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March 3, 2009

To: Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation:
From: A Concerned USAF Academy Instructor/Professor

First of all, every time there is some concern re: "inappropriate" religious activities at USAFA-- Air Officer Commanding (AOC) to cadet, cadet to cadet, God to cadet-- YOUR name, Mikey, gets mentioned as a "catastrophe" to avoid. Which unfortunately tells me that YOU are really the only thing/person USAFA is playing to.

With regard to keeping religious expression private, out of the institution, and un-endorsed, you need to know that the Academy is mostly eye wash and zero enforcement. For instance, just a couple of days ago, our USAF Academy Faculty Department convened at the Dean's direction in response to an incident involving an AOC reprising former head football coach Fisher DeBerry with an in-squadron, "voluntary" prayer group. The Dean , typical, runs off a one-sheeter with a flow chart (!) anticipating various ranges of expression of religious affiliation, how to respond to cadets asking to pray for the instructors (no kidding, talk about subtle harrassment-- "Sir, I got a C, can I pray for you?") The triggering incident for the brief was an AOC who was holding prayer vigils in the cadet squadron area-- thus, obviously making it clear for everyone to see who attended and who didn't. No pressure, right? The Dean says she takes this as seriously as an episode of sexual harrassment-- I take the Dean at her word-- which led the Dean to direct all USAF Academy Dept. Chairs to immediately go over protocol. NOW GET THIS, MIKEY: Less than five minutes into our faculty Dept's brief, the evangelicals in our Dept were actually getting permission TO IGNORE THE DEAN'S DIRECTIVE! They were like little kids looking for exceptions to plain language forbidding prayer between instructors and cadets by saying-- "Well, hey, if the cadet initiates a statement of his faith and asks me mine and we're alone in the office and, well, THEN we can pray together, right?" One instructor/professor actually said there was no more risk of favoritism in this exchange than a cadet and officer who were both, say, professional hockey fans.
Another instructor/professor then replied that the Stanley Cup does not command the same stakes, or attention, that God does in matters of Salvation. Unbelievably, our USAFA Faculty Dept. Chair then allowed the notion of private prayer between cadets and instructors/professors under the specified conditions just now outlined. WHICH, MIKEY, MISSES THE WHOLE POINT that: This absolutely endorses religion and invites suspicion of favoritism based on religious affiliation!!

The answer to: "Is there a circumstance when, in my official, professional capacity as a USAF Academy instructor/professor, I can pray with one of my cadet students should have been -- "HELL NO"! But that wasn't the answer. There wasn't even serious objection and the "regular" (non-evangelical) Christian faculty are just too damn scared to protest. Thus, the Superintendent, the Commandant and the Dean know nothing of any of this because of abject fear of certain reprisal if ever reported.
Here's another example of how religion gets established, encouraged and "tribalized" here at the USAF Academy: A professor in the Philosophy Dept. who is an atheist has been ORDERED to keep that subject out of class and yet there are USAF Academy "spiritual advisers" everywhere-- USAF officers and USAF civilians armed with Bibles who every day meet cadets in the coffee shop and all over Fairchild & Arnold Hall "religiously counselling" cadets. These are in addition to the "formal" meetings of Campus Crusade for Christ, Officers Christian Fellowship, the Navigators, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Baptist students and many other evangelical parachurch organizations-- etc many of which meet during official USAF duty hours and in open cadet common areas.

And, as I wrote you last year, there are the "closet" proscriptions of behavior, expression, or opinion which offend some religious persons, especially Christian evangelicals-- and these unwritten rules are fully adopted under the guise of USAF "professionalism" and appropriate "character development". Of course, a rigid Christian religious agenda is NEVER admitted but is certainly the prime mover. By the way, one wouldn't have to be profane to make fun of, or subtly intimidate, a mainline (nonevangelical) Protestant or Catholic cadet, a Muslim or Jewish or atheist cadet or staff member here. Mikey, It happens every day at this place. I know you already know this.
You might also contact (USAF Academy official's name, rank and Faculty Dept. withheld)-- about the myriad ways that evangelical Christians are coddled or encouraged at USAFA. If you keep it off the record, (USAF Academy official's name and rank withheld) might shoot straight with you. But he/she, too, fears to come forward as we all do.

A final but telling anecdote: The Academy will not let an atheist professor give a lecture on atheism, or even mention Bertrand Russell, but allows Christian clerics, who are not even part of the Academy staff, to post numerous flyers all over the Fairchild Hall academic building proclaiming "The Dangers of Moral Relativism". As if only "devout enough" Christian, religious persons can find a base for honorable living.

Mikey, this place is not far from Bob Jones University. And this is in spite, I believe/hope, of the higher ranks' genuine concern. But the Superintendent, Dean and Commandant will just NOT fire anybody who claims to be acting in evangelical Christian religious "sincerity". So this widespread, illicit and painful behavior does not change. It just gets worse and worse. Fire somebody, and make it clear WHY, AND IT WOULD!!
Out for now-- .

(name, rank, USAF Academy Faculty Dept. withheld)


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