Monday, January 30, 2017

UPDATE: AFA agrees to pay $25,000 to settle FOIA lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Jan 30, 2017 at 10:08 AM

We just received this statement from Lt. Col. Timothy Herritage at the academy:
The Air Force Academy recently entered into a settlement agreement with MRFF regarding FOIA and agreed to pay $25K in attorney's fees. Attorney's fees are not an uncommon expense for defendants in FOIA litigation, even when the parties settle without attributing fault or liability. This money is not paid directly by USAFA, but rather comes out of a general Air Force Litigation fund used in instances when the Air Force is sued.

The Academy respects the settlement agreement and intends to comply with it. We'd like to emphasize that each FOIA case is unique and USAFA makes every effort to process FOIA cases as promptly as possible.

FOIA requests are processed in the order that they are received. When MRFF made their request in 2011, USAFA was dealing with a large backlog of FOIA requests. USAFA was able to provide an initial response to MRFF in 2012, followed by a supplemental response in 2015 and another in 2016. The release to MRFF consisted of over 8,000 pages of documents, all of which had to be reviewed by numerous people page by page, making the review and production a time-consuming undertaking. 

——————ORIGINAL POST 10:08 A.M. MONDAY, JAN. 30, 2017———————-

In what might be a first, the Air Force Academy has settled a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and agreed to pay the plaintiff's lawyers $25,000 in legal fees.
Air Force Academy chapel - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Air Force Academy chapel

The plaintiff is the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, founded by academy grad Mikey Weinstein.

Weinstein says in a release the settlement is a "splendid MRFF legal victory" and "a landmark win."

The case dates to Weinstein's 2011 FOIA request for records pertaining to himself, MRFF and his family. After four years of "processing delays," MRFF says, it filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure.

Under the settlement, which is explained further below, the academy agreed to conduct new searches and broaden the time period for the searches.

It also will pay $25,000 for MRFF's attorney fees.

We've asked the academy for a comment and will update when we hear something.

Meantime, here's the news release from MRFF:
Late last week the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) reached an agreement to resolve a longstanding legal dispute over USAFA's handling of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted in 2011. The FOIA request sought records related to Mikey Weinstein, MRFF's Founder and President, the organization, and individual members of the Weinstein family. After four years of processing delays, MRFF filed a lawsuit in federal court in New Mexico to compel the Air Force Academy to finalize the FOIA response. The settlement calls for USAFA to conduct new searches for documents, broaden the time period of the searches, and pay MRFF's attorneys' fees.

Mikey Weinstein: Wins settlement in FOIA case. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mikey Weinstein: Wins settlement in FOIA case.
Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, attorneys in Albuquerque, New Mexico, represented MRFF in the litigation. In a joint statement released by Mr. Ward and Ms. Fayerberg, they stated: "This is a big victory for MRFF, for active, veteran and retired military members and civilians who support MRFF's cause, and for everyone who believes in the importance of government transparency and accountability. The Academy gave MRFF the run around for over four years, probably hoping it would go away. Not MRFF. We couldn't be more pleased with the outcome of the case. It is a true testament to MRFF's will and of course the determination of its founder, Mikey Weinstein."

MRFF Founder and President, Mikey Weinstein praised the result stating,

"Today is a glorious day of victory for justice and liberty! MRFF effusively thanks its fantastic and tenacious litigators, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, for prevailing for MRFF in this long federal court legal battle against the Air Force Academy's intransigent and ignoble efforts to nefariously thwart public disclosure of thousands of pages of important internal documents. Tragically, the only thing that USAFA is even worse at than following federal disclosure requirements via FOIA is USAFA's universally deplorable record of miserably failing to adhere to the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state. Today's splendid MRFF legal victory is a landmark win in MRFF's continuing fight to rebuild and buttress the shattered church-state wall at USAFA, in the Air Force at large and throughout all of the Department of Defense."
The Weinsteins are a legacy family at USAFA, with six of the family members alumni of the Air Force Academy and one other a graduate of the Naval Academy. The Weinsteins are also, however, active supporters and participants of MRFF and regularly take the Academy to task over its espousal and promotion of fundamentalist Christian Evangelicalism. MRFF's history with the Academy has resulted in a vitriolic campaign against Mikey Weinstein, his family, and many MRFF supporters as well as the production of thousands of documents, found in the form of emails, memoranda, and directives. MRFF requested that USAFA provide those records as part of its continued effort to hold USAFA and other military agencies accountable for their practices.

