by Nate Kellum
Like other college campuses in America, the dorm room doors at the Air Force Academy are adorned with white dry erase boards, where residents leave messages for those passing by, such as “Be back in a few,” “Excited about the weekend,” or “Go Falcons!” But when a cadet jotted out a Bible verse on his own personal whiteboard, the Air Force Academy coerced him to get rid of it.
To encourage believers and engage unbelievers with the truth, the cadet wrote with his dry erase marker a well-known verse, Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Apparently, someone complained about having to see this passage in the hallway. And high-ranking school officials — presuming the minor leadership role this cadet fulfills at the Air Force Academy requires him to forego mention of his faith — wasted little time in erasing the expression.
This rash action is not only unthinking, it’s unconstitutional.
One might ask: What would compel the military leadership to act in such a capricious manner?
A group ironically named the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has taken credit for it. According to its leader, Mikey Weinstein, they pressured the military into this decision.
Media relations for the Air Force Academy disputes this claim, reporting an in-house complaint was handled by a cadet council guided by senior officers (similar to an honor court) and that the cadet voluntarily took the quote down after a discussion with the cadet council.
Whether the Academy is succumbing to the anti-Christian rants of some radical group, or using military discipline structures to scrutinize religiously-motivated decisions, or both, the suppression of Christian speech is disturbing.
Weinstein boasts the Bible verse only lasted 2 hours and nine minutes on the whiteboard before the erasure was applied. He was complimentary of the prompt action taken by the Air Force Academy, crediting Lt. Col. Denise Cooper in particular, who assured Weinstein that the Academy would use the incident as a “teachable moment.”
But what exactly does this silencing of Christian expression teach? That cadets are permitted to use their whiteboards for all sorts of personal messages except for religious ones? That cadets are not entitled to the constitutional rights they are supposed to fight for and protect?
Private religious speech should be freely allowed on government — including military — property. As the Supreme Court has observed, there is a critical distinction “between government speech endorsing religion, which the Establishment Clause forbids, and private speech endorsing religion, which the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses protect.”
Perhaps Air Force Academy leaders would benefit from some teaching in this instance.
Every enlistee must take an oath swearing to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. The need for a refresher course on that document is self-evident.