Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials to move quickly to stop acts of religious bias at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Recent news accounts have chronicled allegations that Academy staff have promoted evangelical Christianity and that cadets of other faiths have been the victims of religious bias.
Attorneys with Americans United have been investigating the complaints and today released a detailed report backing up the assertions (PDF). A copy of the report was sent to Rumsfeld and other military officials.
"The right to worship or not worship as the individual sees fit is a cornerstone of American life," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "All branches of our military must respect, not denigrate, this vital principle."
In a cover letter to Rumsfeld, Lynn wrote, "A soldier's religious beliefs or lack thereof should be irrelevant to his or her ability and willingness to defend the country. The situation at the Air Force Academy sends exactly the opposite message. The close relationship between the Academy and evangelical Christianity sends a message of exclusion to those of other faiths. It may very well dissuade some from considering the military as a career."
The Lynn letter urged Rumsfeld "to take the steps to correct these problems and ensure that the Academy is open to cadets of all religious faiths and those with none."
Incidents detailed in the report include:
Complaints that an Academy chaplain exhorted cadets to witness to non-Christians cadets and bring them to evangelical services.
Allegations that Academy instructors proselytized in classrooms; in one instance, an instructor ordered cadets to pray before taking a test.
Assertions that senior cadets harassed non-Christian junior cadets over their religious beliefs.
Complaints that evangelical cadets are routinely given passes to attend religious meetings off campus but that cadets wishing to attend meetings of non-believers were denied the same right.
Americans United asserts that these incidents and others, as detailed in the report, have created an atmosphere that is hostile toward cadets who do not share an evangelical Christian faith. The group has urged Rumsfeld and other military officials to act promptly to correct the problems.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.