Disparate treatment of Air Force Academy vs Navy and West Point (with MRFF response)

Good morning,

I have a question about MRFF’s recent focus on team prayer by the football team at the Air Force Academy, and the contrasting lack of coverage from MRFF of the nationally televised invocation before the Army Navy game on December 12th. I read your articles about the “Tebow style” prayer before AFA football games, and while I’m not convinced that it is a Constitutional issue, you presented some unique ideas that I had not considered. However, if you’ll permit a Biblical analogy, it seems like you are calling out the speck in AFA’s eye while ignoring the beam in the eye of West Point and Navy. As background, before the Army-Navy game, on national television (CBS) with ~ 8000 cadets and midshipmen in (mandatory) attendance along with Secretary of Defense and many flag officers, an Army Chaplain gave an invocation, which was broadcast to the nation. I am very curious to hear MRFF’s take on why it chose to focus on the visible but silent prayers of Air Force football players, rather than the nationally broadcast prayer before Army-Navy. It seems as if the Army-Navy prayer represents a much more serious risk of the actual or perceived establishment of religion.

I am very curious to hear the MRFF’s position on the prayer before the Army-Navy game, and why it has not received coverage by your foundation.

Thank you,

(name withheld)

Response from MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda

Hi (name withheld) …

I’m Chris Rodda, MRFF’s research director.

We get questions like yours quite often about why we go after one thing but not another thing that’s similar, and the short answer is that we act on the complaints of people who contact us asking for our help. 

In this case, we acted on the issue of the prayers at the AFA games because we were asked to by members of the AFA football team and others at the Academy. We didn’t do anything about the invocation before the Army-Navy game because nobody requested our help regarding that one. 

I would guess that the reason we were asked for help in stopping the AFA “Tebowing” prayer ritual but did not receive any similar requests for help over the invocation at the Army-Navy game is that, first of all, the AFA’s practice causes the players on the team to feel coerced to participate out of fear of being ostracized if they don’t, and, second, that the “Tebowing” style of it is perceived by pretty much everybody as being very specifically Christian, regardless of whether or not you can hear the prayers the players are praying. The invocation at the Army-Navy game, on the other hand, was very benign and non-sectarian, and while plenty of people who watched it (including us at MRFF) don’t like the fact that these invocations are done at all, and are part of an event that is mandatory for any military personnel, that one didn’t affect anyone on such a personal level (as the AFA “Tebowing” practice does to the players on that team) that they sought out our help over it.

I hope that answers your question.

(name withheld)

Dear (name withheld),
Even though I don’t really like the public invocation and think that someone (or hundreds) should’ve complained, I think the AF Tebow Team Prayer is more pernicious.  I compare it to air pollution that we all may face outdoors, versus second-hand smoke in a bar  or workplace.  With air pollution, we might not like it, we might try to improve practices that ultimately eliminate it, but there are just times when we face it, have to go outside, we breath it in, we cough, but we move on.  I can’t BATTLE the atmosphere EVERY day.  Second-hand smoke is different.  If I take a new job or enlist in an organization that CLAIMS to be smoke free in the work place, but then when I go to work I find that 98% of those with whom I work just ignore the rules and light up all around me, what am I to do?  I need the job.  I need the money.  I like the mission and the service I provide.  I shouldn’t HAVE to face the smoke EVERY time (game), but I do.  Moreover, if I choose NOT to breath it in, I have to physically walk away from my friends and co-workers and identify myself publicly as someone who doesn’t like smoking–and that’s a big deal because MANY of my co-workers think that their smoking makes them better workers–and they can’t imagine that anyone would even want to work there without smoking.  If I walked out, I wouldn’t be a “team player” who contributed to the smokey atmosphere.  I’d be a loner who didn’t appreciate their smoking.  In the 70s and 80s, before second-hand smoking bans, I walked out of a lot of bars, but I also had to face going to work with a boss that smoked and a few co-workers.  I’m glad those days are over.  I can live with a little pervasive pollution, even if I commit to fight it with my very being.  My career shouldn’t be held hostage to those that shirk the rules and insist that I actively play a role in ruining my lungs with their imposed pollution.  Apparently, though, it still plagues some in our military because, where there’s the FIRE of proselytizing, evangelical zeal on a team or in a unit, some players/airmen have to breath the illegal SMOKE of that poisoned environment.
A Senior Activer Duty AF Officer and USAFA Grad

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