However, when MRFF lawfully sought these records under the FOIA in 2011, USAFA ignored the request for nearly one year. After producing only a fraction of the documents generated by the request in 2012, the USAFA spent the next three years delaying and refusing to produce records in accordance with the federal transparency law. After four years of obfuscation, MRFF filed suit on November 5, 2015 to compel the agency to provide the responsive records. The suit alleged specific violations of the FOIA, which requires government entities to make most types of records available to the public upon request, as well as alleging that USAFA engaged in a pattern and practice of deliberately violating the law with regard to MRFF. After over one year of litigation, the USAFA has produced nearly 8,000 additional records to MRFF and has agreed to perform supplemental records searches for those years during which the USAFA unlawfully delayed in responding to MRFF's request. USAFA has also agreed to pay MRFF's lawyers, Vincent Ward and Amber Fayerberg, $25,000 in legal fees.

MRFF anticipates that USAFA's supplemental records searches will turn up thousands of additional and important documents. This result is a victory for MRFF, a victory for the Constitution and a victory for government transparency. MRFF will continue to insist that military agencies open their files to the public and will continue to shed light on USAFA's violations of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and freedom from the establishment of a government religion. 

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Air Force Academy's Harmon Hall gets a makeover

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 11:18 AM

  • Photos courtesy Air Force Academy
The Air Force Academy has spiffed up the foyer to the Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson's office, and the project wasn't cheap.

It cost $387,000 to replace deteriorated and scratched wall coverings, old suspended ceiling and lights and carpet. That pricetag also included bringing the area up to fire codes after construction revealed deficiencies, the academy reports to the Independent in an email.

The foyer serves five different offices, as well as a conference room where seven staff members work.

It's the latest in several projects at Harmon Hall. Since 2011, the Directorate of Admissions area has been restored and reconfigured at a cost of $144,000, and revamped the Communications Directorate, at a cost of $188,000, to accommodate a reorganization. In addition, carpeting in the hallways on two floors was replaced.

Other recent ongoing renovation projects:
• Cyber Worx, $2.6 million

• Remotely Piloted Aircraaft building, $50,000

• Planetarium, $2.5 million

• Bridge near South Gate, $9 million

• Remodel Preparatory School Lab, $120,000

The academy explains its approach to upgrades:
Every year, we follow an Air Force process to evaluate facility and infrastructure requirements, establish priorities and forward those to the AF for funding support. Our approach, "worst first," has allowed us to repair significant levels of infrastructure and repair key facilities such as two major bridges, one cadet dorm, cadet dining facility, cadet gymnasium, miles of roads, and roofs, and mechanical and electrical systems in many different facilities. There is more work to be done. We will continue to evaluate the condition of our facilities/infrastructure and restore them as AF funding allows.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

UPDATE: More about the AFA coach tweeting salvation messages

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 12:29 PM

Air Force Academy chapel - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Air Force Academy chapel
UPDATE: After we pointed out that links to coaches' Twitter accounts were still available on the Air Force Academy's websites at 9:09 a.m. today, we asked the academy about that. We just received this message at 1:52 p.m. from the academy, "The links are no longer there."


After waiting for a week for a response from the Air Force Academy about why a football coach is using academy images and proselytizing comments in his Twitter account, the academy said it had removed from its website links to the athletic staff's Twitter handles.

But, turns out, that wasn't true. Because the links were still available on a separate Academy webpage containing social media information.

Here's why that's important. Football staffer Steed Lobotzke was posting Bible verses and Christian message on his Twitter account that clearly identified him as being with the academy. The academy ruled that OK, because it was his personal account and he had entered a disclaimer saying the posts were his own beliefs, not those of the academy.

The armed services are barred from promoting one religion over another, because doing so would send the wrong message to the ranks; i.e., that if you don't believe what your commander believes, you can't get promoted. Or worse, the men and women in uniform are waging a holy war against any other religion in the world.

So when it was discovered the coaches' Twitter links remain on the AFA website, we asked the academy Why?

We haven't heard back. But we have heard from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has been grousing about this since at least Dec. 2.

Monday, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein sent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, AFA superintendent, this letter:
Lt. General Johnson,
This letter is in specific response to the ludicrous and unconstitutional determination by the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) that there is nothing wrong with one of its football coaches, Steed Lobotzke, using his Twitter account as a platform to evangelize and proselytize his personal version of the Christian faith.

The publicly released statement by USAFA on Friday, December 9, 2016 that "all athletic coaches' social media accounts are personal and not maintained by the Air Force Academy Athletic Department" is both specious and meaningless given the incontrovertible fact that the personal Twitter accounts of its coaches, including that of Steed Lobotzke, are directly linked to on what is, in fact, the official Air Force Academy athletics website.

In that ridiculous December 9, 2016 statement, USAFA further asserted that: "The views and comments within these accounts are personal and not the views of the Air Force Academy or Air Force. However, we appreciate that the accounts could appear official and have advised that an appropriate disclaimer be included to avoid confusion in this regard."

