New documents reveal that the Air Force Academy used money from its chapel fund to pay for a pair of cadets to attend a Wiccan festival.
Judicial Watch obtained several documents showing the service academy approved payments from a collection of voluntary donations from cadets known as a chapel fund to pay fees for an earth worship festival.
The academy’s chapel funds spent hundreds of dollars to send four cadets to the annual Denver Witches Ball, the city’s "Premier Pagan Halloween Masquerade Ball," as well as two cadets’ participation in the Beltania Festival. The festival is an annual Colorado earth worship gathering that welcomes pagans of all stripes, including "Wicca, Witchcraft, Faery Magick, Druidism, Heathenism, Native American traditions, Voodoo, African Orishas, and Goddess Spirituality." Attendees gather to run ribbons around a pole.
The event has played host to cadets for the last several years. Organizers advertised a brand new ceremony honoring servicemen in 2014 and touted the presence of "two representatives" from the academy’s pagan clubs.
"To be openly Pagan in the military or in any other profession means facing a whole host of challenges far greater than what I experienced," organizer and pagan Rev. Joy Burton said in a blog post. "The least we can do is to stand together and honor those whose openness and integrity continue to pave the way for future generations to worship without discrimination."
Chapel fund money was also used to pay for four cadets to attend the 2014 Denver Witches Ball, according to Judicial Watch.
Judicial Watch obtained the documents through an October freedom of information request into earth worship activities on campus. Tom Fitton, the group’s president, said that the embrace of pagan activities represents an attack on traditional religion.
"The Air Force Academy leadership is attacking traditional Christian beliefs but will fund witchcraft and ‘faery magick’?" Fitton said in a release. "These records show the misplaced priorities in the Air Force and why traditional Christians increasingly feel unwelcome in the Air Force Academy."
Neither the Air Force, nor its chapel center responded to request for comment.
The academy has long been targeted by secular groups for Christian proselytizing. Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and an academy alum, threatened to sue the academy in December after it refused to block Christian football players from praying after games.
Officials conducted an inquiry into the practice after receiving a complaint. The investigation concluded that no violation had occurred and that cadets were allowed to "confidently practice their own beliefs without pressure to participate in the practices of others."
"The United States Air Force Academy places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion or to observe no religion at all," the academy said in a release. "The United States Air Force Academy will continue to reaffirm to cadets that all Airmen are free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. The players may confidently practice their own beliefs without pressure to participate in the practices of others."
In 2011 the school unveiled Falcon Circle, an $80,000 circle of rocks reserved for earth worship. The foundation was "very glad they put the Wiccan earth center" on campus, according to Weinstein, because "my alma mater is sick with a disease known as fundamentalist Christianity."
Weinstein told the Washington Free Beacon that his group sees no problem in the Wiccan activities. The time and place matter for religious expression, he said, emphasizing that a football game is a public spectacle showing cadets in uniform, while the Wiccan festival was off-campus and conducted in private.
"This is as different as night and as day," he said in a phone interview. "I don’t see any issues with that at all. Much ado about nothing."
Judicial Watch said in the release that the pagan activists are guilty of the same evangelizing and self-promotion that Weinstein has accused Christian groups of conducting.
"Despite the group leader’s claim that the Earth-Centered Services ‘does NOT proselytize,’ the material from the Academy FOIA office included a promotional brochure from the Spiritual Programs in Religious Education group with which the group leader acknowledged he works," the group said in a release.