Good News at the Air Force Academy and Other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 18, 2009 — 35 Comments

Top Story: The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, once the poster child of creeping Christian militarism and religious intolerance, has apparently made vast improvement in recent months. So significant are these  improvements that even Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is impressed, and accommodations are being made for minority religions, including modern Pagan cadets.

“The academy superintendent, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, says the improvements are the result of a topdown campaign to foster respect and a commitment to accommodate all cadets, even nonbelievers and an “Earth-centered” religious group that needed a place for a stone circle so it could worship outdoors. “If we are going to have success in our primary mission of developing leaders of character, we have to do that based on respect in all things, whether we’re talking gender, race or religion,” Gould said. Academy commanders say the school has started to seek out the religious needs of its cadets and accommodate them, instead of waiting for cadets to ask. For example, a Cadet Interfaith Council with about 20 members helps identify upcoming religious holidays so schedules can be adjusted around them, when possible.”

This is hugely good news, not only for our military-bound Pagans, but for the military as a whole. Despite the insinuations by some that religious tolerance and inclusion is counter-productive to good discipline, the reality is that a trustworthy military is one that truly reflects the diversity and values of our nation. That means a military where Pagans, atheists, and other minority belief systems are given the same considerations, without threat of retaliation (or intimidation), during their service, taken care of in peace-time, and fully honored in death.

In Other News: Egyptian archaeologists have managed to raise a 9-ton pylon from the Mediterranean Sea that was a part of a temple to Isis and part of Cleopatra’s palace complex.

“The tower was originally part of the entrance to a temple of Isis, a pharaonic goddess of fertility and magic. The temple is believed to have been near the palace that belonged to the 1st century B.C. Queen Cleopatra in the ancient city of Alexandria, submerged in the sea centuries ago.”

The pylon will be the centerpiece of a new museum dedicated to antiquities recovered from the Mediterranean Sea. You can catch a pretty good glimpse of the pylon, here.

For those of you not keeping track of the Pagans at the Parliament blog, some great content has been uploaded to that site recently. Including audio and video from the “People Call Us Pagans” panel, audio from the “Indigenous Peoples’ Statement to the World”, and video of the “Australian Pagans Speak” community forum. In addition, I’ve also linked to a interview with COG representative Don Frew from the Parliament.

There’s even more great stuff to be found at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, including my previous audio interviews with Michael York, Ed Hubbard, and Zay Speer.

From the “didn’t this happen ages ago” files, it seems that  Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, that subject of documentary filmmakers, and founder of the “Vampyres, Witches, and Pagans Party”, has landed himself in jail for two years.

“Forty-five-year-old Rocky Flash, also known as Jonathon Sharkey, was sentenced in a Marion County court on Wednesday to more than two years in jail. Prosecutors say the man threatened to beat, torture, impale, dismember and decapitate Judge David Certo, who is presiding over another case involving Flash.”

Sharkey was already in trouble for harassing an underage girl, and the judge he was threatening is no doubt the one in charge of that case. Perhaps this will finally close the casket (no pun intended, OK, pun intended) on this perennial Pagan embarrassment’s fifteen minutes of fame.

In a final note, FaithWorld is looking at various picks for the top religious stories of 2009.

“It’s Top 10 time again. As 2009 nears its end, Time magazine and the Religion Newswriters Association in the U.S. have produced their lists of the main religion news stories of the year. They take quite different views. Time’s list is quite broad, the top three being the advance of secularism in Europe, Pope Benedict’s invitation to conservative Anglicans and President Barack Obama’s decision to expand the faith-based office created by George Bush. The RNA picked Obama’s Cairo address to the Muslim world as its top story, followed by the role of religious groups in the U.S. health care reform debate and the Fort Hood massacre allegedly carried out by an American Muslim officer.”

As long-time readers may know, I like to count down the top Pagan stories of the year at the end of December (here’s a link for my 2006, 2007, and 2008 picks), and you can bet I have some great ideas for this year’s list. I’d also like to hear your ideas. Which Pagan stories, in your opinion, were the most notable in 2009? Let me know in the comments.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Calla

    "Despite the insinuations by some that religious tolerance and inclusion is counter-productive to good discipline"

    I posted this a few weeks ago in the comments, but I think it got lost in the shuffle

    Mr Levinson clarified his stance to this opinion piece

    comment is on page 2 –

    A point of clarification: in my piece, “Has tolerance gone too far?” (a title I did not give it), I intended to do two things.

