Air Force Academy Finds No Wrongdoing in Coach's Bible Tweets

Falcons football fans watch Air Force take on the Georgia State Panthers Sept. 10, 2016 at Falcon Stadium. The Falcons beat the Panthers, 48-14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)
Falcons football fans watch Air Force take on the Georgia State Panthers Sept. 10, 2016 at Falcon Stadium. The Falcons beat the Panthers, 48-14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

The U.S. Air Force Academy said one of its football coaches did not violate school or Air Force policy when he posted Bible verses on his personal Twitter account.

Days later, the account and others were removed from the school's athletic website.

Steed Lobotzke, in his second season as the Falcons' tight-end coach, this month came under fire from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that advocates for religious freedom in the services, for writing a series of tweets championing Christian beliefs.

"Upon looking into this matter, we learned that all athletic coaches' social media accounts are personal and not maintained by the Air Force Academy Athletic Department," academy spokesman Meade Warthen told Military.com in a statement on Friday.

"The views and comments within these accounts are personal and not the views of the Air Force Academy or Air Force," Warthen added. "However, we appreciate that the accounts could appear official and have advised that an appropriate disclaimer be included to avoid confusion in this regard."

Yet late Monday, the academy appeared to try to distance itself from the controversy by removing a webpage from its athletics department linking to the social media accounts of Lobotzke and other coaches, staff and sports media personnel.

In an email on Tuesday, Warthen said the academy stands by its previous statement even though it "removed the personal twitter accounts because they are not official accounts of the Academy's Athletic Department."

Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the foundation, welcomed the move. He said it came a couple hours after he wrote a letter to the academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, requesting that the school either remove the link to Lobotzke's twitter account or add a disclaimer to the site.

"The Academy opted for a third solution, they deleted the entire "Social Media" page from their official athletics website!" Weinstein said in an email.

Weinstein said his organization was representing three academy football players and five members of the school's athletic department in the matter involving Lobotzke.

Lobotzke, a 1992 graduate of the Air Force Academy, still uses his personal Twitter account, whose handle is @CoachLobotzke. In his profile, he describes himself as a "Follower of Christ, family man, and football coach. Tweets are my own views."

It wasn't clear whether the disclaimer was added after Weinstein's group highlighted his religious-themed posts. According to Weinstein, Lobotzke on several occasions wrote tweets referencing the book of Romans in the New Testament.

They included one from Nov. 19 stating, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in your heart that God has raised him the dead, you will be saved Rom 10:9," and another from Nov. 14 stating, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23."

Weinstein said "evangelical proselytizing Bible verses" are a "blatant defiance" of Air Force regulations.

Donald Rehkopf, an attorney with Brenna Boyce Pllc, which represents the foundation, told Military.com on Monday that the Defense Department Inspector General's Office had assigned a special investigator to look further into the issue, though he couldn't say whether a formal investigation was opened.

A spokesperson for the office was unable to be reached for comment.

Warthen on Friday said the academy is committed to protecting individuals' right "to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law, or impede mission accomplishment, military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline."

Editor's note: This story was updated to include details about the academy removing the website and other information beginning in the second paragraph.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@Oriana0214.

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