U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Claims that cadets and staff at the U.S. Air Force Academy were pushing cadets to accept evangelical Christianity prompted an official inquiry into the allegations. Investigators concluded that the academy faced religious insensitivity, but not discrimination. These conclusions were controversial, and debate continues over religious diversity in the military.

Summary of Event

A report released by a U.S. Air Force panel on June 22, 2005, concluded that even though religious insensitivity existed at the academy, discrimination based on religion did not. The Brady Report, named for Lieutenant General Roger Brady, who chaired the panel, covered the period from April, 2003, through early June, 2005, and was based on about three hundred interviews with staff and cadets. The report, the first official recognition of religious problems at the academy, had nine findings and nine recommendations, but the recommendations were not significant and the report met with mixed reactions. [kw]Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy, U.S. (June 22, 2005) Evangelists;at Air Force Academy[Air Force Academy] Air Force Academy, U.S. Weida, John A. Weinstein, Michael L. Evangelists;at Air Force Academy[Air Force Academy] Air Force Academy, U.S. Weida, John A. Weinstein, Michael L. [g]United States;June 22, 2005: U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy[03490] [c]Military;June 22, 2005: U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy[03490] [c]Religion;June 22, 2005: U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy[03490] [c]Education;June 22, 2005: U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy[03490] [c]Social issues and reform;June 22, 2005: U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy[03490] [c]Civil rights and liberties;June 22, 2005: U.S. Air Force Investigates Religious Intolerance at Its Academy[03490] Morton, Melinda Rosa, John W. Brady, Roger Leslie, Kristen

The religious atmosphere at the academy had long caused unease among some cadets, but the situation deteriorated after Brigadier General John A. Weida was appointed commandant of cadets on April 11, 2003. Weida engaged in a number of acts that upset non-Christian cadets by mixing his personal beliefs with his official duties as commandant. In one case, he told cadets that the Lord was in control, urged cadets to discuss their Christian faith with others, and introduced a “J for Jesus” hand signal to which cadets had to reply.

In December, three hundred academy staff and cadets signed a large advertisement published in the academy’s newspaper, urging cadets to contact them to “discuss Jesus.” The head football Football;college coach, Fisher DeBerry, referred to the football team as Team Jesus Christ. In February, 2004, after the release of Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ, zealous cadets papered the academy cafeteria with flyers that indicated the film was officially sponsored by the academy, flashed images from the film during meals, hung posters in many locations, and heavily promoted the film through e-mails.

Michael L. Weinstein, a 1977 honor graduate of the academy, heard about many discriminatory incidents, including Anti-Semitism[AntiSemitism];at Air Force Academy[Air Force Academy] anti-Semitic comments, at the academy and began assembling a dossier. Weinstein, who also is an attorney, a former assistant general counsel in the executive office of U.S. president Ronald Reagan, sent the dossier directly to Lieutenant General John W. Rosa, Jr., who had been appointed superintendent of the academy in July, 2003.

On Thursday, July 29, Weinstein, who is also Jewish and the father of two cadets then at the academy, drove from his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend the academy’s leadership conference, a special event to update graduates on the academy’s accomplishments. At the conference he heard about more uncomfortable incidents, including proselytizing attempts, and about anti-Semitic incidents that included comments about Jews being accused of killing Jesus. He then met Rosa and received a lukewarm response to his concerns. He soon realized that Rosa likely did not receive the dossier.

In late December, an academy Protestant chaplain, Captain Melinda Morton, also alarmed over the fervent emphasis on proselytizing, invited Yale University professor Kristen Leslie to the academy to lead a team evaluating the academy’s pastoral-care efforts. The team found, in part, that cadets were being told that faith in Jesus would get them through academy training and that cadets who chose not to attend church services were humiliated as heathens. The team was especially alarmed at the proselytizing of young cadets during vulnerable, severely stressful times, and criticized as divisive the academy’s “overarching evangelical emphasis.”

In late July, 2004, the team’s report, called the Yale Report, was delivered to the academy. The academy responded by establishing the RSVP (Respecting the Spiritual Values of All People) project, with the goal of promoting religious diversity at the academy. However, RSVP was strongly opposed by evangelicals among the staff, and the project made little progress.

In September, Weinstein and Steve Aguilar released The Religious Climate at the United States Air Force Academy, which documented practices that were in clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. Weinstein concluded that there was a major power struggle within the academy between fundamentalist evangelicals and other religious persons. He saw no internal resolution in sight, and decided to go public with his concerns.

On November 18, Pam Zubeck, chief military-affairs reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette, published her first story on the controversy. Her series was picked up by national media. After months of little action, things began to move rapidly. In March, 2005, Weinstein first heard about Chaplain Morton’s efforts and about the Yale Report, which had been kept secret. Zubeck found the report, wrote about it, and found herself on television, being interviewed on 60 Minutes II[sixty minutes 02] 60 Minutes II and CNN. Other major national media began to cover the unfolding scandal. In the meantime, on April 28, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AUSCS) released a report alleging systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels at the academy.

A few days after the release of the AUSCS report, the Air Force announced the formation of an investigative task force. The panel was led by Lieutenant General Brady, a born-again Christian. On June 3, Superintendent Rosa publicly acknowledged there were problems with religious diversity at the academy and said that they were so embedded that it would take years to correct. The Brady Report was released on June 22. Weida and DeBerry apologized for their actions and the Air Force chief of staff warned commanders against promoting their personal religious beliefs. The New York Times, New York Times;and U.S. Air Force Academy[U.S. Air Force Academy] in an editorial, criticized the report, arguing that its weak conclusions strained credibility.

Impact

The House Armed Services Committee looked into the Brady Report’s findings and held a hearing on June 28, but the hearing degenerated into political debate. On July 12, the Air Force deputy chief of chaplains, Major General Cecil Richardson, said that chaplains would not proselytize but that a private chaplains’-association document gave them the right to evangelize the unchurched, ostensibly Jews and other non-Christians. On October 6, Weinstein filed a legal complaint for violations of constitutional rights against the Air Force. The Air Force withdrew the chaplains’ document, but neither Weinstein nor the evangelicals were satisfied.

In early 2006, Weinstein took action and founded the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The foundation has received thousands of complaints of religious discrimination from military personnel, and in September, 2007, broadening its scope, Weinstein filed a lawsuit against the secretary of defense for discrimination against non-Christians in the U.S. military. Evangelists;at Air Force Academy[Air Force Academy] Air Force Academy, U.S. Weida, John A. Weinstein, Michael L.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loveland, Anne C. American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military, 1942-1993. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1996. Examines the changing demographics of the military and traces the history, strategies, and goals of American evangelicalism’s tremendous success in increasing its influence on the military since World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">United States Congress. House of Representatives. The Religious Climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy: Hearing Before the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2005. Report of the June 28, 2005, congressional hearing investigating the Air Force Academy scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Weinstein, Michael L., and Davin Seay. With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008. The story of Weinstein’s battle with evangelical fundamentalists at the Air Force Academy and his work to keep the military secular and free of religious indoctrination and intimidation. Originally published in 2006.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Welch, Bobby. You the Warrior Leader: Applying Military Strategy for Victorious Spiritual Warfare. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman, 2004. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention argues in favor of the concept of evangelical militarism as the basis of U.S. military policy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Winn, Patrick. “Religion at Issue.” Air Force Times, August 5, 2008. A brief but telling report on the state of religion and religious practice at the Air Force Academy in the wake of the scandal and Weinstein’s work in changing the academy’s policies.

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