By Frank James
If you're a practicing Wiccan, Druid or other Earth-worshiping pagan religion and want to serve your country, the U.S. Air Force Academy may be the place for you.
In what may be a courageous act by the school's administration considering how much controversy the move could generate, the academy has established an area for pagan worship.
An excerpt from a report on the academy's website:
1/26/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force Academy chapel will add a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions during a dedication ceremony, which is tentatively scheduled to be held at the circle March 10.
The circle, located atop the hill overlooking the Cadet Chapel and Visitor Center, will be the latest addition to a collection of worship areas that includes Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist sacred spaces.
Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, NCO in charge of the Academy's Astronautics laboratories, worked with the chapel to create the official worship area for both cadets and other servicemembers in the Colorado Springs area who practice Earth-centered spirituality.
"Feel free to check the site out, but treat it as you would any other religious structure," he said.
The stones that now form the inner and outer rings of the circle once sat near the Visitor Center, where the chance of erosion made the rocks a safety hazard. The 10th Civil Engineer Squadron moved the rocks to the top of the hill in spring and early summer. Once finished, the circle will also include materials from a smaller circle that Sergeant Longcrier briefly set up in Jacks Valley.
"We used the (Jacks Valley) circle during Basic Cadet Training, and it was great," he said. However, the new circle offers significant advantages.
"The circle that we secured in December is much bigger, better and closer to the cadet area," he explained. "This will allow cadets to use the circle anytime they feel the need."
The Academy's chaplains have supported Sergeant Longcrier's efforts every step of the way, the NCO said.
"There really haven't been any obstacles for the new circle," he said. "The chaplain's office has been 100-percent supportive."
"Every servicemember is charged with defending freedom for all Americans, and that includes freedom to practice our religion of choice or, for that matter, not to practice any faith at all," said Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William Ziegler, Cadet Wing chaplain. "Being in the military isn't just a job -- it's a calling. We all take an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and that means we've all sworn to protect one another's religious liberties. We all put on our uniforms the same way; we're all Airmen first."
The academy made religious tolerance a goal after a 2005 investigation into complaints by some cadets that non-evangelical Christians were mistreated by Christians, strong-armed to attend prayer meetings among other issues.