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Incident at Air Force Academy sparks debate about religious freedom

By Emily Allen, Multimedia Journalist /Target 13 Investigator , emily.allen@krdo.com
Published On: Mar 13 2014 11:57:46 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 13 2014 11:58:20 PM CDT

Congressman Doug Lamborn accused the Air Force Academy of infringing on the religious freedom of a cadet.

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -

Congressman Doug Lamborn accused the Air Force Academy of infringing on the religious freedom of a cadet Thursday.

On Monday, a cadet removed a Bible verse written outside his dorm room. The Air Force Academy said the cadet decided to take it down after a discussion about religion and leadership.

Lamborn said the cadet should not have felt pressure directly or indirectly to take down the biblical verses.

"These cadets are going to be in some cases putting their lives on the line protecting the country and the Constitution and that very same Constitution gives them freedom of religion and freedom of speech. This shouldn't even be an issue," said Lamborn by phone from Washington, D.C.

He is outraged by the academy's handling of the situation. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation also thinks the situation was mishandled, but for different reasons.

The foundation's leader, Mikey Weinstein, thinks the cadet should be court-martialed for posting the scripture.

Weinstein said there is a time and a place for people to practice their faith. However, he said the cadet was in a position of leadership so his actions violate a Air Force regulation adopted in August 2012.

"It makes it very clear that people in leadership positions in the Air Force cannot be involved in improperly -- either apparently or actually -- using their position of leadership to promote their personal religious faith," said Weinstein.

He said the cadet's move was unconstitutional. He said the cadet should be punished to set an example because he said incidents that encroach on others' religious freedom happens often at the academy.

"(The Air Force Academy is) really a stemming cauldron of fundamentalist Christian oppression and tyranny," said Weinstein.

The academy's superintendent said in a statement that this was a teachable moment and the situation was handled appropriately. See below for the superintendent's full statement.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 requested an interview with the cadet who posted the scripture on his whiteboard. The request was denied.

Below is the full statement from Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, superintendent of the Air Force Academy:

"I'm pleased with the way our cadets raised and discussed a recent concern in an atmosphere of respect and communication, and wanted to share it with you.

A religious scripture was displayed outside a dormitory room belonging to a cadet who held a leadership position in the squadron. Another cadet prompted a discussion of appropriateness, according to policies that leaders will avoid actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to subordinates. The scripture was below the cadet's name on a white board and could cause subordinates to doubt the leader's religious impartiality. With the mentorship of the active duty commanding officer as part of the discussion, the cadet squadron commander raised this potential perception and the cadet voluntarily elected to erase the scripture.

The Air Force's Academy is a training institution, teaching cadets how to appropriately raise concerns, understand perceptions and balance personal freedom with effective leadership. Cadets will continue navigate through questions like this, where judgment is an important aspect of leadership on active duty. This is the ideal environment to explore those leadership issues with open and transparent conversations. I'm proud to see the cadets having subsequent conversations about how to enjoy religious freedoms regarded to all cadets while practicing caring leadership that inspires all subordinates."

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