Air Force Academy Sanctions 'Ask an Atheist' Days

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The atheist group behind "Ask an Atheist" days at the Air Force Academy is not violating any rules and will be allowed to maintain display tables and offer information to whoever wants it, academy officials announced Wednesday.

The group sponsoring "Ask an Atheist" is the Freethinkers Club, an authorized cadet club; the event is the club's annual information fair.

Academy officials said service policies do not limit events such as the one held by the Freethinkers Club because the Air Force does not limit the substance of voluntary discussions or the exercise of free expression.

The school's announcement came after seven academy cadets, faculty, and staff members contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to complain about the Freethinkers Club "Ask an Atheist" days. Mikey Weinstein, founder of the MRFF, said the seven -- six of whom are practicing Christians -- said the complaint is valid.

"Replace 'Ask an Atheist' with 'Ask a Christian,' 'Ask a Jew," or "Ask a Muslim' and the problem is obvious," Weinstein said on Wednesday. 

Weinstein said the academy's decision on the Freethinkers Club will open the door for groups to include religious organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ, The Navigators, and others.

"It's unbelievable they're going to let them do it," he said.

The academy has about 90 cadet clubs focusing on a wide range of interests, including sports. Cadets participate on a voluntary basis, officials say, and the clubs operate under a common set of guidelines.

"The academy allows all cadet groups to host information fairs regardless of espoused religious beliefs or no beliefs at all," the press release stated.

The statement also said that eBooks Publishers and the Christian Faculty Fellowship will also be holding their information fairs down the hall from the Freethinkers. In addition, the Cadet Interfaith Council hosts an Islamic Cultural Night.

The flap over the Freethinkers information fair comes as the Air Force Academy is already in the middle of another controversy dealing with religion on the campus.

One cadet's decision to write a Bible verse on a whiteboard outside his room on campus led to a complaint that ended with the verse being erased. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said the issue was a "gray area" and that both parties believed Air Force policy was violated.

A female cadet's attempt to show the verse was improper by writing "there is no evidence that God ever existed" on the whiteboard outside her room led to two senior cadets forcibly holding her back while they wiped the board clean.

Weinstein said the MRFF has a complaint from the parents of the female cadet and is investigating the claims.

Academy spokesman Meade Warthen said the school has not received any such complaint.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com.

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