Advising the coaches to put a disclaimer on their "personal" social media pages is not remotely good enough by a long shot considering that USAFA is still promoting the religious evangelizing/proselytizing on the "personal" Twitter page of Steed Lobotzke by, incredibly, linking to this "personal" social media page on the official Air Force Athletics website's "Social Media" page. ( )

Therefore, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) hereby demands that the link to Steed Lobotzke's "personal" Twitter account either be immediately removed forthwith from the official Air Force Athletics website, or, alternatively, if it is allowed to remain on this official USAFA website, that an appropriate disclaimer be prominently posted on the official Air Force Athletics website's "Social Media" page making it ABSOLUTELY clear that these tweets are the "personal" Twitter accounts of the coaches and further stating that the content posted on these "personal" social media pages does not in any way represent the official views of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force or the Department of Defense.

This demand is not negotiable. 
As we've previously reported, when then-coach Fisher DeBerry hung a banner in the locker room about "Team Jesus Christ," the academy reprimanded him.

When we hear something from the academy, we'll update.
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Friday, December 9, 2016

AFA coaches must provide "appropriate disclaimer" on Twitter accounts

Posted By on Fri, Dec 9, 2016 at 5:19 PM

  • From the AFA website

A week after we first asked the Air Force Academy about a football coach's proselytizing on his Twitter account, we finally got an answer.

Read the background on this issue here.

The Academy says via email:
We appreciate you bringing this to our attention. Upon looking into this matter, we learned that all athletic coaches' social media accounts are personal and not maintained by the Air Force Academy Athletic Department. The views and comments within these accounts are personal and not the views of the Air Force Academy or Air Force. However, we appreciate that the accounts could appear official and have advised that an appropriate disclaimer be included to avoid confusion in this regard.

The Academy remains committed to protecting individuals' right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law, or impede mission accomplishment, military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline. 
As we understand it, this means the coaches are free to use Academy images on their "personal" Twitter accounts that they use to proselytize, but they have to insert a disclaimer that it's not an official Academy account.

It's worth noting that after we raised the question a week ago, triggered by a complaint to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Academy removed links to coaches' Twitter accounts from the AFA athletic division website. So if you see a Falcon coach tweeting with images from the Academy and Bible verses, know that it's not officially coming from the Academy.

We asked for clarification on this point — whether coaches can still use AFA images and represent themselves as with the Academy in evangelizing messages — but were told that everyone had gone home today and that a response will come on Monday.

We checked in with MRFF's founder and chief executive Mikey Weinstein, who said in an email, "My response is that this is complete and utter bullshit and there will be a lot more to come on this."

MRFF filed a complaint with the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office, which apparently has already opened an investigation. It's unclear whether the Academy's solution as stated above ends the investigation.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

UPDATE: AFA coach's tweets spur demand for investigation

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 1:48 PM

The academy's chapel and iconic symbol. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The academy's chapel and iconic symbol.
A New York lawfirm representing Military Religious Freedom Foundation says it's already been contacted by a Defense Department Inspector General's Office investigator. From an email to MRFF shared with the Independent:
Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with the DoD/IG Investigator assigned to MRFF’s IG Complaint about a AFA football coach’s use of a Twitter account linked to the AFA’s Athletic Department for proselytizing his religion. I confirmed that I was their counsel on this matter and that MRFF did not desire that this be handled anonymously, as it is a matter of public interest especially since it is and has been an on-going issue at the AFA.
Moreover, it appears the academy has removed all twitter accounts of coaches from its athletics website.

————————-ORIGINAL POST 1:48 P.M. THURS., DEC. 8, 2016—————-

Citing the an Air Force Academy's football coach's use of Twitter to evangelize, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation submitted a request for an investigation to the Inspector General's Office on Wednesday.

Read the request here:
The coach, Steed Lobotzke, the letter says, "is using his official status as a government employee of the AFA to publicly proselytize his particular brand of fundamental Christianity.... he engages in this misconduct via what to any reasonable observer is his official AFA Twitter account."

A couple of examples of Lobotzke's tweets:
The MRFF says it represents five members of the academy's athletic department and three members of the football team who object to the tweets.

Here's the evidence also sent to the IG's office:

The Independent reported on this last week.

Lobotzke has since added a line on his Twitter account saying, "Tweets are my own views."

"That may be," the MRFF letter says, "but he is still AFA football "CoachLobotzke," and posting on behalf of the AFA's football team using their Twitter account."

We asked the academy last week for a comment and haven't received one. We were told earlier this week the academy is still putting together a response. If and when we receive it, we'll update.

