I’m pleased with the way our cadets raised and discussed a recent concern in an atmosphere of respect and communication, and wanted to share it with you.
A religious scripture was displayed outside a dormitory room belonging to a cadet who held a leadership position in the squadron. Another cadet prompted a discussion of appropriateness, according to policies that leaders will avoid actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to subordinates. The scripture was below the cadet’s name on a white board and could cause subordinates to doubt the leader’s religious impartiality. With the mentorship of the active duty commanding officer as part of the discussion, the cadet squadron commander raised this potential perception and the cadet voluntarily elected to erase the scripture.
The Air Force’s Academy is a training institution, teaching cadets how to appropriately raise concerns, understand perceptions and balance personal freedom with effective leadership. Cadets will continue navigate through questions like this, where judgment is an important aspect of leadership on active duty. This is the ideal environment to explore those leadership issues with open and transparent conversations. I'm proud to see the cadets having subsequent conversations about how to enjoy religious freedoms regarded to all cadets while practicing caring leadership that inspires all subordinates.
———WED., MARCH 12, 2014, 1:43 P.M.——————————-
After the Bible verse became the topic of a FOX News editorial
yesterday following our blog posting, nine other religious messages were written onto whiteboards outside cadets' rooms at the academy.
said the new messages showed a lack of religious respect at the academy was "spiraling out of control," with cadets posting the messages in protest of the academy's request the original message be removed.
But the academy didn't actually request the original message be removed, as it turns out. Academy spokesman Maj. Brus Vidal
says the issue was pushed down the chain of command to Air Officers Commanding
and the cadets themselves. The cadet who posted the Galatians message took it down, realizing it could have been misinterpreted by other cadets. The cadet in question is in a leadership role, and Air Force Regulation 1.1
bars those in leadership positions from forcing their religious beliefs on those down the chain.
We didn’t take them (religious messages) down. When this was identified through the chain of command, they had a discussion, and the discussion went to cadets about what the best way forward would be. The decision to take it down was this cadet who lived in this room who was in a leadership position. Because of that, they determined it was the perception of some that if I’m going to speak to that cadet, the entry fee, if you will, to get into the office is to abide by that statement. It would have been better not to have been in a publicly placed area. If you’re in a leadership position you can’t have something that would potentially imply if you have a certain belief, you can’t come see me. Their office is also their home. They have to do cadet leadership business in the same place they live.
Vidal went on to "put it in context" by noting there are 4,000 cadets who share 2,000 whiteboards throughout the dorms, so nine messages do not a revolution make.
"They’re going to push those things down to the AOC and cadets in leadership positions to make those calls," he says, but adds, "This is still an evolving thing."
Vidal didn't know whether the additional nine messages had been removed or would need to be, because all nine might not appear outside the rooms of cadets in leadership positions.
Here are two of the nine messages posted overnight:
———ORIGINAL POST TUES., MARCH 11, 2:09 P.M.————
About a month ago, a top leader at the Air Force Academy gave a resounding endorsement to Air Force Regulation 1-1, which we reported on here
. Dean of Faculty Brig. Gen. Andy Armacost
essentially reminded faculty and staff that the Air Force regulation bars the endorsement of one religion over another and proselytizing among the ranks.
Perhaps he should deliver the same lecture to cadets, in light of a message one cadet scrawled on a board outside his room.
To the academy's credit, when several people at the academy reported the Bible verse to Military Religious Freedom Foundation director Mikey Weinstein
, and he in turn contacted the academy, the verse was removed. The officer with whom Weinstein dealt called it a "teachable moment."
But Weinstein is baffled as to why someone at the academy didn't report the verse directly to leadership. He suggests that lack of reporting demonstrates that not all is well at the academy, which has been under fire for years for favoring fundamentalist Christianity.
"How many walked by and looked at this?" Weinstein asks. He adds that 33 people
at the academy — 29 cadets and 4 faculty and staff — reported it to MRFF but didn't feel comfortable reporting it to leadership.
That underscores Weinstein's contention that the climate at the academy remains hostile to anyone who doesn't buy in to the fundamentalist point of view.
The Bible verse was up for two hours and nine minutes, he says, before it was removed after his call.
He blames Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson
for not driving the point home and backing up the regulation with punishment for violators.
Asked to address the issue, Maj. Brus Vidal
, academy spokesman, says this via e-mail:
We don't see misconduct here but the division between your personal room and the hallway is a gray area. The whiteboards are for both official and personal use, but when a concern was raised we addressed it and the comment was taken down. We also don't know who posted the message.
UPDATE: Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson issued the following statement about the Bible verses issue: