11.14.2005

Evangelicals Find Favoritism & Loophole at Air Force Academy

Group Trains Air Force Cadets to Proselytize

from The Washington Post

A private missionary group has assigned a pair of full-time Christian ministers to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they are training cadets to evangelize among their peers, according to a confidential letter to supporters.

The letter makes clear that the organized evangelization effort has continued this year despite an outcry over
alleged proselytizing at the academy that has prompted a Pentagon investigation, congressional hearings, a civil lawsuit, and new Air Force guidelines on religion.

"Praise God that we have been allowed access by the Academy into the cadet areas to minister among the cadets. We have recently been given an unused classroom to meet with cadets at any time during the day," the husband-and-wife team of Darren and Gina Lindblom said in the Oct. 11 letter to their donors.

Following allegations of religious intolerance at the academy, the Air Force issued
interim guidelines in late August that caution senior officers against discussing their faith with subordinates. But the guidelines do not limit "voluntary, peer to peer discussions," and they do not say whether Air Force officials can provide office space or other assistance to professional missionaries who train cadets to evangelize among their peers.

The Lindbloms' letter was made public by Michael L. Weinstein, a 1977 Air Force Academy alumnus who was a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration. He has
filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Air Force of violating the First Amendment's establishment clause by fostering evangelical Christianity over all faiths.

Weinstein said that some other religious groups are allowed onto the academy's campus, but only during certain hours and under close supervision by Air Force chaplains.

"The only group that gets 24/7 unrestricted access to cadets is this fundamentalist, born-again Christian group," Weinstein charged.

In their letter, the Lindbloms referred several times to the guidelines and to Weinstein's lawsuit, saying that "we are vitally aware we are in the front lines of a spiritual battle.

"Please pray for unprecedented wisdom for Gina and me as we coach these cadets to live among the lost, sharing the Gospel in the midst of this current climate. We must be so careful."

In a postscript, they said, "We respectfully request that you not share this letter publicly. Due to the lawsuit recently filed, the contents of this letter are confidential."

A spokesman for the Air Force Academy said the Navigators are one of 19 outside religious groups - including Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic and Mormon organizations - that hold voluntary meetings on Mondays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in a program known as SPIRE, for Special Program in Religious Education.

The groups are invited on campus at the request of cadets, and each is assigned a room, but only for that 90-minute period once a week, said the spokesman, John Van Winkle. "They can't just use the room whenever they want. That would be a violation of the memorandum of agreement they have to sign," he said.

Asked about the Lindbloms' assertion that they recently were given a classroom to "meet with cadets at any time during the day," Van Winkle said he would check. He called back to amend his statement, saying the academy's chaplains had set aside an extra room that any SPIRE group could use for counseling cadets at other times.

Weinstein said the academy was "furiously spinning."

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