Colorado Springs has long been a center of fundamentalist Christian proselytizing, especially since a massive influx of parachurch organizations beginning in the late 1980s, and military bases in the area have repeatedly been targeted in multiple ways, large and small. But, when religious freedom is under constant attack, the small things—ones those in charge hope that no one outside will notice—can become overwhelming.
Welcome to the “Jesus” candy, the latest such example brought to light at Peterson Air Force Base, via an email sent to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, with the photographic proof shown above. “The base exchange at Peterson Air Force Base is currently selling ‘Jesus’ candy,” the email said. “The exchange at the Air Force Academy was also selling ‘Jesus’ candy at Halloween, although I didn't get any pictures of that.”
It might seem overly sensitive to uninformed outsiders, but not to those living there. “Peterson’s selling of for-profit, clearly marked 'Jesus candy' at its base exchange (BX) is merely the fundamentalist Christian straw breaking the MRFF clients' backs,” MRFF founder and President Mikey Weinstein said. “Any pathetically-proffered pretense by the U.S. Air Force at Peterson that Christmas is a mere secular holiday is totally belied and betrayed by this in your face sale of this ‘proselytizing’ candy with the fundamentalist Christian version of its ‘God’s name' emblazoned on all over the packaging."
MRFF researcher Chris Rodda agreed about conditions there.
“The reason the service members at Peterson Air Force Base are so sensitive to promotions of Christianity that something like this Jesus candy display would bother them enough to complain about it is that the religious climate at this base is particularly bad,” Rodda told Crooks And Liars.
“We submitted a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request well over two years ago to get a copy of the results of a religious climate survey at this same base, which we still have not received a response to,” Rodda said. “We received letters every month like clockwork extending the time on it for over a year, and have turned it over to our attorneys. They obviously do not want us to see this religious climate survey, indicating that it must be really bad.”
Indeed, Weinstein says, “Peterson Air Force Base, located deep in the intolerant, fundamentalist Christian enclave of Colorado Springs, Colorado, has consistently been one of the most horrendous military installation abusers of the Constitutional mandate to NOT establish Christianity (or any other faith or even ’non-faith') as the de facto armed forces State Religion. “ Consequently, “MRFF has fought many battles throughout our long years of civil rights activism at PAFB against this wretched, fundamentalist Christian, religious extremist bigotry and prejudice."
But Peterson isn’t alone, he notes. “MRFF has just under one thousand clients in the Colorado Springs, Colorado area at multiple armed forces locations, such as the US Air Force Academy, Peterson AFB (PAFB), Fort Carson, NORAD, Schriever AFB etc."
In a somewhat similar case, Fort Carson sold this blatantly anti-Muslim t-shirt at its PX in 2015, until MRFF blew the whistle:
Most violations that bring clients to MRFF never gain public attention. MRFF routinely handles countless incidents that are quietly resolved. Its aim is not to punish or embarrass the military, but to encourage quick correction—including changes in awareness, attitude and practices to prevent future incidents. But just the past year or so, this reporter has” written about an anti-Semitic incident the Air Force Academy in the wake of the Tree of Life massacre, a Muslim sergeant at Fort Carson forced to remove her hijab in public, in violation of her faith, and an Easter-time pseudo-science talk promoting the bogus authenticity of the “Shroud of Turin" at the Air Force Academy.
The withholding the religious climate survey suggests that—on an everyday basis—things may be even worse at Peterson than at these other nearby bases.
The location of the violation was particularly telling. "Military base exchanges and post exchanges (BXs and PXs), and their often adjoining commissaries, gas stations and liquor stores, are the most highly visible and populated areas on armed forces installations,” Weinstein said. “They are literally military base supermarkets. Thus, they are likewise always among the most desired areas for illicit displays of unconstitutional, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing."
Often such incidents go unreported—as the email in this case indicated had happened at Halloween at the Air Force Academy. Other times, MRFF gets them resolved quietly. But, “We've had a number of cases of Islamophobic books in base exchanges,” Rodda said. Relatedly, she noted, MRFF also got official military emblems removed from Holman military Bibles in 2012. They, too, were sold in base exchanges. And perhaps the most glaring example is this "Enabled by Christ" store at the Malmstrom Air Force Base on-base exchange facility:
What all these examples show—along with many more that never see the light of day—is the relentless tug of religious divisiveness, constantly threatening to undermine the military’s most essential core foundation: good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion. And the threat to this foundation appears to be quite severe at Peterson.
“The 'elephant in the living' room fact is that Peterson is well over two years late in releasing its own official 'religious climate' survey to MRFF pursuant to well established Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) time limit mandates,” Weinstein said. “So what the hell is Peterson terrified to publicly release to MRFF? MRFF’s litigators have this very same Peterson FOIA case now for further disposition to compel Peterson to release this hidden ‘religious climate’ survey."
Weinstein has been down this road before.
"MRFF’s trial lawyers already forced the US Air Force Academy in 2017 to adhere to its own FOIA time limit mandates, after flagrantly violating them, by winning a Federal lawsuit compelling the Air Force Academy’s demanded disclosure to MRFF and further embarrassingly forcing the Academy to pay court-ordered legal fees to MRFF’s attorneys amounting to $25,000."
$25,000 can buy a lot of candy. But it’s chump change when what you’re really fighting for is freedom.