    The first was to describe and extol the virtues of religious pluralism as exemplified by the Army’s protection of its Wiccan soldiers. When I wrote that "the Army has committed itself institutionally to providing those troops with a jaw-dropping level of spiritual support," it was meant to applaud the Army's commitment to religious diversity, not to disparage it. Indeed, the Army’s support of soldiers of different religious backgrounds is an example from which I derive a great deal of pride and hope for our country more broadly.

    The second was to wonder about the possibility that the same religious inclusiveness I so admire might have inadvertently provided space for this particular disturbed individual to disguise his illness and/or criminal design. More generally, then, the issue is whether, within a largely tolerant society or institution, there are acceptable ways to check religious rhetoric before it crosses the line from extreme and/or unpopular ideology (which we seek to protect) to violence (which we seek to prevent). (It's worth noting that the issue was framed well by Ms. Cara Schulz — Pagan and Air Force veteran — in her Nov. 14 comment.)

    Safeguarding the ability of religious minorities to practice and worship freely is of constitutional importance and a foundational part of the American story. My apologies to readers who read the piece as somehow supporting the notion that commitment to religious pluralism — or the Army's support of its enlisted Wiccans' spiritual practice — is a bad idea. My goal was just the opposite.

    • Karlsefni

      The largest Heathen story this year was Dan Halloran getting elected, I feel.

      • I agree that it is certainly among the largest this year. While I don't wish to detract at all from Jessica Orsini's pioneering success, I don't think that Centralia, MO is in the same league as New York City. In addition, that there are now two openly pagan/heathen/polytheist elected officials in the US is also some pretty strong evidence that it isn't a fluke occurrence.

        I know that Halloran's success in New York, even though I am not Theodish myself, has been the news story which has left the strongest impression on me.

      • The Pagans at the Parliament, we have added the Video of the Indigenous Declaration, and we have another 4-5 pieces left. I so wish we had better cameras, but we did the job with what we had. The rest will be up over the next few days, and all of it has been made available as fast as we can process.

        It was a amazing journey, and while it had it's controversial moments, as you can see from the video it also had some great ones. We will also soon be showing the Divine Feminine Panel. It was by far my favorite.

    • Calla

      So…I think it's a bit unfair to continue to point to his editorial in your blog entry today as an example of "insinuations by some that religious tolerance and inclusion is counter-productive to good discipline" without – at the very least – noting his clarification.

    • I tend to differ Calla, I am sorry. My late son was in the Army, and at one time was stationed at Ft. Carson. He was almost murdered there in 2003 because of his beliefs. The Army, did nothing. The person strangling my son was spoken to by the 1st SGT, but that was it. It was very frustrating because he literally, had no one to turn to on the base.
      My son was killed in Iraq on May 19th, 2007. When I mentioned to my CAO that my son was Wiccan, he could not hide his disgust, and my son's beliefs were overlooked. He is buried at Ft. Snelling, receiving his new headstone (which is in very sad shape) 2 years ago this month.
      I honestly haven't seen as a parent, the Army's commitment to religious diversity, nor any protection extended toward at least my son. If it has at other bases, wonderful. However, I do hear from other Wiccan parents regarding their military child's experiences. They too encounter discrimination, however, I admit, not the murderous sort Jason did.

      Gold Star Mother of US Army SGT Jason Schumann, KIA 19 May 2007, Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq

      • As a Pagan who was stationed at Ft. Carson from '96-'98, I can certainly believe it.

      • I am so sorry about your loss of a son. I wish someone could have helped him while he was at Ft. Carson. Mike Weinstein IS making every effort to prevent people getting away with the sorts of horrific treatment he suffered in life. When your CAO got that look on his face, it is a shame you couldn't demand a replacement. Please consider writing to Mr. Weinstein—-he will publicize what your son endured and it could change life for another pagan troop somewhere in the US military.

        If it is any comfort to you at all, I did read your son's name here at the Labyrinth and here, all heart-felt beliefs are honored, not only the pagan beliefs of your son and myself.

      • Candie
        I didn't the post you responded to, it was a quote from the author of the editorial that Jason had linked to. It had been thought that the author had written an article saying that the Army SHOULDN'T accommodate minority faiths as that is what caused the killing spree that Major Hasan went on in Texas some weeks ago. But that wasn't what the author was trying to say and so he added a clarification to the article.

        I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your son. My son is joining the Marines shortly and much of my family (extended and all) are in the military or have been in the military – I served, too, in the first Gulf War. We've had some losses and we've had some heartbreak. I can't imagine losing my son.

