Evangelicals exploit Air Force Academy; military officials interlocked with local activists
Dec 23, 2005, 00:50
Four Air Force officers -- all graduates of the Air Force Academy's class of 2004 -- have recently joined a lawsuit that accuses leaders at the academy of overtly pressuring cadets to undertake evangelical religious instruction. The original lawsuit was filed in October by Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force officer and graduate of the academy, whose son experienced religious discrimination while attending the school.
The Air Force Academy, located in Colorado Springs, is surrounded by right-wing evangelical groups, several of which maintain close relationships with the academy's faculty, staff, and cadets. These groups and the military officials who follow them have been integrating evangelical Christianity into official academy activities for at least 12 years. Over this time, they have promoted evangelical beliefs to cadets, used their religion as a tool for military training, and encouraged religious conformity on campus.
According to the report, numerous former and current cadets have issued complaints, which have been confirmed by academy officials, that the Cadet Wing has been regularly pressured by members of the faculty, staff, chaplains' office, and upper class, to attend worship services, undertake evangelical religious instruction, and proselytize fellow students.
The Americans United report was published less than a year after a Yale Divinity School report, based on first-hand observations, which noted that during one worship service led by Major Warren Watties:
"Protestant Basic Cadets were encouraged to pray for the salvation of fellow BCT members who chose not to attend worship. . . . Cadets were encouraged to return to tents, proselytize fellow BCT members, and remind them of the consequences of apostasy."
According to the report, Major Watties told the cadets the penalty for refusing to accept his encouraged proselytizing would be to "burn in the fires of hell."
Other issues that raised concerns amongst the two groups include:
Protestant cadets were commonly told that Jesus had "called" them to the academy as part of God's plan for their lives.
Cadets who chose not to attend after-dinner chapel services were made to suffer humiliation by being marched back to their dormitories in what was called the "Heathen Flight."
Commission ceremonies for graduating officers have been held at off-campus churches.
In December of 2003, in the academy's newspaper, hundreds of staff members -- including the then-dean of the faculty, the current dean of faculty, and 16 department heads or deputy department heads -- expressed their belief that "Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the world" and directed students to contact them so they could "discuss Jesus."
The academy commandant, Brigadier General Johnny Weida, a born-again Christian, said in a statement to cadets in June 2003 that their first responsibility was to their God. He has also strongly endorsed National Prayer Day, an event sponsored by Focus on the Family and chaired by James Dobson's wife, Shirley.
The academy has provided passes for Christian cadets who wish to attend church services and activities off campus, such as at New Life Church. They, however, have denied Jewish, Seven-Day Adventist, and those with other beliefs, the right to leave the campus for non-evangelical religious services.
Several faculty members have introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged non-evangelical students to convert to evangelical Christianity throughout the course of the term.
Staff and faculty members have led prayer sessions at several mandatory school activities, such as academic exams, meals at the dining hall, awards ceremonies, military-training-event dinners, and basic training cadet cadre meetings.