Lt. Col. Todd Vician, an Air Force spokesman, issued this statement on Saturday:
Retired Gen Gamble conducted a review to provide senior Air Force leadership with an independent, experienced assessment of the religious climate at the USAFA. This effort complements other initiatives to include the development of independent, reliable surveys, command initiatives by the superintendent, and on-going Headquarters Air Force oversight of possible leading indicators. This effort will directly support the development and enhancement of Force Development Policy in this area. It's important to note that this was not an investigation, but an independent look at the climate at USAFA relating to free exercise of religion.
"As always, we continue to reiterate to cadets, faculty and staff at all
levels our message of RESPECT for the individual and human dignity.
That applies to all facets of Academy life, and we will continue to do
— Lt. Col. John N. Bryan, USAFA Public Affairs Director —
(Original version, posted at 4:21 p.m. Friday, April 29)
The general has spoken and the verdict, not surprisingly, is that nothing's amiss at the academy in how it handles religious issues.
Retired Gen. Patrick Gamble was hired by the Air Force earlier this year to look into religious climate issues at the academy, where evangelical proselytizing has been alleged continuously for years.
"Based on our methodology and the allotted time, I assess the climate of religious tolerance at USAFA to be well within Air Force standards," Gamble concludes in a 22-page report obtained by the Independent.
To the point, the climate is healthy and improving due to specific leadership attention at all levels. Outside assertions claiming that an unacceptable climate of religious tolerance exists, to the degree we were able to examine actual evidence or take actual interviews from complainants, were universally unsupported. Anomalies arising in the otherwise steady climate improvement I would consider to be normal among a young population of the cadet wing’s size, and they are being handled satisfactorily either by the leadership or by cadets themselves using the guidance provided to them to first work issues out at the lowest level within the cadet chain. Old religious feelings having their roots in the period leading up to 2005 still haunt a few of the faculty and some vocal graduates that we heard from and this needs attention. The Superintendent has set a firm course to follow with regard to religious tolerance at USAFA. He has made clear and frequent communication a priority. He has set into motion training initiatives and resolution procedures that are improving the USAFA climate. In my assessment, I believe that the only real threat to his effective endeavors continuing to be coherent is the threat to the exercise of good judgment brought about by over-reaction. Occasionally USAFA may still be buffeted by religious crosswinds, but… I recommend we stay the course.
The reaction to the findings was swift from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, run by AFA grad Mikey Weinstein, who is Jewish and has been critical of the academy for years for favoring evangelical Christianity.
Only one of his 261 clients — staff, cadets and faculty — participated in Gamble's review, he says, because people weren't promised anonymity and they fear retaliation if they say the wrong thing about the wrong people.
"How am I supposed to put human misery and degradation in an email?" Weinstein says.
One faculty member who wished to remain anonymous reacted this way to the report: "This is a smoking mirrors pseudo-report if I ever saw one. It's mind-boggling that ANYONE would believe that its findings are in any sense objective, let alone think that it's recommendations are useful at all."
Economics professor David Mullin, who did meet with Gamble's team, issued this statement:
Rather than taking seriously the cries of victim of religious discrimination, Gamble listens and believes the perpetrators. What kind of a police force is effective if they only ask criminals if they commit crimes?
I am an econometrician, and I am an expert about how to generate unbiased samples. Gamble is flat-out wrong in stating that he had a good representation of participants. When you cannot guarantee anonymity, you cannot expect victims to come forward. So the composition of participants is strongly biased toward the perpetrators of religious discrimination. Gamble was forewarned by me and other of this, which he totally ignored. This was no “walk around”. Gamble’s report is the perfect image of an ostrich’s head in the sand. When your head is in the sand, you see no evil and hear no evil.
He says in an e-mail to the Independent that when he met with Gamble he reminded him that the latest cadet climate survey conducted in late 2009 and early 2010 showed that 141 cadets have been subjected to unwanted proselytizing more than once. There were 23 cadets who “felt in fear” because of their religious beliefs, 13 of whom were Christians. "I also stated that the current USAFA Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Gould tried to suppress the release of these results in August 2010."
In fact, the Independent obtained a copy of the report in August and blogged about it. Gould didn't release the report officially until months later. Yet, Gamble praises Gould's leadership on religious issues.
Another faculty member, also wanting to remain nameless, said:
We need to know the religious affiliation of the general and the colonel and their corps of ostensibly disinterested staff.... If this is a report by a dominantly Christian set of observers in an institution whose cadets are dominantly Christian, is it
surprising to get a verdict of "All Clear'? Let's invite a group of researchers from, say, Berkeley, University of Chicago, and the University of Oklahoma to offer their separate reports related to
religious harassment at USAFA. At least with those actually-qualified, actually-serious researchers we'll know what we're getting. Well, actually, we know what we got this time.
We've asked the academy for a comment on Gamble's findings. We'll update when we receive a statement.
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