Mikey Weinstein, perennial critic of the Air Force Academy's religious climate, is again on the offensive, this time demanding that Defense Secretary Robert Gates launch an investigation.
To be brief, he wants the 2009-10 academy climate survey released to the public and he wants the Pentagon to investigate both Cadets for Christ and the academy's alleged establishment of fundamentalist Christianity among cadets and staff.
For its part, the academy has previously stated in a press release that it "remains committed to protecting an individual’s right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law or impede mission accomplishment. The Academy’s policy is consistent with the MRFF view that "religious faith is a constitutionally guaranteed freedom that must never be compromised."
Weinstein established the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in 2005 after allegations of bias toward evangelical Christianity at the academy triggered an Air Force review of the matter.
September 28, 2010
Hon. Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
For the following profoundly shocking reasons explained infra, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its signatory allies as reflected below, make the trio of immediate demands stated at the end of this letter upon you and the Department of Defense.
There now exists, according to a United States Air Force Academy cadet who recently wrote to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF; www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org), an "underground" group of over one hundred Academy cadets who, in order to maintain good standing among their USAF Academy peers and superiors, are actually pretending to be fundamentalist Christians. They leave Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian music CDs lying around their rooms; they attend fundamentalist Christian Bible studies; they feign devoutness at the Academy's weekly "Special Programs in Religious Education" (SPIRE) programs. They do whatever they have to do to play the role of the "right kind" of Christian cadets, in constant fear of being "outed."
Who makes up this group of over a hundred cadets who feel that they must pretend to be such devoted fundamentalist Christians? Mostly Christians — both Protestant and Catholic — who aren't "Christian enough" or "the right kind of Christians" for the Air Force Academy. The cadet who wrote to MRFF about this day-in and day-out lie that these cadets must live is a Protestant who, like many Protestants, does not subscribe to the Academy's preferred brand of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. Our long-time ally, California Council of Churches IMPACT, is equally outraged by the presumption that their denominational partners, 6.5 million strong, are not "the right kind" of Christian. Mainline Protestantism is a foundation of American faith traditions. Indeed, America’s diversity of faith is a bedrock of religious freedom.
In the words of the cadet who wrote to MRFF, who described him/herself as "kind of the leader" of this underground group: "If any of us gave even the slightest indication that we weren't one of their number, our lives would be even more miserable than they already are due to the fact that we are all living lies here. Despite the Cadet Honor Code we all lie about our lives. We have to."
As of last year, it appeared that the religious climate at the Academy was improving, largely due to the good channel of communication that had been opened up between MRFF and USAF Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Gould. A number of situations were resolved without the need to make them public, and the number of complaints received by MRFF from cadets had dropped significantly. Unfortunately, these signs of improvement were all too short lived.
Last year, due to our then confidence in Lt. Gen. Gould, MRFF was advising the cadets and USAF Academy staff who came to us to trust the system, and not to be afraid to take their complaints and concerns to the appropriate staff at the Air Force Academy. The cadets et al were skeptical, but MRFF assured them that things were changing for the better. Apparently, in light of recent events, the cadets as well as members of the USAF Academy staff were right to remain skeptically leery of the system.
According to the cadet who wrote to MRFF: "For a long time you asked us to trust the 'system' here at USAFA and take our religious persecution grievances 'up the chain' or to other reporting elements. You told us all the time that the Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Gould, and his staff would have our backs and not let anything bad happen to us if we came forward. We told you that was crazy. We told you that many times."
In addition to the ongoing difficulties faced by non-fundamentalist Christians at the Academy, two specific recent events were cited as the catalysts for the cadet's letter. (MRFF has also been contacted by numerous other cadets and Academy staff regarding these same two issues.)
1. The refusal of the Academy to make public the results of this year's USAF Academy "Climate Survey."
The results of this voluntary and anonymous survey of cadets and staff, taken this year by about 40 percent of the cadets and 53 percent of the staff members, was proudly touted by Lt. Gen. Gould as evidence that "Fewer cadets feel pressured to be involved in religious activities than in the past." But the Academy refused to make the survey results public, as it has done in previous years. It was only when the full results of the survey were leaked to the press that the ugly truth about the current religious climate at the Academy emerged.
