Air Force Cadets Allege Religious Discrimination

April 20 2005, 6:50 AM

The Air Force Academy can't catch a break. First it was the sexual assault scandals. Now, it faces allegations of religious persecution.

Less than two years after it was plunged into a rape scandal, the Air Force Academy is scrambling to address complaints that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the school that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive. There have been 55 complaints of religious discrimination at the academy in the past four years, including cases in which a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and another was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.

The Academy now offers a mandatory class on religious tolerance. The Academy's chief chaplin proclaims the matter is "resolved." But the problem seems more systemic than a single class can cure:

More than 90 percent of the cadets identify themselves as Christian. A cadet survey in 2003 found that half had heard religious slurs and jokes, and that many non-Christians believed Christians get special treatment.

Has the Academy's endorsement of Christianity contributed to the problem? How about the close proximity of James Dobson and Focus on the Family?

Critics of the academy say the sometimes-public endorsement of Christianity by high-ranking staff has contributed to a climate of fear and violates the constitutional separation of church and state at a taxpayer-supported school whose mission is to produce Air Force leaders.....Two of the nation's most influential evangelical Christian groups, Focus on the Family and New Life Church, are headquartered in nearby Colorado Springs.

Here's an interesting statistic:

The corps of cadets also includes 44 Jews, 19 Buddhists and a few Muslims, Hindus and others. There are 15 chaplains and one rabbi.