Colorado Springs Senator Dave Schultheis works out his thoughts for the benefit of his constituents on Twitter, sometimes to great national attention. Last week, he used the micro-blogging platform to explore the complexities of religious tolerance, a foundation of American life and a subject close to his heart. But his tweets raised more questions about how he views religious freedom than they answered.
In the span of just 22 minutes, Schultheis tweets a lament for the lack of religious tolerance in Egypt, where Christians are discriminated against, and then tweets another lament, this time for the commitment in the United States to religious tolerance, which he apparently sees as a sign of decadence.
Here’s the lead in the story Schultheis read at a Fox News site on the goings on in Egypt.[blockquote]Maher El-Gowhary and his 15 year old daughter Dina never pray twice at the same church, never stay longer than a month in any one apartment. They are constantly under threat, always on the run because they converted to Christianity in a largely Muslim country.
Then he read the following and saw the move by the Air Force Academy as a bad thing:[blockquote]”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 presence of diverse worship areas reflects a sea change from five years ago, when reports surfaced alleging religious intolerance at the Academy. Sergeant Longcrier became Pagan shortly after arriving at the Academy in 2006 and said he believes the climate has improved dramatically.
“When I first arrived here, Earth-centered cadets didn’t have anywhere to call home,” he said. “Now, they meet every Monday night, they get to go on retreats, and they have a stone circle. … We have representation on the Cadet Interfaith Council, and I even meet with the Chaplains at Peterson Air Force Base once a year to discuss religious climate.”
Earth-centered spirituality includes traditions such as Wicca, Druidism and several other religious paths that, while relatively new, trace their roots to pre-Christian Europe, Sergeant Longcrier said. Gerald Gardner founded the first Wiccan tradition in England in 1952, with neo-Druidism following in the early 1960s.
Some Earth-centered traditions involve the worship of gods and goddesses, whereas others may involve only one deity or none at all. Reincarnation is a popular concept, as is rebirth and celebrating the cycle of the seasons.
Famous outdoor worship circles include Stonehenge and Avebury in England and Native American sites such as the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming and Cahokia Henge in Illinois. A worship circle at Fort Hood, Texas, became a flashpoint for discussions about Paganism in the U.S. military after it was established by the Sacred Well Congregation in 1999.
The Fort Hood Open Circle was vandalized on four separate occasions from 1999 to 2000, including an incident Oct. 27, 2000, in which the half-ton limestone altar was destroyed outright. In response, a member of the Sacred Well Congregation wrote, “If we speak together, we are a chorus to be heard. If we whisper alone, we are but a sigh in the dead of night.”[/blockquote]
Schultheis is introducing a bill this session– a Public Schools Religious Bill of Rights — that would allow for religious education in the public school curricula. It really matters to the Christian conservative lawmaker. He wants to see little Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Wicccan and Druid students, all learning their faiths side by side. Right Senator?