        I would agree that most things, good and bad, vary by post or base and by the SNCO and Commanding Officers. It is horrible that your son had a crap First Sergent because a good First Sergent can move hell and highwater for you even if you are in a crap base/post. Talking to the people that i know in the military that are in a minority religion, some are treated really well and some aren't. More are treated well than are treated bad. What has helped beyond measure is that there are some seriously BA Marines that are Heathens and they have been kicking ass and taking names. They use their religion not only as a spiritual touchstone to keep themselves sane, but as a way to do what they need to do. Their reputation in the military (along with some Army gunners) has helped quite a bit – before that many Commanders worried that Pagans would try to go Conscientious Objector on them. Buzz is that fighting Commanders wish they had more Heathens in the military.

      • Ananta Androscoggin

        Fort Carson has made itself a bit infamous over the past few years, for its extremely bad treatment of soldiers returning to the States with PTSD. Apparently the Post's culture goes to extremes of "macho" and "pro-christian" preferences over anybody else in our country's army.

        Overall, the stories about Ft. Carson make it sound like its a base that's firmly under the control of the extreme right wing, and has a large contingent of untrustworthy "Fifth Column" traitors awaiting the orders to conquer the USA for Jesus.

      • Candie, I'm so sorry for your loss and sacrifice for this nation. I can only say that I and I'm sure others, will be working to try and make things better so this nation will live up to the ideals your son gave his life for all peoples.

      • (bows to Sgt. Jason Schumann)

        It's ridiculous that he had to deal with that, and I'm glad you're speaking up about it. If bringing attention to his lousy treatment helps the progress of tolerance, it'll be his victory as much as anyone's.

  • lonespark

    Halloran's campaign was certainly the story I followed most avidly. Would have followed Orsini's, too, if I'd known in advance.

  • Whoohoo! The Air Force grows up and grows a set, and Isis has Win! (salutes, starts passing out the cookies)

    Although I gotta wonder if that antiquities exhibit is going to require scuba gear, from the way it's phrased in the article . . . . ;0) Now, if they were planning on building some sort of enclosed structure that enables people to see ruins on the ocean floor in situ, that would be fabulous!

    • lonespark

      Holy crap, that would be fantastically awesome! But very logistically difficult, so I'm guessing no one will try to get the money for it.

    • A set of what? Ovaries? Temples? 😉

  • Y'all help me out here–what exactly is a "pharaonic goddess"? And how did the temple ruins get under water? Just ordinary sea level rise or something more?

    • Hathor

      "Pharaonic" means from the time of the Pharaohs, the worship of Isis is that old and continued well into the greek/roman occupation of Egypt. Isis's temple was toppled into the Mediterranean when an earthquake hit it in 4 AD.

  • Candie…

    I'm Chris Rodda, the Senior Research Director at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. I'm very glad you took Labrys's suggestion and emailed us about what happened to your son at Fort Carson. We're making great progress at various military installations, the Air Force Academy being one of the biggest success stories, but we really need to hear from people like you to know where the worst problems still exist. The big thing that has happened this year is that Mikey has opened up some incredible channels of communication with the senior leadership at the Pentagon as well as at various military bases, and this is having a huge impact. We now even have senior commanders seeking out our advice about how to handle various issues that come up in their commands. Lt. Gen. Gould at the Air Force Academy really surprised us. We were really concerned when we heard he had been appointed as the new commander there, given some past complaints about him doing things like making his subordinates read Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, but he has been fantastic about trying to fix the problems at the Academy and is making incredible progress there. I really wish we could have helped your son while he was still alive, and am very sorry for your loss.

    If anybody else here knows or hears about any other service members who are having problems, please write to us so we can help.

  • Fort Carson is a base that’s been on MRFF’s radar for some time, so I wasn’t at all surprised that Candie’s son had run into trouble there. There are certain bases that keep coming up over and over in both complaints from soldiers and MRFF’s own research, and Carson is one of them. There are a few that are worse, like Bragg, Benning, Hood, and Leonard Wood, but Carson is definitely near the top of the list for problem Army bases.

  • Excellent news on both sides of the world this shall make a vital impact for our Pagans in the Military and on the note of the Pylons of Isis Temple being erected it couldn't be a better time as we begin the Winter Solstice in re awakening of the Mother of Horus and his celebration to the Sun Gods' return to the Lands.____Ariana

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