RNS listens to both sides at the Academy

Here's a rare chance to look at the Air Force Academy story from two points of view. The first is one of those free for a week Religious News Service specials, but in this case it has also been posted at Beliefnet, which means the URL should last.

What is different about the RNS piece by veteran religion writer Steve Rabey is that he is not following the basic template of the Americans United press releases that started this media storm or the Los Angeles Times articles that followed. Instead, Rabey covers this story as if people on both sides of the debate have constitutional rights that need to be protected.

Here is a sample, starting with the views of football legend Bobby Bowden:

Bowden and other evangelicals rallying around the Colorado-based Academy contend opponents are trying to limit their freedom to talk about God. "If you knew the cure for cancer, would you tell somebody or would you keep it a secret?" asked the Florida State coach at a May banquet in Colorado Springs sponsored by the nonprofit group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "The problem with us Christians is we won't speak out."

But others say evangelicals in and out of uniform speak out too aggressively at the Academy, creating an environment that Americans United for Separation of Church and State described as "systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy command structure."

It's a classic battle between evangelical Christians, who say they are commanded to share their beliefs, and people of other faiths or no faith, who say they shouldn't have to tolerate constant proselytizing or harassment. And the battle lines extend far beyond Colorado Springs, an evangelical epicenter, to similar religious freedom battles around the country, as well as other world hot spots where America's global aspirations seem to be cloaked in Christian rhetoric.

There you go. Note the presence of the word "constant" in front of the bombshell word "proselytizing."

That is crucial. There has to be a middle ground between a speech code and a campus in which the evangelicals are running the show. As I keep saying, if evangelicals there are abusing power -- nail them. But there is no reason to take away their freedom of speech or to single out some doctrines for "viewpoint discrimination" while others versions of faith run free.

Rabey carefully listens to voices on both sides of the debate -- which is news almost in and of itself in this matter. For a look at a more typical report on the tempest, here is a somewhat calm update from The Washington Post. But the "burning in hell" quote is once again reported as fact.

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