Thursday February 4, 2010

Air Force Academy Cross Over Incident at Pagan Circle

By Peter J. Smith

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado, February 4, 2010 ( – The United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs has established a pagan circle in the woods on its campus with plans to dedicate it officially in March. However, the site has generated new controversy as Air Force staffers have revealed that a large wooden cross was found at the site, with some calling the placement of the cross a “hate crime.”

The population of self-styled pagans is a tiny percentage of the Academy’s 4,000 cadets. Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier told the Associated Press that he has eight to ten cadets that regularly attend their weekly Monday meetings, of which six or seven he describes as devout pagans. An additional 15 – 20 cadets he described as interested.

Although neo-pagans claim to have a connection to the old pagan religions that once dominated Europe before the rise of Christianity, their revival did not begin until the Twentieth Century, especially in the post-World War II era. Wicca – the religion of modern witchcraft – took off in England in the 1950s following the repeal of witchcraft laws, before spreading to other parts of the English-speaking world. Neo-Druid organizations also began appearing at the same-time as the cultural upheavals of the sexual revolution were taking place in the Western world.

The Air Force Academy has defended its policy to make a place for witchcraft on its campus as an expression of its commitment to cadet’s freedom of religion. However, critics have replied that the move represents a further rejection of the United States’ Judeo-Christian heritage, and makes little sense given that the numbers of actual neo-pagans at the Academy is miniscule compared to other followers of non-Christian faiths, such as Islam.

But the fact that a large wooden cross was placed anonymously at the neo-pagan circle several weeks ago has provoked an uproar at the Academy. The pagan site features two concentric circles of large stones that were installed on a wooded hill within the campus. The circle has a tentative dedication date of March 10.

Air Force Academy officials – who do not yet know who placed the Christian symbol at the pagan site – have condemned the act, and are investigating the matter as a “hate crime.”

“I consider this no different than someone writing graffiti on the Cadet Chapel,” said Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould in a prepared statement.

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a 1977 Academy graduate, broke the story, saying one of his clients found the cross made of railroad ties at the site. He compared the presence of the cross at the pagan circle as the equivalent of a swastika in a Jewish center.

But Catholic League President Bill Donahue decried the reaction from Academy officials as “boilerplate” and stated that they were going way too far by treating the incident as “hate speech.” Donahue stated that if he found another religious symbol placed at a Catholic site, he would complain. However, Gould’s comparison of a “cross at a pagan site as the equivalent of graffiti on a church” struck him as offensive, since the Academy superintendent saw “no difference between neutering a religious symbol and defacing religious property.”

“This is more than overkill — it is grossly insulting to Catholics and Protestants,” said the Catholic civil rights leader. Instead of Wiccans and other neo-pagans experiencing persecution at the Academy, Donahue said that a 2005 Academy report revealed that Catholics and Protestants instead had reported experiencing religious intolerance.

“These remarks have added to the chilling atmosphere that Catholics and Protestants must endure,” said Donahue. He added that he was going to take the matter to the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, just as he had done in 2005.

“We need to know why hypersensitivity to non-Christians has evolved into insensitivity to Christians.”