353 cadets (almost 1 out of every 5 survey participants) reported having been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing, and 23 cadets (13 of them Christians) reported living "in fear of their physical safety" because of their religious beliefs. Who knows what other show stoppers are being intentionally held back by the Air Force Academy?
2. The inclusion by the Air Force Academy Public Affairs Office in the daily Academy-wide "Falcon Clips" email of a sectarian Christian-themed blog post written by an active duty Air Force officer and Academy graduate. The specifics of this individual's extensive internet activities and his Christian supremacy website are available by contacting Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, The Judge Advocate General of the USAF in the Pentagon.
These daily emails begin with the statement: "MESSAGE SENT ON BEHALF OF THE SUPERINTENDENT," and the description: "The Falcon Clips attachment is a daily compilation of local and national news stories relevant to the Air Force Academy and military personnel."
The September 21, 2010 "Falcon Clips" email included an item that was neither a local nor a national news story, but a diatribe against MRFF from the aforementioned Christian supremacist Air Force officer. This blog post was the second of the fourteen "news" items in the Academy-wide email, and was listed under the heading "SUPT COMMENTARY." (again, all salient information about this Air Force officer's sectarian Christian website and internet postings are available from Lt. Gen. Richard Harding; HQ USAF/JA)
Well over a hundred of this particular Air Force officer's posts on his sectarian Christian-themed website have been about or mentioned MRFF, many containing outright lies about the foundation, its staff, and its activities. Other posts have attacked and spread false information about specific active duty enlisted personnel, both in the USAF and other military branches, unable to effectively defend themselves because they are far subordinate in military rank to this particular Air Force officer.
A number of this same Air Force officer's posts have even contained derogatory statements about Lt. Gen. Gould himself, with this same Air Force officer publicly questioning Gould's decisions and judgment when the General made positive comments about MRFF (posts which Lt. Gen. Gould is fully aware of). None of these posts, however, were emailed to the entire Air Force Academy in the "Falcon Clips." Yet, this particular Air Force officer's sarcastic rant against MRFF, opportunistically seizing upon what, unfortunately, appears to be the end of MRFF's productive working relationship with Lt. Gen. Gould, was the subject of a massively distributed e-mail to all Academy cadets and staff.
Scores of Academy cadets and faculty members have contacted MRFF about the utter impropriety and offensiveness of the Academy's endorsement and distribution not only of a non-newsworthy rant by a single blogger, but the resultant endorsement of a blogger who is an active duty Air Force officer who is devoted to promoting Christian supremacy in the military through personal attacks and lies on his internet website.
As one Academy faculty member, an active duty USAF officer, wrote to MRFF upon seeing this Air Force officer's post in the Falcon Clips: "How can we look upon our senior staff as defenders of the Constitution when they clearly endorse this pro-Christian supremacy commentary? When they don't take a hard stance against this type of behavior, what are we to think as their subordinates? This is why I am always reluctant to air my grievances — what will they do to me because I don't support their beliefs?"
From another USAF officer and Academy graduate: "The fact that the Academy would distribute a biased third party blog to the ENTIRE CADET WING, ACADEMY FACULTY AND ALL OTHER ACADEMY STAFF in an attempt to humiliate you shows that they have completely abandoned their sense of impartiality and even their sense of decency. I find it horribly hypocritical that the institution preaches honor and maintenance of high moral standards in life and conflict, then turns on that philosophy through underhanded attacks against you."
The referenced blog post from that Christian supremacist Air Force officer, mass-distributed in the "Falcon Clips" by the Air Force Academy Public Affairs Office, was one regarding a particular fundamentalist Christian ministry active at the Academy for apparently decades called "Cadets for Christ." MRFF has been contacted about this ministry, not only by cadets, but, most recently, and most disturbingly, from the parents of a 2010 Academy graduate who is now on active duty. Now, three other families have just recently contacted MRFF about the exact same matter. The first family to have contacted MRFF about "Cadets for Christ" did so over well over 4 years ago regarding their then cadet daughter.
