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Religious intolerance on campus

A Times Editorial
Published July 17, 2005

When the coach of the Air Force Academy's football team hangs a banner in the locker room that reads "Team Jesus" and faculty members proselytize their evangelical faith from the lectern, the problem at the school isn't a "perception" of religious bias, as a military task force concluded. It is overt religious bias. The academy has allowed a climate of religious intolerance to flourish on its campus - a situation that needs to be rectified as quickly as possible. But the equivocal conclusions of the task force don't come close to acknowledging the severity of the problem.

The academy is situated in Colorado Springs, home to some of the largest and most active evangelical organizations in the country. The former chaplain and whistle-blower, Cpt. MeLinda Morton, who recently resigned rather than be relocated to Japan, said there is significant cross-pollination between the area groups and the academy. Some of these groups, such as the Officers' Christian Fellowship, preach that it is the duty of military officers to minister to those under their command in order to "raise up a godly military." Her complaints of force-fed evangelicalism were confirmed in an earlier investigation by the Yale Divinity School, which found an environment in which cadets who didn't adopt certain Christian beliefs were the targets of slurs, taunts and pressure.

But the 16-member review team that issued its report last month didn't see this as intolerance. It found only that a handful of discrete incidences by academy officials, faculty, chaplains and coaches, were well-intentioned but misguided. Demonstrating just how little understanding the group had, a letter summarizing its findings by Lt. Gen. Roger Brady stressed that character development and religious beliefs are inseparable for "many individuals" and that the academy would continue to foster this symbiosis.

Even the academy's superintendent had a better grasp on the problem than Brady's group. Earlier this month, Lt. Gen. John Rosa acknowledged in meeting of the Anti-Defamation League's executive committee that religious intolerance permeated his entire organization. Rosa suggested it will probably take six years to fix the problem.

It shouldn't take anywhere near six years to return the academy to its proper character as a secular institution. Cadets of different faiths are certainly free to exercise their religion, and chaplains and services should be provided for that purpose. But the academy and its staff should not be encouraging or promoting denominational activities. If Rosa can't see that, someone else who can should be appointed to his job.

[Last modified July 15, 2005, 23:19:02]

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