ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A New Mexico man sued the Air Force on Thursday, claiming senior officers and cadets at the Air Force Academy (search) illegally imposed Christianity on others at the school.
The suit was filed in federal court by Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate and outspoken critic of the school's handling of religion.
Over the past decade or more, the suit claims, academy leaders have fostered an environment of religious intolerance at the Colorado (search) school, in violation of the First Amendment.
Weinstein claims that evangelical Christians (search) at the school have coerced attendance at religious services and prayers at official events, among other things.
"It's a shocking disgrace that I had to file this thing," Weinstein told The Associated Press.
The lawsuit names acting Air Force Secretary Pete Geren as a defendant, along with the Air Force.
The lawsuit asks the Air Force to prohibit its members — including chaplains — from evangelizing and proselytizing "or in any related way attempt to involuntarily convert, pressure, exhort or persuade a fellow member of the USAF to accept their own religions beliefs while on duty."
It also says the Air Force should not be permitted to establish or advance any religion over another, nor promote any religion over the choice of having no religion.
The Air Force declined immediate comment.
Weinstein, who is Jewish and lives in Albuquerque, said the Air Force has violated cadet' right to worship as they choose.
"My problem is not with Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity or even evangelical Christianity," he said. "It's that whenever a religion — in this case a group of people — tries to engage the machinery of the state, it is constitutionally repugnant and violative."
In a report last month, a team from the Yale Divinity School said it found lingering problems among chaplains at the academy, saying their activities may conflict with the goals of school leaders and the Air Force overall.
That report was based on a visit to the school in July. New Air Force guidelines, issued Aug. 29, discourage public prayer at official functions and urge commanders to be sensitive about personal expressions of religious faith.
In June, an Air Force task force said it found no overt religious discrimination but observed a lack of insensitivity among some and confusion over what is permissible in sharing one's faith.