6.24.2005

Surprise: The Air Force Clears the Air Force

Military Investigators Cite Religious Insensitivity at Air Force Academy

from Associated Press

Washington - The Air Force Academy has been troubled by insensitivity toward non-Christian cadets and staff, but officials have not committed acts of overt religious discrimination, military investigators said Wednesday.

A report on an Air Force investigation into the religious climate at the school says academy leaders and the Air Force should clarify policies on religious expression so religious minorities do not feel discriminated against or pressured.

The investigation report, released by the Pentagon, also cites a perception of intolerance among some cadets and staff. But it credited officials at the 4,300-student school in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with moving to confront these issues.

"The (Air Force) team found a religious climate that does not involve overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members' needs and a lack of awareness where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs," the report said.

The team was appointed after complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.

Investigators assessed Air Force policy on religious respect and tolerance and looked into whether commanders encouraged or discouraged free expression and free exercise of religion.

An attachment to the 100-page report dealt with one officer, Brig. Gen. John Weida, who was accused of pressuring students. He was cleared of wrongdoing on all but one allegation. The report did not detail the matter, saying only that it remained under review.

Weida has been criticized for sending out an e-mail promoting National Prayer Day in May 2003 and for a memo telling cadets they are accountable first to their God. Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa last week said he has spoken to Weida about both instances and that Weida recognized they were mistakes.

Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, New Mexico, a graduate of the academy and a critic of its religious practices, said he was encouraged "because at least there is a report, and it says there is some confusion at the academy."

But Weinstein said he was outraged because the task force "gives a pass" to a chaplain who allegedly urged cadets to tell classmates they would burn in hell if they were not born again.

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