Meantime, MRFF reports its attorney has been contacted by a DODIG investigator, indicating the case is being fast-tracked.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

AFA football coach uses tweets to evangelize

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 11:18 AM


Back in 2004, then-Falcons coach Fisher DeBerry was officially reprimanded for hanging a banner in the football team's locker room that said, "I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

The action came amid allegations from Mikey Weinstein that the Air Force Academy favored Christianity and triggered the academy's vow to instruct cadets in religious sensitivity while balancing their right to freedom of expression with the prohibition of government establishment of religion contained in the U.S. Constitution.

Now, 12 years later, Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation is strenuously objecting to the Falcon's tight end coach Steed Lobotzke's tweets that involve promoting Christianity.

The tweets were sent on the Twitter account that identifies him as being with the academy's football program.

Most tweets are academy football related and include team and academy photos. But he also uses the account to evangelize, citing Bible verses.
As an official with MRFF notes in an email to the Independent, "There is no disclaimer on his Twitter page saying that these are his own views and not the views of the Air Force Academy. In checking most of the other USAFA Football coaches twitter accounts, we did not find any evidence of them using their official accounts to promote their personal religion."

Find some examples here, here, here and here.

Weinstein says via email:
Twelve-plus years ago, Air Force Academy Head Football Coach Fischer DeBerry proudly and boldly displayed a large banner across the main locker room of the football team which stated 'We Are All Members of Team Jesus Christ. We Are First and Last Christians.’ At least THAT unconstitutional horror of fundamentalist Christian tyranny occurred before the advent of social media. He intentionally and unlawfully marked that place for Jesus, just as a dog marks a tree, despoiling with reckless abandon the Constitution along the way.

Today, the Air Force Academy senior leadership clearly shows that unchecked Christian extremism is worse than ever at the Academy, especially on its football team, with the shocking discovery of what the football team's Tight Ends Coach, Steed Lobotzke, a 1992 USAFA grad, has been doing with his official USAFA football twitter account. Lobotzke’s official twitter feed is filled with illicit proselytizing in the name of Jesus Christ and even includes such biblical citations juxtaposed with pictures of official football team meetings. Unconstitutional filth, thy name be Steed Lobotzke.

MRFF is representing 5 members of the Academy’s Athletic Department and 3 members of its 'Fighting Falcon' football team as complainants who have come forward on this latest disgrace to the Constitution of unlawful, fundamentalist Christian supremacy. MRFF legal counsel plan to file an official Inspector General Complaint with the DoD/IG on Monday as MRFF’s experience with the Academy’s own IG and the Air Force IG at the Pentagon on the Air Staff has proved both organizations to be less than worthless in protecting the precious freedoms guaranteed by the separation of Church and State in our nation's Constitution.
We've asked the academy to comment on the coach's tweets and will circle back when we hear from the school.

The issue arises in the wake of two other issues at the academy involving Christianity. We wrote about these here and here.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

UPATE: Did dinosaurs and humans co-exist? Flier at USAFA says yes.

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 12:19 PM


UPDATE: This just in from the Air Force Academy:
We have not received any complaints regarding the publication you reference. The clinic staff did not place the publication in the waiting area nor are they aware of how it may have been placed there. Often, patients will leave magazines in waiting areas after they have finished reading them. Additionally, the publication you sent us is not a USAFA publication.

———————-ORIGINAL POST 12:19 P.M., THURS., DEC. 1, 2016———————-

When did Dinosaurs roam the planet?

According to Discovery News, which is described by the newspaper itself as "A publication of Significant Archeological Discoveries and Biblical Truths," dinosaurs and humans co-mingled on planet Earth.

This defies all scientific research, which has long concluded that dinosaurs went extinct some 65 millions year ago and that homo sapiens didn't emerge until about 200,000 years ago.

But Discovery News champions the co-existent theory to under cut evolution, citing on its website that a revelation that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time would support the claim "that all species, including man, were created at one time."

What you read in your living room is your business, but when this kind of drivel is distributed at the Air Force Academy, it gets people's attention.

One retired Air Force officer encountered the publication during a visit to the academy's ophthalmology clinic and reported it to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, saying:
Most distressing about this situation is that previously on two appointments I had ignored Christian proselytizing materials found there leaving them in situ, but this was just too much.

Here we have the “Discovery News”, that someone has placed in the waiting area, on top of the other magazines, with the obvious intent
that someone could be attracted to its colorful front page and then see a creationist set of ridiculous myths that through a series of contortionist pseudo-science set of disproven facts proves the bible is to be believed verbatim, that is through a series of cartoon panels that Jesus died for your sins.

I have never been so offended in my life and decided at that moment to pick this piece of silliness up and throw it away with the same fervor that it had been placed there. Who did put it there? Was it a member of the staff? Do the doctors of the 10th Medical Group all believe Earth is clearly less than 100,000 years old? I wanted to take this cartoonish piece of propaganda into the Doctors’ office where my wife was being treated and ask the Doctor, “DO YOUR REALLY BELIEVE THIS?” And
then follow up with, “OK, then why do you allow it to be in your waiting room?”