From everything MRFF has been told about Cadets for Christ, we can reach no other conclusion than that this ministry, operated primarily at the home of Don and Anna Warrick, but also permitted on the campus of the Academy, is allegedly using cult-like tactics to separate cadets from everything and everyone in their lives, including their families, the clearly delineated core values and principles of the United States Air Force and the oaths they took to uphold the United States Constitution.
The following are a few excerpts from just one of the emails received by MRFF from the parents of the 2010 graduate:
"Our nightmare began when she joined (we found out later that she was recruited), a 'Bible study' group headed by Don and Anna Warrick during the second semester of her second year. Our initial thought was 'good' it will give her a healthy avenue to relieve stresses at the academy. However, in retrospect the study group truly operated under the definition of a brainwashing cult with ulterior motives."
"It was at these meetings my daughter was informed that her career should be that of a wife and mother — the Biblical terms they use: the female is the sheep and the male is the shepherd."
"Our daughter was methodically brain washed into believing that she was unsaved in the Catholic religion. During spring break 2009, she urgently asked that we read the Bible everyday in order to 'receive the grace of God and be saved.' This manner of speech took us completely off guard."
"This invisible force has rocked our family to the core. Two sisters no longer talk to one another. A mother has been asked to no longer contact her daughter. A father tries very hard to keep some sense of equilibrium in the family. This is what our family has become. Nevertheless, we will continue our attempts to bring our daughter back to us — we will never give up hope."
"As parents, it is very difficult to see your child change in a manner that you no longer recognize her as your own. We grossly underestimated the power of this group. Being at such a geographical distance, coupled with the rigors of the USAFA, it becomes more difficult to monitor behavioral changes until they have taken deep root. Do you have any idea how it feels to grieve the loss of a child who is alive and healthy? THE AIR FORCE ACADEMY ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN!"
On behalf of the hundred plus cadets (that we know of) who feel that they have no other option than to suffer the unconscionable indignity of pretending to practice a religion not of their choosing in order to succeed at the United States Air Force Academy, many faculty and related staff at the Academy and the parents of the 2010 Academy graduate and any other Academy cadet and graduate parents who are losing or have lost their children to the alleged cult called "Cadets for Christ," MRFF hereby demands:
1.) that the complete results of the U.S. Air Force Academy's most recent Climate Survey be immediately released to the public; and
2.) that the Dept. of Defense immediately initiate an aggressive and comprehensive investigation into the activities of "Cadets for Christ", and any and all other similarly situated religious proselytizing organizations at the Academy, both on and off the USAF Academy campus; and
3.) that the Dept. of Defense immediately initiate an aggressive and comprehensive investigation of the USAF Academy's incontrovertible and unconstitutional establishment of a fundamentalist Christian culture/meme amongst its cadet and staff populations and its concomitant failure to train and educate its professional staff and Cadet Wing about the Constitutionally-mandated imperatives of the Bill of Rights, especially church-state separation.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq.
Founder & President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy
Columbus Jewish Foundation
1997 Nobel Peace Prize
Int'l Campaign Co-Founder; to Ban Land Mines
MRFF Advisory Board Member
Interfaith Freedom Foundation
The American Muslim
DC Office Director
Muslim Public Affairs Council
California Council of Churches
Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
Veterans for Common Sense
President Barack Obama
John M. McHugh — Secretary of the Army
Ray Mabus — Secretary of the Navy
Michael B. Donley — Secretary of the Air Force
Admiral Michael Mullen — Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General James E Cartwright — Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General George W. Casey, Jr. — Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Admiral Gary Roughead — Chief of Naval Operations
General Norton A. Schwartz — Chief of State of the United States Air Force
General James T. Conway — Commandant of the Marine Corps