House says Congress should fix Academy’s religious intolerance
WASHINGTON ” Air Force investigators merely scratched the surface in their report about alleged religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy, two lawmakers said in calling for stricter congressional oversight of the military school.
Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Lois Capps, D-Calif., said the problems are deeper than investigators indicate. They urged the Air Force to tighten compliance with federal anti-discrimination laws, and said Congress should use its authority to make sure that happens.
“Congressional oversight is necessary to ensure the appropriate changes are made at the academy,” Capps said. “We must continue to hold the Air Force’s feet to the fire.”
Capps and Israel have pushed for investigations into accusations of religious intolerance at the academy and called on Congress to calm religious tensions at the 4,300-student school near Colorado Springs, Colo.
A Pentagon investigation into complaints that evangelical Christians at the academy have bullied Jews and cadets of other faiths found no overt discrimination, but cited a degree of “insensitivity.”
“There is a lack of awareness on the part of some faculty and staff, and perhaps some senior cadets, as to what constitutes appropriate expressions of faith,” said Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel.
But at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday, Israel and Capps said the report backed up their belief that the climate at the academy and in the military needs to be fixed. They said investigators offered excuses for cadets, faculty and staff instead of acknowledging there is a “pervasive and coercive religious environment.”
“It is not a whitewash, but it does resemble a milquetoast,” Israel said.
Other members of Congress praised the academy and the Air Force for taking steps to fix the problems.
“I believe we should focus on the fact that the Air Force investigation found that the academy leadership is aggressively dealing with this issue and that a significant majority of individuals contacted expressed an opinion that the overall climate at the academy has improved over the past two years,” said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., a member of the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors.
The investigators said academy leaders and the Air Force should clarify policies on religious expression so religious minorities do not feel discriminated against or pressured.
Seven incidents were referred up the chain of command for possible investigation, but Brady did not provide details. He said “there’s certainly insensitivity” at the academy.
The investigators’ report came on the same day that a chaplain who spoke out against religious intolerance at the academy, Capt. MeLinda Morton, said she had resigned her commission after 13 years in uniform. She has said she was fired from her chaplaincy at the school and a transfer to Japan was hastened because she spoke out about the academy’s religious climate.
School officials said her transfer was routine.
Air Force investigators spent several days at the school earlier this year, looking into complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.
There have been complaints at the academy that a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and that another Jew was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet. A banner in the football team’s locker room read: “I am a Christian first and last … I am a member of Team Jesus Christ.”
Also, there have been complaints that cadets were pressured to attend chapel, that academy staffers put New Testament verses in government e-mail, and that cadets used the e-mail system to encourage others to see the Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ.”
Capps and Israel said the report conflicts with comments that school superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa made to reporters earlier this month. At the time, Rosa said: “I know I have problems in my cadet wing. I have issues in my staff, and I have issues in my faculty ” and that’s my entire organization.”
Capps said the report made her concerned about how the Air Force would proceed. “How vigorously will the Air Force pursue this?” she said. “The Air Force needs to change its mindset, change its culture and enforce its regulations.”
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