Does Gen [Michelle] Johnson [academy superintendent] refute 100s of years of careful science and contort herself into allow the teaching of creationism in the USAF clinic because of fundamentalist evangelical Christian beliefs?

The purpose of the visit was medical care, not a defense of the theory of evolution against creationism. I also worry we’d get treated differently if they knew we didn’t share their same beliefs about the
world being created in six days and people and dinosaurs walked around together and (fill in the blank). That's why I'm coming to the MRFF.
Of course, MRFF's founder and chief executive Mikey Weinstein wasted no time in putting the word out.

We've asked the academy to address allowing this type of literature on its campus and will circle back when we hear something.

Weinstein's take, via email:
The putridly anti-science, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing material which continually adorns the patient waiting areas of USAF Academy’s Medical Clinic only further establishes how breathtakingly far the Academy has intentionally deviated from generations of Constituionally-mandated church/state separation mandates.

Let’s just be very clear here. Allowing this Christo-centric religious supremacy to fester and bloom, indeed encouraging and nourishing such sectarian evil, is a felony violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice....

MRFF has had a stern, clarion call “Parental Advisory” out for a number of years about the Air Force Academy warning all concerned of this perpetual, unconstitutional, Christian triumphalism disgrace. These latest two outrageous instances of the proselytizing — an Air Force Academy cadet in his uniform on You Tube and now the USAF Academy Medical Clinic permitting the very visible and public distribution of anti-evolution, anti-Big bang, “Young Earth”, fundamentalist Christian mythology — only serve to boundlessly buttress MRFF’s warnings to every caring and thinking person to carefully avoid this place of bitter religious oppression.
It's worth noting that MRFF recently persuaded an Army hospital in the Washington, D.C., area to remove proselytizing materials from waiting rooms.

The flier at the academy clinic said that Discovery Ministries International is located in Divide and is looking for help distributing its news to hospital waiting rooms, doctors' offices, VA clinics, nursing homes, restaurants, motels, truck stops, schools, etc.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

UPDATE: AFA cadet wears uniform for Christian testimonial

Posted By on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 at 5:17 PM

Cadet Watkins: Called by God.
  • Cadet Watkins: Called by God.
The YouTube recording was taken down sometime after 9:45 a.m. today.

But it wasn't because the academy demanded that. Rather, the academy ruled the video allowed under the service's rule which permits free exercise of religion. From the academy:
The Air Force Academy's goal is to foster a climate of respect. The Air Force has policies in place concerning what is and is not appropriate in regards to religious expression. These policies aim to balance the individual's right of religious expression with avoiding the appearance of inappropriate endorsement.

When allegations are made about potential violations of these policies, they are thoroughly reviewed.

Regarding the complaint concerning a cadet making an on-line video statement about his High School experience, his personal faith, and preparation for college; we have determined that the cadet's behavior is consistent with AFI 1-1, paragraph 2.11 and 2.12, Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation.
—————ORIGINAL POST 5:17 P.M. WED., NOV. 30, 2016———————————-

Whatever kind of religious sensitivity training is going on at the Air Force Academy, it's not having the desired effect, says Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

He offers as the latest evidence a YouTube video of a third-class cadet, a sophomore, giving a testimonial for the Western Christian Schools of Upland, Calif., where he graduated a couple years ago.

The cadet, Jake Watkins, appears in academy uniform saying, "I believe that God has called me to be a leader ... and to work for the Lord and not for men."

Says Weinstein via email:
Here we go again, U.S. Air Force Academy. 46 USAF Academy cadets, staff and faculty join MRFF as its clients in being outraged at this cadet’s blatant sectarian Christian proselytizing video which directly violates Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12, the No Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, bedrock U.S. Supreme Court caselaw as well as additional DoD and USAF regulations, directives and instructions.

I spoke for over 7 minutes to Major Jamie Johnson, the Air Officer Commanding of this cadet, in Cadet Squadron 29 and registered MRFF’s and its 46 USAFA clients’ collective and unbridled disappointment and shame at seeing this illicit, unconstitutional and unauthorized Christian proselytizing/"testimony" video which was recorded in the offending cadet’s official Academy uniform.

MRFF demands that this cadet and his responsible chain of command be appropriately and swiftly disciplined pursuant to the cited Air Force Instruction and other applicable military regulations to ensure that no other similar breaches of Constitutional law ever occur again at the USAF Academy.

The Air Force Academy continues to earnestly search for what it’s institutional “brand” should be. Based on the nearly 13 years that I and MRFF have been battling unlawful, fundamentalist Christian supremacy and oppression at USAFA, it would seem, most tragically, that The Cross is USAFA's most deserved “brand’.
Air Force instruction states, in part:
2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief. 
Read the full instruction here:

Weinstein says he's spoken with a person at the academy who has vowed to "get this going in the proper channels."

