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Religious Intolerance in the Military?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 4, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The Pentagon is now investigating charges of religious intolerance in the military; 55 complaints have been filed against the Air Force Academy (search) in Colorado Springs, some cadets saying the academy favors Christianity and that they are being forced to pray.

But is this really part of a bigger, different problem: an intolerance for Christianity?

I'm joined now by Richard Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center.

Today's big question: Are secularists trying to silence people of faith?

RICHARD THOMPSON, PRESIDENT, THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER: Well, absolutely.

First of all, the organization that has been most vocal in this area, Americans United For Separation of Church and State (search), they're basically an anti-Christian organization. And they're looking at a complaint ratio of 55 complaints over four years, where there have been 36,000 cadets and military people going through that academy, where you have a percentage of .0015. And so, this is really a tempest in a teapot. And what they're trying to do is trumpet their agenda to detract from the Christians that are there.

GIBSON: OK. But, Mr. Thompson, what about just the facts? We'll go from the macro to the micro. Are 55 people saying that they were forced to engage in Christian prayer when they are of another religion?

THOMPSON: No. That's the other issue.

There are some vague allegations made that there is a culture there of Christianity. Of course, 90 percent of the cadets there are Christians. And cadets who are Christians talk and try to evangelize. But that is cadet-upon-cadet speech. That is not a command structure that is involved in there. You have really great regulations that the military has on religious freedom and religious tolerance.

And so, what you have here is not a legal issue. It's more of a leadership issue, if there are some specific incidents where there has been intolerance shown.

GIBSON: But, Mr. Thompson, I know you're in this business, so you would be hypervigilant about this. And we all know how this cadet structure is. The seniors have enormous power over lower cadets.

Do we have a situation where senior cadets who are Christians are saying, "I don't care if you're a Zoroastrian; I don't care if you're a Wiccan; I don't care if you're a Muslim; I don't care if you're Jewish; Say these prayers"?

THOMPSON: No. That is not true.

First of all, we are not talking about students in kindergarten or high school students. We're talking about military personnel. They certainly don't have to say a prayer even if there is a prayer, let's say, before meals. They can stand quietly. They don't have to engage in prayer at all. I think it's really, again, a red herring that is really being drawn into the public arena because of the agenda of Americans United For Separation of Church and State.

GIBSON: All right. Now, what is it that Barry Lynn (search) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State want? Do they want Christians to be absolutely silent about their faith?

THOMPSON: Absolutely. That's their agenda. And they use the pretext of intolerance as a way of getting the Air Force Academy going in there, having sensitivity sessions on religious tolerance, when they should be studying military subjects. After all, the military is a separate community from the civilian community. And their rules are different than the Constitution in many cases. And the courts have recognized that. The courts have given great deference to the military to run their own command because their goal is military protection of our society.

We shouldn't be wasting time of our cadets in going through sensitivity sessions when they should be taking military subjects to defend our nation.

GIBSON: Mr. Thompson, Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, good to talk to you. Thanks a lot.

THOMPSON: Nice talking to you.

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