The first event in the Koch Lecture Series offers insight to the religious issues in the military.
The Honors College hosted the first installment of the Koch Lecture Series on Tuesday. The lecture was entitled “Religious Liberty in the Military: The Constitution’s Middle Path,” and was presented by retired four-star general, Roger A. Brady, who argued that most civilians interpret the idea of separation of church and state incorrectly.
Some students in attendance said they were excited to hear what Brady would say, believing the topic is interesting and essential for the current political climate.
“It is part of the individual’s responsibility to be informed of all things, not of every single thing in the world, but of concern to us,” said Koch Fellowship member Michael Tsogt.
Brady was the 33rd commander of all U.S. Air Forces in Europe just before retiring, while simultaneously serving as the commander of the Air Component Command in Ramstein, Germany. Prior to his position as Air Force Commander, Brady was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel at the U.S. Air Force Headquarters.
Brady was introduced to the room by Daniel Palm, chairman of the Department of History and Political Science. Palm said events like the Koch Lecture Series help students to become more involved in politics and the discussions being held regarding current events.
“It’s easy for us to kind of fall into the trap of thinking of politics just around election time and we focus on the negatives of political life and so forth,” Palm said. “But this is a really interesting, and I think fun way to learn about some of the political questions.”
Brady began his lecture by recounting events from 2005, when he presented his research on the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs. The academy, which was composed of mostly conservative Christian cadets at the time, was proven to be insensitive to non-Christian groups such as Jews and atheists.
Most notable, the USAFA was accused of scheduling events during renowned Jewish holidays. Personnel within the academy had also been accused of pushing their Christian faith onto non-Christian cadets. In addition, they had failed to provide alternative forms of worship for most non-Christian groups.
Although the academy had been accused of such insensitivities since the early 1990s, according to Brady, they had not been thoroughly investigated until 2005, when the complaints had reached the ears of the senior air force leadership and the department of defense. Brady assembled a group of 15 people with different backgrounds to study the situation closely and found the allegations to be true.
“There was a perception on the part of some of the cadets that there was bias,” Brady said. “There was inadequate guidance available to the academy for dealing with religious expression and there were some occurrences of people in positions of authority — commanders and faculty — expressing their faith in ways that people below them in the chain of command found offensive.”
Brady later added that he believes the issues these students and others faced was due to a lack of knowledge from those people in positions of power and not from a place of malice, but was nevertheless wrong on USAFA’s part.
Brady submitted his findings, but was soon faced with backlash from all sides.
“Like virtually all issues that come before Congress, this one was highly polarizing,” Brady said. “The only common ground between the Democrats and Republicans on this issue was that it was a constitutional issue.”
According to Brady, the discussion quickly shifted from the Democrats focus on establishment and the Republican’s focus on freedom of expression to an argument about the separation of church and state.
“The concept of a separation of church and state has been around from early in our nation’s history and has been a part of our political lexicon — so much a part, as a matter of fact, that many believe it’s part of the Constitution; however, it’s not,” Brady said.
Referencing religious liberties, the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Brady said that through his studies of the amendment, he grew an appreciation for what he calls the respectful middle path that the Constitution takes on religious liberties. It neither imposes nor denies.
“While the principle of the separation of church and state is one that I support … I also believe it is applied inappropriately,” Brady said. “It is the view of many jurors that the Constitution, in prohibiting the establishment of religion, is speaking of official recognition of a specific religion, a denomination or sect. Unfortunately, the term has come to be used as the prohibition against the religious expression of citizens in government positions. At least, that’s been my experience.”
Brady said he did not support officials in positions of power pushing their beliefs on others, especially those in subordination to them, since it is an abuse of power. While he said those examples should be dealt with swiftly, they do not reflect an error in the First Amendment, which guarantees all citizens a right to express their religious beliefs.
“Individuals can be seen to establish religion in violation of the First Amendment if they use their powers to discriminate, but their position itself should not strip from them their rights to free exercise,” Brady said. “What is critical is not that people in positions of authority hide their beliefs, but that they do not act in ways that indicate or create the impression of discrimination among [their] subordinates.”