We've also reached out to the academy for a comment on Watkins' testimonial and will update when we hear back.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

AFA sits on FOIA request nearly 3 years

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2016 at 10:43 AM

Three years ago, we wrote about the Air Force Academy's hiring of a person, Mike Rosebush, in 2009 in plans and programs and later transferred him to its Center for Character and Leadership Development. Rosebush believes being gay is a choice and has promoted "conversion therapy" in which people, himself included, try to convince gays and lesbians to simply be straight.
Weinstein: Battling for documents from USAFA.
  • Weinstein: Battling for documents from USAFA.
From our story ("Strange bedfellows," Nov. 13, 2013):
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, calls hiring Rosebush "a total scandal and outrage." MRFF, formed in 2005 amid claims of religious bias at the academy, has 27 LGBT clients at the school, he says.

"They said it's like living in a North Korean prisoner camp," Weinstein says. "You walk on eggshells in fear of being outed, because of this approved tidal wave of Christianity ... being told you're not good enough, you're sinning because you made a choice to be a sinner, you're lying about being born that way. It strikes at the very core of their being."

Katie Miller, a lesbian, knows that feeling. She resigned from the Military Academy at West Point in August 2010 to protest Don't Ask Don't Tell, and joined the OutServe group. She's since graduated from Yale and works as a researcher at the Center for American Progress.

"This is pretty bad news," Miller says, noting that the presence of someone with Rosebush's beliefs can say plenty to malleable cadets living in an insular environment. "You're learning institutional values," she says. "It's not just a matter of someone who has strong religious beliefs teaching at the Air Force Academy, but many of the beliefs held by Dr. Rosebush are actively harmful to a number of people and to LGBT cadets specifically."
As you might guess, the revelation grabbed a lot of attention nationwide. The Academy superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, issued a statement days later defending the choice of Rosebush. But it took the academy more than a month to release Rosebush's resume, which made no mention of his reparative therapy beliefs and practices. This is the resume he submitted in order to be hired.

Now, we learn that the academy's release of the resume in 41 days was lightning speed, compared to its three-year delay in responding to Weinstein's group's Freedom of Information request.

Back on Nov. 27, 2013, the MRFF sought records of Rosebush's hiring and employment.

On Sept. 27, 2016 — nearly three years later — the academy denied the request, saying it was "totally withheld from release as it would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of Dr. Michael Rosebush's personal privacy."

Here's MRFF's letter to the academy:

Now, the MRFF to preparing to sue the academy in federal court, which will make the second time MRFF has threatened legal action against the Air Force in the last couple of months. The other was a threat stemming from the display of the Bible at Peterson Air Force Base. The lawsuit never was filed, however, because MRFF couldn't find a plaintiff willing to be named and the Bible never was returned to the desk in the work place.

And, it's the second time within the last year that MRFF has appealed an academy FOIA decision. That case involved a 2011 FOIA request. "We are in court," Weinstein says. "We're waiting for the AFA to produce more documents. If they're not going to produce the documents, we will file a motion for summary judgment next month."

In our experience, the Academy FOIA office is the very definition of foot-dragging. We've waited eight to 18 months for responses to our FOIA requests, but three years really does seem over the top.

"It's just dishonest. They have a deplorable record in being open and transparent," Weinstein says. "We filed the [FOIA] appeal. If the appeal is denied we'll open a new federal lawsuit."

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

USAFA Cadets take time to volunteer locally

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 12:47 PM

USAFA cadets will be parachuting into work sites across the region to perform valuable work ranging from planting trees to serving at the soup kitchen. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • USAFA cadets will be parachuting into work sites across the region to perform valuable work ranging from planting trees to serving at the soup kitchen.
Situated some distance from Interstate 25, it's easy to forget that one of the premier institutions of higher learning is at our backdoor. But the Air Force Academy doesn't only produce military leaders of tomorrow, it also puts the officers-in-training to work in and around this community.

So here's a news release to remind all of us of the good work the academy's cadets do:
Approximately 3,500 Air Force Academy cadets will perform volunteer work for 43 community organizations along the Front Range Friday.

Worksites for cadets will range in location from downtown Colorado Springs to Black Forest and Woodland Park. Start times vary depending on the distance the work location is from the Air Force Academy, with cadets arriving at most El Paso County sites by 8 a.m., and 9 a.m. for other locations. Work will continue until 4 p.m., or until all work at each site is completed.

