(Excerpts from the Colorado Springs Independent/Emphasis Added by MRFF)
Not all religious groups benefit from the Pentagon’s updated religious liberty policies, and at the Air Force Academy, Protestants rule.
Last year the Pentagon unveiled a revision to its instruction governing religious liberty, stating “in furtherance of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment” the military branches will “accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs.”
This policy is starkly contrasted by the reality of religious experience on military bases. So, which religious groups are benefiting from the Pentagon’s newly unveiled policies?
As a contract worker at the Air Force Academy’s Catholic chapel, I’ve observed that people of the Protestant faith are in charge of determining which faiths get what resources, and that arrangement has resulted in Catholics being shortchanged.
For example, my hours have been curtailed, from 864 hours per year five years ago to about 800 hours in 2020, and just recently, my hours were further cut to 420 hours per year. Pay for those hours has also been dramatically cut, leading past employees to leave and creating a challenge to fill the few remaining slots.
During this time, Catholics were offered fewer hours than Protestants who were doing less work, and the cuts were disproportionately levied against women and minorities. Moreover, Catholics were assigned only a contract priest rather than a full-time one.
This demonstrates a bias against the Catholic faith, in my opinion, one that’s especially egregious given the overwhelming numbers of Catholic parishioners that attend religious services every weekend compared to Protestants at the Air Force Academy. Catholics attending services outnumber Protestant attendees eight to one.
An investigation by the Air Force Academy’s Inspector General’s Office into the cutbacks found that they were not required for budgetary reasons, but no action has been taken at the Academy as a result of that investigation. Why? Could it relate to the very person investigating the situation belonging to the Protestant faith?
Archbishop of the Military Services Timothy Broglio expressed similar concerns in an article earlier this year, warning that reductions to Catholic programs on continental United States military installations could lead to “a largely if not exclusively Protestant presence.” Broglio has frequently reported the persistent underrepresentation of Catholic chaplains on active duty, citing that Catholics currently make up 20 percent of the U.S. military but only 8 percent of military chaplains. Since 2001, the number of Catholic chaplains has fallen dramatically. These shortages are exacerbated by military religious leadership, which is overwhelmingly Protestant.
Top-heavy Protestant fundamentalist leadership in military Chapels has taken advantage of their leadership role to control all aspects of military religious worship.
Notably, Protestant leadership supervision of the Air Force Academy Community Chapel has led to:
- Revised contracts that did not account for liturgical requirements of the Catholic faith.
- A rewrite of the Catholic Professional work statements without Catholic input.
- Replacement of Mass times with full Catholic attendance with Protestant services with a fraction of the attendance.
- Reduction of multi-denomination activities.
- A hostile attitude toward members of the Chapel community who do not share Protestant leadership’s religious views.
Further, the Academy Community Wing Chaplain, a Protestant, requested to give excess Chapel tithe and offering funds from Catholic services for an already funded project in a different state. He also mentioned that requesting the funds was a courtesy, as he could do as he pleased with the funds. Shortly after this request for funds, funds requested to support music for Catholic services was cut in half.
Catholic contributions exceed Protestant contributions — Catholic parishioners account for 60 percent of Chapel funds, compared to 40 percent by Protestants — yet Catholics have no say in how funds are utilized.
Requests that these inequities be rectified up the chain of command have fallen flat.
Sadly, this isn’t just an Air Force Academy issue. It’s a systemic issue throughout the Department of Defense. Similar cuts have occurred at other installations, including at a naval base in California, although the proposal there sparked public outcry and was later reversed.
It’s no secret the Air Force Academy has been accused of favoring evangelical fundamentalist Protestant belief systems, and my observations about this disparate treatment of Catholics by the Protestant leadership decision-makers supports that allegation.
The message seems to be clear: The military is advancing the religious liberties of Protestant groups while undermining the liberties of Catholics.
Diversity, inclusion and equality in Defense Department religious programs will result from legislative and regulatory change. An oath to diverse and equal service, backed up by inspections and punishments, provides a good start.
A new investigation should be conducted outside the Air Force Academy’s chain of command, and commanders who preside over inequitable and biased treatment on religious grounds should be held to account for failing to monitor and assure that religious equality is upheld. The time for change is now.