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TBC Staff

Report of Americans United for Separation of Church and State on Religious Coercion and Endorsement of Religion at the United States Air Force Academy

[Excerpts:] Americans United for Separation of Church and State has received numerous complaints from a variety of sources, representing diverse religious backgrounds, about extremely troubling religious policies and practices at the United States Air Force Academy. We have investigated those complaints and come to the conclusion that the policies and practices constitute egregious, systemic, and legally actionable violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

We have been informed, for example, that, during a Basic Cadet Training session attended by a team of observers from the Yale Divinity School, one of the Academy chaplains -- Major Warren "Chappy" Watties -- led a Protestant worship service in which he encouraged the attending cadets to return to their tents and proselytize cadets who had not attended the service, with the declared penalty for failure to accept this proselytization being to "burn in the fires of hell."

More generally, the Yale Divinity School team reported, and our complainants have confirmed, that Academy chaplains regularly encourage cadets to "witness" [to] other cadets -- i.e., attempt to convert them to evangelical Christianity. We have also been informed that, when cadets declined to attend chapel after dinner during Basic Cadet Training, they were made to suffer humiliation by being placed by upperclass cadet staff into a "Heathen Flight" and marched back to their dormitories. Similarly, we have learned that, at a football practice just before an Easter Sunday, head-football-coach Fisher DeBerry informed the cadets on the team that he expected to see them in church for Easter services. All of these incidents - which are, we have been assured, merely a representative sampling of routine occurrences at the Academy -- constitute forms of unlawful religious coercion or pressure by members of the Academy's Permanent Party and the Cadet Wing (This report was prepared by the Legal Department of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Washington DC, 4/28/05).

[TBC: By forcing unbelievers into Christian activities, Christians may damage the cause of Christ and in the end only gain an outward conformity without a true change from within (John:3:3). Chaplains have every right to encourage Christian students to witness to other students and since witnessing is a part of Christian belief, forbidding its practice is contrary to the Consititution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Nevertheless, the Chaplains need to trust the Holy Spirit rather than relying on the arm of flesh.]