

    I have mixed feelings on this whole Chaplaincy thing. I respect religious people’s right to believe (I don’t particularly respect what they believe, but that’s a different issue). If your faith in Jesus or Allah or whoever helps you get through deployment sanely, I don’t mind the military giving you a bit of help. But my sense, and I may be wrong here, is that the U.S. Military relies on the Chaplaincy to provide basic, everyday mental health services, and they’re not the ones who should be doing that service. In fact, it seems to me that military personnel should have LOTS of competent, well-trained, mental health care providers who are NOT invested in religion. Mentally, modern warfare asks an awful lot of its practitioners. We should invest in them accordingly.

  • Len Blakely
  • Dale

    @Len – That must have been a bit shocking to see 🙂 Interesting site. Will have to take a look to see if anyone I know is listed.

  • Len Blakely

    Dale, if you’ve been out for a while the inter-regimental hacking has been elevated to new heights. Common belief would hold that the Strats drink gravy in order to achieve such a handsome girth. This is frequently from PPCLI guys that the Strats call “SPUTs” (Self-propelled Pop Up Targets). I could go on…and frequently do.. but I think you get where I’m going.

  • pyrobryan

    Perhaps this is at a different base or something, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that all of that construction was being done anyway. They had to move some boulders and picked that spot to relocate them. There just also happened to be some pagan soldiers requesting a worship space so they killed two birds with one stone… or I guess a circle of stones (bad jokes are allowed here, right?). So the actual cost of the “altar” was already mostly paid. All they had to do was arrange them in a circle instead of… whatever they were going to do with them. Seems like the flagstone was the only additional cost, but my memory isn’t 100% on that.

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