Colorado Springs, CO is seen by many as the center of the Christian evangelical community in the American West. So it is more than ironic that the United States Air Force Academy, also based in Colorado Springs, has just opened a prayer circle and Stonehenge-like area so that its Wiccans, Druids, and "earth-centered groups" have a place to worship.
"This outdoor worship space is something we have created to help people of all religions," Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, the academy's superintendent, told The Gazette before a ribbon-cutting on the site.
So how many people will this benefit? The Gazette says there are 10 cadets who regularly attend "earth-centered" worship services, which encompasses New Age religion, paganism, Druids, ancient Norse beliefs, and Wicca.
Back in February, Father Jonathan Morris told Fox News the decision was "politically correct cowardice by bumbling bureaucrats," adding, "behind the smoke and mirrors of the supposed high demand for 'Earth worship prayer circles' is a small group of activist atheists in America who seek first to water-down and then to abolish the name and face of God from the public square."
“This is very important for us, we didn’t have a place to call our own, to be outside in nature,” cadet Nicole Johnson, a member of the earth-centered group, told the paper.
Before getting their own, dedicated worship site, the group did have access to a classroom where members would conduct their services. Now, there chapel sits 7,200 feet above ground on a hill that overlooks the main campus chapel. Apparently worried about security, it is surrounded by security cameras.
The site does have the backing of religious leaders on campus.
“I think its great,” Maj. Joshua Narrowe, a rabbi at the academy, said. “It’s not a big group, but is a religious need.” According to him, chaplains at the academy not only signed off on the the earth-centered chapel, but they pushed for its construction.
At the dedication, some of those chaplains offered prayers for the new side. Lt. Col. Daniel Brantingham said in his prayer: “We stand here in gratitude for a most precious gift from you. The gift of choice.”
But that was trumped by Air Force Reserve Capt. Kelly Ihme, an adviser to the earth-centered cadet religious group: “Heart and tree, earth and stone, nothing but good this place be known."
Read the rest from The Gazette.
The new chapel comes as atheists are pushing for one of their own to join the chapel corps. From the New York Times:
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — In the military, there are more than 3,000 chaplains who minister to the spiritual and emotional needs of active duty troops, regardless of their faiths. The vast majority are Christians, a few are Jews or Muslims, one is a Buddhist. A Hindu, possibly even a Wiccan may join their ranks soon.
But an atheist?
Strange as it sounds, groups representing atheists and secular humanists are pushing for the appointment of one of their own to the chaplaincy, hoping to give voice to what they say is a large — and largely underground — population of nonbelievers in the military.
Joining the chaplain corps is part of a broader campaign by atheists to win official acceptance in the military. Such recognition would make it easier for them to raise money and meet on military bases. It would help ensure that chaplains, religious or atheist, would distribute their literature, advertise their events and advocate for them with commanders.
But winning the appointment of an atheist chaplain will require support from senior chaplains, a tall order. Many chaplains are skeptical: Do atheists belong to a “faith group,” a requirement for a chaplain candidate? Can they provide support to religious troops of all faiths, a fundamental responsibility for chaplains?