UPDATE: An academy athletic department has found that the Air Force Academy football players do have the constitutional right to pray!
“It’s a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism, and it has to stop.”
Strong words. What event would you guess provoked such a strong response?
If you guessed a Westboro Baptist Church demonstration, you’d be wrong. Actually, this was Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the ironically named Military Religious Freedom Foundation, responding to this:
"This end zone praying is just another territorial conquest of the religious Christian right," said Weinstein. "This stands in a long line of conservative Christian acts like this."
The prayer is initiated by Air Force Academy football players and is completely voluntary, but Weinstein spoke out on what he views is a violation of the “separation of church and state” and cites U.S Supreme Court case Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe as evidence that student-led, student-initiated prayer is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
But ADF attorney Daniel Briggs explains: "That case involved prayer before the football game over the loudspeaker. This is a completely different situation – totally voluntary and student-led."
As Briggs explained in a letter to the Air Force Academy:
“Military members do not forfeit their constitutional freedoms by virtue of their service to our country. Even at the Academy, cadets still enjoy the right to free speech and the free exercise of religion . . . Cadet-led prayer does not violate any purported ‘separation of church and state.’ Courts have long recognized that this term is a misrepresented and tiresome platitude found nowhere within the Constitution. The First Amendment does not demand that all things religious be purged from the military.”
The Air Force has opened an investigation into the matter, with the goal of “maintaining an environment in which people can realize their highest potential, regardless of personal religious or other beliefs.”
Weinstein expects nothing to come of the investigation and says he plans to pursue legal action if needed. But just stopping the prayers isn’t enough: "Those that are allowing it to happen need to be visibly and aggressively punished," he said.
ADF recognizes that the Air Force Academy is a diverse organization that strives to value pluralism and promote tolerance. It’s our hope that they continue to keep that atmosphere by allowing all cadets to exercise their First Amendment freedoms.