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Religious intolerance at Air Force Academy

Events from 2005-MAY/JUN. Report.
Congressional oversight. Guidelines

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This timeline is continued from a previous essay

Events at or about the Academy 2005-MAY & 2005-JUN:

bullet2005-MAY-03: The Secretary of the Air Force issued a press release noting that "lingering allegations from sources such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State are being taken very seriously by the Air Force." They announced the creation of a  "cross-functional task force on the religious climate at the United States Air Force Academy" headed by Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady. Among the six areas that the task force will study are:
bulletAir Force policies on religious respect and tolerance.
bulletThe religious climate at the AFA.
bulletThe assessment tools used by the Academy.
bulletThe practices of Academy leaders that "either enhance or detract from a climate that respects both the 'free exercise of religion' and the 'establishment' clauses of the First Amendment." 1
bullet2005-JUN-03: The academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr., delivered a speech before the national executive committee of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). He said that the academy has a problem with religious intolerance and insensitivity; he called it "insidious.....It is an issue that has been at the academy for awhile; it will take a while to fix." He said that "cultural experts" who had been called in as consultants said it could take six years to fix. He described:
bulletAn academy-wide E-mail sent by General Weida in 2003 which encouraged students to participate in the National Day of Prayer celebrations established by Evangelical Christians.
 
bulletA similar E-mail, also sent in 2003, which told staff and students that their first responsibility is to God.

Rosa said that he had told General Weida: "that is inappropriate. That is not the kind of behavior, not what I expect out of you. That was in April of ?03. And since that time I have not seen any kind of behavior outside that line."

He also discussed Rosa later incidents, including:
bulletA full-page ad sponsored by cadet and staff contributions that promoted Jesus Christ as the only hope for mankind. It was paid for by contributions from the staff and cadets.
 
bulletAcademy-wide E-mailings and flyers promoting the film "The Passion of the Christ."
 
bulletA locker-room banner placed by a coach which said that cadets should be part of "Team Jesus Christ."

Rosa said these incidents were wrong. "It is not the way we do business in the Air Force." 2

bullet2005-JUN-07: According to the Air Force Times, "...acting Air Force Secretary Michael Dominguez told a member of Congress the Air Force inspector general is looking into 'allegations of improper conduct' against Brig. Gen. John Weida, the No. 2 officer at the Colorado Springs-based school and a nominee for major general." 2
bullet2005-JUN-07: The House Appropriations Committee added an amendment to the 2006 defense funding bill which would require a report on allegations of religious insensitivity and bias at the Academy, to be provided within two months. 2
bullet2005-JUN-07: The academy announced that Nicholas Jurewicz, a senior wing cadet at the time and now a 2nd Lieutenant, did not break any rules when he sent the entire student body a farewell Email which contained an attached file which included numerous Bible quotations. The announcement stated that: "The legal review determined that there was no attempt to convince any of the recipients of the intrinsic value of any one quote or quote source." The attached file included about 300 quotations. About 30 mentioned God or were taken from the Bible. But others quoted Buddha, Gandhi, Confucius, various authors and poets, presidents and military leaders.
 
bullet2005-JUN-08: Myrna Shinbaum, spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League, said  that the most important thing the group heard from Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr. was "non-denial" about the problem at the academy. She commented: "He said, there is a problem we must deal with. The next step, of course, is to support him in his efforts to rectify the problem." 2
bullet2005-JUN-09: Richard Cohen wrote a blistering column in the Washington Post which was critical of the Air Force Academy. He said:

"We should all attend the Air Force Academy. We should do so not just to learn about military flying but also -- actually, mainly -- to find out what happens when religion is not kept in its place. At the academy, the result has been utter contempt for separation of church and state and a form of religious persecution." He described "...a culture of militant Christianity, intimidation and outright bigotry [which was] was so entrenched and so ordinary that no one, with the understandable exception of the occasional victim, noticed that anything was amiss....The next time anyone asserts that religion is being shoved around in America, tell him to look at the Air Force Academy. And the next time anyone suggests that courts have gone too far in protecting the rights of religious minorities, tell him to look at the Air Force Academy. In the meantime, Congress ought to look -- and look hard -- at the academy and the officers it has graduated. They know how to fly, but maybe they don't know what they are flying for." 3

Air Force issues report:

In late 2005-June, two military groups -- the Headquarters Review Group and the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces -- issued a joint report which described the results of their investigation of religious intolerance at the Academy. It was authored by Lieutenant General Robert Brady, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for personnel.