Organizations the cadets will be working for include:
* American Red Cross, Southeastern Colorado Chapter, testing, repairing and/or installing fire alarms in at risk homes across the region
* Coalition for the Upper South Platte, thinning overgrown trees and brush, to be used as firewood for the needy, and a second project performing erosion mitigation on the Waldo Canyon burn scar.
* Black Forest Together, helping with fire recovery and mitigation work at several homes within the area still dealing with the after-effects of the Black Forest wildfire.
* Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, performing trail maintenance
* City of Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Department, plant 300 sage plants along camp creek at Garden of the Gods, and maintenance at several parks locations.
* Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, performing upkeep at the center.
* Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center, cleaning up stables and painting fences
Rocky Mountain Field Institute, hiking up Bear Creek to refurbish the area, to protect its scarce trout population.
* Care and Share food bank, sorting and distributing food.
* The Salvation Army in downtown Colorado Springs, cleaning and painting its red kettles, preparing and cooking food, grounds work and moving furniture.
Other organizations the cadets will work with include: The Marian House, Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Crawford House, and several elementary schools across the region.

This cadet volunteer work is organized by the Air Force Academy's Center for Character and Leadership Development center, via its Cadet Service Leadership program, which connects community organizations with cadet volunteers. Cadets performed more than 30,000 hours of community service during the previous academic year. Academy cadets have averaged more than 30,000 hours of community service work each academic year, for the past decade.

Organizations that wish to request cadet volunteers for future community service efforts can request cadet volunteers online at:

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The latest on Peterson AFB's Bible dilemma

Posted By on Thu, Sep 22, 2016 at 1:59 PM

The Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base some weeks ago. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base some weeks ago.
Remember the brouhaha over the open Bible at a work station at Peterson Air Force Base?

Well, here's an update.

After command decided that Major Steve Lewis could rightfully display his Bible for other service members to see in the work place, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation submitted a Freedom of Information Act request. The FOIA was aimed at records of the investigation conducted into whether the open Bible violated or complied with an Air Force instruction that prohibits proselytizing but allows expressions of faith.

MRFF's founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein reports today that the Air Force responded to the FOIA by saying no records exist.

Now, this is rather perplexing. While it's possible the request went to the wrong unit, because there's no option in the Air Force's FOIA process to select for the unit in which the Bible episode took place, seems pretty far fetched for the service to fall back on such a weak argument.

In any event, Weinstein is furious.

"There is simply NO excuse for the USAF to say that there are 'no records' or that they have no idea of any other agencies where the records might be," he tells the Indy via email. "We also asked for records on the 'climate survey' done earlier this year where the open Bible was specifically brought up and nothing was done."

The result was the same: The Air Force says there aren't any records of that.

Meantime, MRFF reports that as of late this morning, Maj. Lewis has not restored his Bible to the place at his work station that caused the investigation in the first place, even though, as Weinstein notes, "the Air Force says it is 'well within standards' for the Bible to be there."

We've reached out to the public information officer for Air Force Reserve Command, the unit to which the FOIA was submitted, but haven't heard back. We'll update if and when we hear something.

Weinstein says MRFF is considering a federal lawsuit over the matter.
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pentagon IG's Office takes up Bible complaint

Posted By on Sun, Aug 28, 2016 at 3:33 PM

  • Courtesy MRFF
The Department of Defense Inspector General's Office apparently will investigate how Peterson Air Force Base handled a complaint about an open Bible on a major's desk in a common area, which we reported about here and here.

After Col. Damon Feltman ruled it was OK to display the Bible as Major Steve Lewis had done, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation sent a letter to the IG's Office seeking further investigation. Mikey Weinstein alleges it's improper for the commander who allowed the Bible to be placed on the major's desk, Col. Lisa Johnson, be the one to further examine the issue in response to a complaint.

Here's the letter Weinstein wrote to the IG:

Weinstein says the IG's Office has requested additional materials be supplied by MRFF to aid in the investigation.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Locals smile on military, survey shows

Posted By on Wed, Aug 24, 2016 at 12:42 PM

Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station
The results are in and they're not surprising: Colorado Springs loves the military.

That's the upshot of a survey conducted by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments to "gauge community-military partnerships." The survey also aimed to identify areas where things are working well and issues that need improvement.

The military's five bases here — Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Fort Carson, Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station — are said to employ about 60,000 people and bring nearly $6 billion to the local economy.

The survey, taken by 700 people, according to a release from PPACG, is part of the Joint Land Use Study to examine "land-use issues related to military installations in close proximity to counties, cities, and towns."

Unfortunately, the survey closed on June 14 — before we found out that Peterson Air Force Base was contaminating groundwater supplies in the Fountain and Widefield/Security areas that might take a generation of more to clean up. And the pollution, using firefighting foam spewed during practice, has been going on for decades.

