Religious Debate Intensifies on Academy Whiteboard
An Air Force Academy cadet claims she was verbally and physically accosted by senior cadets for writing "there is no evidence that God ever existed" on her dorm whiteboard in response to a fellow cadet posting a Bible verse.
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the cadet wrote the statement to point out that posting personal beliefs in a hallway of a squadron area is wrong.
But, according to the cadet's parents who wrote Weinstein a letter, almost immediately upon writing the statement she was "shouted down" by two male cadets who were senior to her in rank. They called her "anti-faith" and said she was insulting "all people of faith."
When she tried to stop them from wiping off the whiteboard they pushed her and forcibly held her back, the letter states. Weinstein would not name the cadet and, as the MRFF keeps its clients' identifies confidential.
The parents of the cadet told Weinstein that the family is Christian, and she was only trying to make a point. In the original incident, a cadet penned a Bible verse that read, in part, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."In their letter, they said the senior male cadets defended the original whiteboard inscription that spurred their daughter to act. After a cadet complained about the public posting, academy officials got involved, talked to both cadets and the quotation was erased.
"What happened here sparked a debate between competing beliefs," Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said in a statement afterwards. "One side's perspective of this decision is that [it] elevated one religious faith over all others, and that posting scriptures from any religion on cadets' whiteboards creates a hostile environment."
The "competing viewpoint," she said, "states that there is censorship, suppression of religion and/or a violation of cadets' constitutional rights."
Last week, the matter drew the Congress' attention when lawmakers spent time asking the Air Force's top leadership why the Air Force Academy cadet was required to remove the Bible verse.
Johnson said the incident of the whiteboard gets into a gray area. In her statement she said both sides believe that Air Force policy was violated.
"Sometimes we must put the good of the entire unit before the good of any single individual," she said.
However, Weinstein disputes the conclusion that this would fall into a "gray area." The religious posting was in a common area, he said. If it was in the cadet's room, no problem at all. He said Johnson's response is poor leadership.
"If you try to be everybody's superintendent you can't be anybody's superintendent," he said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the MRFF has been asked to take up the cause of religious cadets and faculty at the academy against an atheist cadet, Weinstein said on Wednesday.
"We have seven new clients at the academy ... and they're all outraged at something atheists are doing," MRRF founder Mikey Weinstein said on Wednesday. "And you know what? They're right."
Weinstein said an atheist cadet announced at the academy's chow hall on Wednesday, while everyone was at attention, that Wednesday and Thursday would be "Ask an Atheist" days." Weinstein said a group of the cadets set up a display on the third floor of Fairchild Hall, which includes classrooms, lab and research facilities and faculty offices.
"Replace 'Ask an Atheist' with 'Ask a Christian,' 'Ask a Jew," or "Ask a Muslim,'" said Weinstein, and the problem is obvious. "This is unlawful."
Atheists have no more right to promote their beliefs in official settings than religious people, he said.
Weinstein said his group was contacted by seven people at the academy, including four cadets, two faculty members and a staff member. Six members of the group are practicing Christians, he said.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reach at email@example.com
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