Air Force Cadet Sends Religious E-Mail

On the eve of his graduation, the top cadet at the Air Force Academy (search) sent out a religious-themed e-mail to thousands of fellow cadets, even as the school is grappling with complaints that some evangelical Christians are harassing others at the school.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the e-mail sent Tuesday by Wing Commander Nicholas Jurewicz to the freshmen, sophomore and junior classes, which is about 3,000 cadets. "Wing commander" is the title held by the top senior at the school in military ranking.

Jurewicz lists his favorite quotations in the message, including several about Jesus. One quotation, "Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ," is a biblical verse.

The academy has been under investigation because of complaints that evangelical Christians have harassed cadets who do not share their faith, in violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Cadets have been required to attend religious tolerance seminars, during which they have been reminded that Air Force policy bans the use of official e-mails for personal messages.

"We will look into it and if he violated any Air Force or academy policy we will take appropriate action after we've reviewed it," academy spokesman Johnny Whitaker said.

Reached by telephone, Jurewicz declined to comment. He told The Gazette newspaper of Colorado Springs that he "didn't think" to delete any of the religious messages from the e-mail.

Asked for comment about the academy's religious sensitivity training and a prohibition against citing scripture in government e-mail, he said told the paper: "I'll leave that to the senior leadership to explain."

The academy's graduation ceremony is set for Wednesday; Vice President Cheney was scheduled to speak.

Capt. Melinda Morton, a chaplain who claims to have been fired as executive officer of the chaplaincy corps because of her criticism of the power of evangelicals at the academy, said the e-mail was exactly what the religious tolerance classes were meant to stop.

"It doesn't matter if it is Amway or preaching Jesus," Morton said. "It should only be official material if it is for general distribution." She added that the message "would have been fine if he had just sent it to his five best friends."

Mikey Weinstein (search), a 1977 academy graduate who has sent two sons there, said he wanted Congress to step in and address the atmosphere at the school.

"There couldn't be a more wretchedly timed example of the total and dismal failure of the senior leaders of the academy than having the No. 1 cadet breach the most fundamental and elementary rules of the religious tolerance program," said Weinstein, who is Jewish.

The results of an investigation by an Air Force task force charged with looking into the allegations of religious intolerance will be released later this month. Meanwhile, the Defense Department's inspector general is investigating Morton's claim about losing her job because of her complaints.