We asked PPACG about that and got a message from Rachel Beck, PPACG's policy and communications manager, who said, in part:
The reason no one mentioned the Peterson water issue is that we closed our survey June 14, and media coverage of the water quality issues didn’t happen until July. Neither the JLUS manager nor our air and water quality manager have received the report, but once we do, we will review it to determine if it is relevant to the scope of the Joint Land Use Study. I know you wrote about this issue - do you have a copy you could share?
From the news release about the study:
Several common themes emerged:
• A majority of respondents think the community and military installations are working together well.
• Noise and/or vibration, and use of airspace were the top two issues respondents identified, though 67 percent and 86 percent, respectively, did not find these to be a problem.
• Respondents said development of alternative energy on installations is a positive for the community.
• 69 percent of respondents said that when they moved into their homes, they knew a military installation was a neighbor and there could be land-use impacts.
• Results validated a number of issues JLUS staff had heard about from community groups, individual citizens, and military partners, such as stormwater runoff from new development and noise from various training activities.
• Survey respondents also identified a new issue, keeping the New Santa Fe Trail open where it crosses Air Force Academy property.
As a result of this community input, JLUS staff has formed two additional working groups. Visit the PPACG website [] to review the full survey results.

About the Joint Land Use Study
The Colorado Springs Regional Joint Land-Use Study will promote long-term land use compatibility between local military installations and surrounding communities through the promotion of comprehensive community planning, particularly in regards to specific issues identified by the installations, local government staff and officials, and the community.

The study includes:

• A detailed land use assessment for areas surrounding the installations affecting El Paso, Pueblo, Teller, and Fremont counties
• An inventory of compatibility challenges within the study area
• An assessment of regional growth trends around the installations
• Specific recommendations to promote compatible land use 

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bible approved for AFB desk

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 2:24 PM

The Bible as it appeared on Maj. Lewis's desk. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Bible as it appeared on Maj. Lewis's desk.
The investigation of a Bible placed at a work station of Air Force Maj. Steve Lewis at Peterson Air Force Base has concluded that the "good book" can stay just where he had it.

The Bible had been removed during the investigation, started on Aug. 15, and it's not known at this time if it's been returned.

At issue are complaints from service members received by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation about the location of the Bible, which sits on a desk in an area where many people work in the Reserve National Security Space Institute.

You can read our coverage of the issue here.

Today, we heard from Lt. Col. David Fruck, chief of public affairs for the 310th Space Wing, who wrote in an email:
As pledged, we have reviewed the situation there. We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred, and Maj Lewis's behavior and the workplace environment at the RNSSI are well within the provisions of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards, paragraphs 2.11 and 2.12, "Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation" and "Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause."
Fruck, when asked, says he doesn't know if the Bible has been placed at the work station again, but "the review allows him to have a Bible on his desk."

MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein called the investigation "a sham and a travesty," because Col. Lisa Johnson, the commander who approved the Bible's placement in the first place, apparently was the one in charge of the investigation. That hasn't been confirmed by the Air Force, however.
"This is a quintessential example of a disgusting conflict of interest," Weinstein says. He adds he plans to demand the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office conduct a separate investigation. "We can't find a single instance where the Air Force enforces Air Force Instruction 1-1."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Bible removed from desk at Peterson AFB

Posted By on Wed, Aug 17, 2016 at 10:14 AM

This open Bible at a Peterson Air Force Base work station has been removed pending an investigation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • This open Bible at a Peterson Air Force Base work station has been removed pending an investigation.
In the latest issue of the Independent, we report that a controversy over religion in the military has surfaced at Peterson Air Force Base where a major has displayed an open Bible at his work station. His desk is located in an an open office environment where four desks are located and where dozens of members congregate during unit training assemblies.

We received a statement from Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, that ran too long to include in our print newspaper, so we're sharing it here.

Col. Damon Feltman has authorized an investigation of the issue.

Weinstein's comment:
The 310th “Space" Wing is NOT called the 310th “Space For My Personal Proselytizing Christian Bible Shrine” Wing for a damn good reason. Major Steve Lewis has created an around-the-clock Christian Bible Shrine on his official USAF workstation desk that has been in prominent static display for YEARS. The pages in his open bible on his USAF desk never change, ever. Thus, it is obviously there as a religious display to promote to others his Christian faith. This sectarian display is a disastrous travesty which completely serves all too well as an absolute textbook violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 as well as the No Establishment Clause and No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution. MRFF is very pleased that, pursuant to MRFF’s specific demand, this bible has expeditiously been removed from Major Lewis’ desk pending the the ongoing Commander Directed Investigation which MRFF also demanded. In my nearly 12 minute call with the 310th Wing Commander, Colonel Feltman, yesterday, he promised me that he would be open and fair in all of his dealings on this matter with MRFF and its 33 clients at Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB. We will hold him to his word. So far, MRFF has been impressed with his honesty and responsiveness.
If you want to read his letter to Col. Feltman, here ya go:

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