Pagan Community Notes: A. J. Gooch, Judicial Watch, Taylor Ellwood and more!

It was announced yesterday that Senior Druid A.J. Gooch had died suddenly upon arriving at Sunday’s Winterstar Ball, a yearly fundraising event to honor the legacy of Jeff Rosenbaum. A.J. was a longtime member of the Rosenbaum’s Starwood Community, as well as the Barony of the Cleftlands, the Cuyahoga County, Ohio chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). A.J. was also member of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) and the Ohio-based Stone Creed Grove. He regularly attended Cleveland Pagan Pride. Along with his many community roles, A.J. devoted much time to his position as “the Senior Druid of Stone Creed Grove, and was serving as the Assistant Senior Druid at the time of his death.”

‘So Help Me, God’ and the Air Force Academy Honor Oath

In October 2013, the United States Air Force Academy announced that the words “so help me, God” would be optional when cadets recite the Honor Oath. In response, several GOP Congressmen proposed legislation that would force all Academy cadets to add those words back. The Wild Hunt spoke with a Pagan military veteran as well as Air Force Academy (AFA) Public Affairs officials about the proposed legislation and why they believe keeping “so help me, God” optional is important. We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.

Colorado Springs Pagan Earns Top Military Journalism Award

Don Branum, staff writer for the Air Force Academy’s official newspaper, The Academy Spirit, was named the Defense of Defense (DoD) 2013 Civilian Communicator of the Year. The award is part of the Thomas Jefferson Awards Program, which recognizes the top military and DoD civilian journalists in the categories of print, photo, and broadcast media. This prestigious award is likened to winning a Pulitzer Prize in the civilian world. To win the Civilian Communicator of the Year award, entrants must submit five samples of their work from at least three categories such as commentary, a series, hard news, feature, or photojournalism. Journalists from all branches of the military, including Guards and Reserves, plus DoD civilian journalists, compete for a Thomas Jefferson award.

The secular purpose and effect of the word “God”

On October 25, the United States Air Force Academy announced that the words “So Help Me God” would be optional when cadets recite the Honor Oath.  Established in 1984, the cadet Honor Oath reads:
We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God. In an official press release Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson said:
Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not…In the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’ Since that October announcement several media outlets and blogs mistakenly reported that it was the Air Force itself who had made “so help me God” optional.

The Air Force, and the Increasing Misuse of the Term ‘Religious Freedom’

“Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” – John B. Finch, 1882
If you follow religion news these days, you can’t help but be inundated with the current debate over what, exactly, “religious freedom” means, and what its limits are. The most popular manifestation concerns Catholic opposition to new contraception guidelines set forth by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (a topic I’ve covered before), but a large number of enterprising souls have taken this proverbial football and are running as far as they can with it. The most recent effort to “protect” religious freedom comes from a consortium of 66 Republican lawmakers who have written a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for an investigation into “a series of steps signaling hostility towards religious freedom” by the Air Force.