Also in late June, two individuals received appointments:

bulletA retired Navy chaplain, Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, was hired by the acting secretary of the Air Force to help develop a set of religious practices for the guidance of Air Force personnel. He is a Conservative rabbi and former national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
 
bulletMajor General Irving Halter, Jr. was appointed as vice superintendent of the Academy. He is charged with the responsibility of improving religious tolerance at the school. 4

Congressional oversight requested and resisted:

Forward Magazine reported on 2005-JUL-01:

"Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Steve Israel of New York and Rep. Lois Capps of California, have insisted on congressional oversight of the situation at the Air Force Academy. On Tuesday, in testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Israel recognized the contribution of Air Force Chaplain Captain MeLinda Morton to bringing to light the problems with the religious climate at the academy. Morton resigned the military recently after being reassigned to Japan, allegedly as a punishment for her role in exposing the problems there."

" 'While she may not be able to be an official witness at the hearing, my colleagues can certainly learn a great deal from Chaplain Morton, who courageously defended religious liberty and respect and ultimately lost her job for it,' Israel said in a briefing before the hearing."

"The Democrats' demand for oversight has been resisted by some Republican lawmakers. At a recent hearing on the matter, Rep. John Hostettler, an Indiana Republican, accused Democrats of "denigrating and demonizing Christians" and charged that their demand for oversight was part of a 'long war on Christianity in America'."

"At least one Jewish organization involved in investigating the situation at the academy, the Anti-Defamation League, is also urging Congress not to shirk its oversight function on the matter."

" 'Congress should ensure that the guidelines are followed,' said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, in written testimony submitted Tuesday to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel." 4

New guidelines released:

The Air Force team investigating religious intolerance and oppression in the Air Force Academy issued of a set of guidelines on 2005-AUG-30. The guidelines extend well beyond the Academy: they apply to every officer, enlisted personnel and civilian employee within the Air Force.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary, told a group of religious leaders in late 2005-AUG that if the guidelines work well in the Air Force, that they will be expanded to include the entire armed forces.

The guidelines state, in part:

"At a time when many nations are torn apart by religious strife, we must understand that our ability to stand together as Americans and as airmen -- those who represent many religions, shoulder-to-shoulder with those who claim no religion -- is part of our heritage, and our strength."

The guidelines attempt to accurately follow the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff. who helped write the guidelines said that they guarantee religious freedom while prohibiting any "establishment" of religion by the government. The report states: "We will not officially endorse or establish religion, either one specific religion or the idea of religion over non-religion."

Some of the guidelines are:

bullet"We will recognize and value the many heritages, cultures, and beliefs represented among us, and build a team by stressing our common Air Force heritage: the oaths we took; the core values that we embrace; and the mission that we undertake to protect our Union."
 
bulletPublic prayer is not appropriate at most official meetings, classes, or sporting events. However, "a brief non-sectarian prayer" is permitted in ceremonies of special importance in order "to add a heightened sense of seriousness or solemnity." A moment of silence may be appropriate in official settings.
 
bulletCommanders should avoid personal expressions of religious faith in public. Officers must be "sensitive" to the potential that their religious comments may be perceived as official statements.
 
bulletCommanders should welcome requests for accommodation of diverse religious practices. They should normally be approved unless "approval would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline."
 
bulletCommanders should avoid scheduling conflicts with major religious observance days where possible.
 
bulletThere are no limitations on "voluntary, peer to peer" discussions of religious matters.
 
bulletChaplains "must be as sensitive to those who do not welcome offerings of faith, as they are generous in sharing their faith with those who do." They should respect "the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs."

The report requires the Air Education and Training Command to submit a plan for incorporating the guidelines in "all venues of formal training and education for officer, enlisted and civilian personnel where our core values and professional standards are addressed." It also requires the Air Force Academy to "submit a long range plan for incorporating this guidance in their training program."

Resnicoff noted that these guidelines will result in major changes throughout the Air Force. He said: "In many places throughout the Air Force, people have told me that if they have four meetings in a day, they have four prayers." 5,6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Air Force Responds To Americans United Complaint About Religious Intolerance At Academy." Americans United, 2005-MAY-03, at: http://www.au.org/
  2. Bryant Jordan & Rick Maze, "Academy commandant faces IG review. Complaints include improper proselytizing to cadets," Air Force Times, 2005-JUN-09, at: http://www.airforcetimes.com/
  3. Richard Cohen, "Flying Over the Line," Washington Post, 2005-JUN-08, Page A21, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. E.J. Kessler, "Air Force taps rabbi to aid on Academy religious flap," Forward magazine, 2005-JUL-01, at: http://www.forward.com/
  5. Alan Cooperman, "Air Force Sets Rules Limiting Religious Expression," Washington Post, 2005-AUG-30, Page A04. Online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com
  6. "Interim guidelines concerning free exercise of religion in the Air Force," The Telegraph, Macon, GA, 2005-AUG-31, at: http://www.macon.com/

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Copyright © 2005 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-MAY-14
Latest update: 2009-APR-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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