A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
We received this statement from the Air Force Academy via email:
As an institution of higher learning, the United States Air Force Academy engages with a diverse set of topics and viewpoints. This talk was advertised and held under the same conditions as all other talks — without any endorsement or requirement of attendance. We are always vigilant of religious respect and freedom, and will continue to review our processes to ensure that all talks and events comply with these tenets.
————-ORIGINAL POST 3:52 P.M. THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2019————————-
The Air Force Academy allowed former physics professor Rolf Enger to present a talk espousing the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the discredited "burial cloth" of Jesus Christ. The lecture happened this week, during the school day, in an academic classroom during a "special Easter presentation."
Some say the talk, which took place four days before Easter, violated the military's prohibition against favoring one religion over another. That's especially bothersome, they say, given the history of allegations that the Academy promotes fundamental Christianity as a ticket to promotions and favored treatment.
Barry Fagin, a computer science professor nearing his 25th year at the Academy, argues the school's seeming endorsement of the talk, sponsored by the Christian Faculty Fellowship, is embarrassing in light of scientific evidence that the shroud is merely a 14th century forgery
that's been proven time and again through carbon dating not to date to the crucifixion.
Academy officials did not immediately respond to our request for comment. But, in the past, the Academy has denied that it favors one religion over another, but rather has asserted it must, in accord with Air Force Instruction 1-1, balance free exercise of religion with the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. That instruction also states that military leaders "must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief."
Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein says that 23 people — cadets, faculty and staff — complained to him about the lecture. A vocal critic of what he views as the Academy's religious bias, Weinstein, a 1977 Academy grad, started his foundation in 2004.
Weinstein says he was told by the complainants that they were disappointed, and that many noted that this incident came on the heels of "that Chick-fil-A fiasco
." (The Academy hosted an executive from the fast-food company, which supports anti-LGBTQ efforts, to speak at the Character and Leadership Development Symposium earlier this term.)
"The command climate is so toxic there, they have to come to us," Weinstein says. "It’s the utter hypocrisy from a school that prides itself on honor code, character and leadership, honesty, integrity — all of these great things, but viciously violating the Constitution, its case law and directions and instructions."
Retired Brig Gen. Marty France, a former permanent professor and department head of the astronautics department who now serves on MRFF's advisory board, wrote to Vice Superintendent Houston Cantwell and Superintendent Jay Silveria expressing concern over the lecture.
"My colleagues were shocked that this sort of briefing, not even hiding its relationship to a specific religious belief (but proclaiming it) would be held during the duty day," France wrote in the letter, obtained by the Indy
"Sure, it's voluntary, but when many of the attendees are in uniform, wearing rank, and in supervisory roles, we know that judgments are made," the letter said. "Moreover, just posting these flyers requires DF [dean of faculty] approval, so it's fair to assume that this is the endorsed position of the Dean... Dr Enger is free to present his 'research' based on some legend that the Academy has endorsed since the Frank J Seiler Research Lab misused taxpayer money back in the 70s and 80s in an attempt to prove the authenticity of this found piece of cloth (spoiler alert—it didn't really come from the presumed era or region of Jesus). I'm old enough to have been subjected to some of these briefings as a cadet and junior officer. It was wrong for the government to do it then, and it's wrong to provide a platform during the duty day to present it now."
France suggested such presentations should be held in the Cadet Chapel or Community Center Chapel, not in an academic building during the academic day.
As Weinstein tells the Indy
, "It would be one thing to do it from a religious perspective, but it’s an embarrassing lack of science at a technically science school."
Which is the beef coming from Fagin, who attended the talk and observed 40 to 50 people there.
The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago.
"I found this to be very embarrassing," Fagin tells the Indy
by phone. "The best evidence we have, the overwhelming evidence is that the shroud was a 14th century forgery."
Fagin clicked through that evidence, which includes three independent carbon dating tests, all of which concluded it dates to the 14th century.
Believers, he says, argue that a fire in the cathedral where the shroud was kept skewed the carbon dating results. "The amount of carbon needed to throw it off would be more than the entire weight of the shroud itself," Fagin says, adding that the substance of the talk comprised "recycled arguments that have been refuted a long, long time ago."
Fagin cited numerous studies of the fabric's weave, stains that believers purport to be blood and other features of the shroud that have found it to be a hoax.
"These claims are no better than UFOs or Big Foot or astrology," he says. "The science has shown that all those things are not true. The same process that tells us all those things aren’t real tells us the Shroud of Turin is a painting."
He adds, "My views are my own and do not reflect those of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force or the Department of Defense. I only wish they did."
The The Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was housed
at the Academy, due to efforts promoted by a former Academy physics professor, John Jackson