Meanwhile, back at the Air Force Academy

v4n2 03jOK, so everyone remembers where GetReligion stands on the Air Force Academy story, right? We back free speech. Chaplains do not have to edit their own faith, especially in meetings that students choose to attend. Religious groups have the same rights as secular groups, when it comes to using emails, posters, public announcements and all of that. Religious believers have a right to discuss their faith with others. The nonbelievers have a right to tell them to shut up. If believers keep at it, you throw the book at them. Right?

This brings us to the latest Alan Cooperman report in The Washington Post, in which the anti-proselytizing police have latched onto a fundraising letter from the well-known -- at least to most people who know any evangelical Protestants at all -- prayer and evangelism group called The Navigators.

It seems that this Colorado Springs-based organization is training cadets how to share their faith. Shocking. It also seems that the group has an office on the grounds of the Air Force Academy. This is something like learning that the Mormons have classes to teach people foreign languages and how to remove stains from white shirts.

In Cooperman's breathless report the scandal of it all sounds something like this:

A private missionary group has assigned a pair of full-time Christian ministers to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they are training cadets to evangelize among their peers, according to a confidential letter to supporters.

The letter makes clear that the organized evangelization effort has continued this year despite an outcry over alleged proselytizing at the academy that has prompted a Pentagon investigation, congressional hearings, a civil lawsuit and new Air Force guidelines on religion.

"Praise God that we have been allowed access by the Academy into the cadet areas to minister among the cadets. We have recently been given an unused classroom to meet with cadets at any time during the day," the husband-and-wife team of Darren and Gina Lindblom said in the Oct. 11 letter to their donors.

This raises some questions, of course. But here is the big one: The Navigators, and many other religious groups, do this kind of work on campuses -- state and private -- all over the place. Under equal access laws, prayer groups and Bible studies are even held on public-school campuses, to the same degree as each school allows other student groups to use these facilities. The state is, in other words, not allowed to practice viewpoint discrimination.

So the question Cooperman needs to ask, concerning this Navigators rampage, is this: Are there any other student groups at the academy? Do they meet to discuss things like the environment, Islam, Jane Austen, NASCAR, skiing or other subjects of interest? Have other groups -- religious or secular -- been denied a similar use of facilities? Are the meetings voluntary?

If The Navigators have a unique arrangement, in comparison with secular student groups, then this is a scandal. If not, then repeat after me: "View-point dis-crim-i-na-tion."

And by the way: When does The Washington Post plan to begin quoting church-state experts on the right as well as the left, to seek some kind of balance in its coverage on this issue?

What am I talking about? There are folks on the church-state left who could ask and answer the relevant questions in this case.

If The Navigators have claimed turf that other secular and religious groups have been denied, then book ’em. Otherwise, this is another case in which the answer to free speech is more free speech. The answer to freedom of association is freedom of association. Equal access is equal access.

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