Panel: Air Force Academy Fails on Faith

A Pentagon investigation into complaints that evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy (search) have bullied Jews and cadets of other faiths found no overt discrimination, but "certainly insensitivity," military officials said Wednesday.

"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 (search), Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel.

• Click here to view the report. (pdf)

The investigators' report 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 (search), said she had resigned her commission after 13 years in uniform. She has said that she was fired from her chaplaincy at the school and that a transfer to Japan was hastened for speaking out about the academy's religious climate.

School officials said her transfer was routine.

Air Force investigators spent several days at the 4,300-student school near Colorado Springs earlier this year, looking into complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive. About 85 percent of the academy's students identify themselves as Christian.

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."

Brady said some problems were related to the maturity level of cadets ages 18 to 22. "Most of them know how to behave," he said. "Some of them need a little work."

The report did not give details but said that there were religious slurs and disparaging remarks between cadets, and that faculty and staff with strong religious beliefs made statements that some cadets found offensive. It said the situation has improved.

"We've got a long way to go," said the academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa Jr. "I believe today's report substantiates that we're heading in the right direction."

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., contended the report tried to "explain away" problems with religious intolerance at the school.

"It is not a whitewash, but it does resemble a milquetoast," Israel said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "There needs to be leadership at the Air Force Academy."

An attachment to the 100-page report said the school's No. 2 officer, Brig. Gen. John Weida, a born-again Christian accused of pressuring students, was cleared of wrongdoing on all but one allegation. The report did not detail the matter, saying only it was under review.

The Air Force recently announced Weida's pending promotion to major general, a move the Anti-Defamation League said should be delayed because of the conduct complaints.

The controversy arose as the school was trying to emerge from a 2003 rape scandal in which dozens of women said their complaints were ignored. The Air Force ousted several top commanders and overhauled a number of policies related to assault allegations.