Air Force Academy Addresses “Challenges to Pluralism” (2005)

Since July 2004, the United States Air Force Academy has been under various forms of investigation – ranging from internal surveys to the involvement of Pentagon officials – for charges of religious discrimination. From these investigations, it is alleged that a “stridently evangelical” agenda may extend back to 1993 and is best described by one analysis as a “systemic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy command structure” which challenge both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The Pluralism Project has been following the news on this case, offering summaries in our online database. Please visit Air Force and Religious Diversity in Religious Diversity News.

Allegations of religious discrimination and bias at the Academy first surfaced during the summer of 2004 when a team from Yale Divinity School, submitted its findings in a memo after a week-long observation of Academy chaplains. The memo addressed “challenges to pluralism” which included proselytization by academy officials and specifically Christian references to God and prayer which “encouraged religious divisions rather than fostering spiritual understanding.” The memo further expressed concern “that such stridently Evangelical themes challenged the necessarily pluralistic environment of [Basic Cadet Training].” Kristen Leslie, leader of the Yale team, has become a prominent figure in the debate.

On April 29, 2005, another prominent figure, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, sent a 14-page report to Donald Rumsfeld and other Air Force officials. This report expounded upon the claims made in the Yale memo and included allegations of anti-Semitism, the promotion of prayer, and proselytization of underclass cadets by senior cadets, faculty, and staff. At the Academy, it further claimed, was a “systemic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy command structure.” In addition, it alleged that Christians (particularly Evangelicals) were given preferential treatment in regards to being able to attend off-campus religious events.

Responding to the claims of the Yale memo, the AU report, and media attention, the Pentagon released an 80 page report on June 23, 2005 outlining a task force’s findings concerning the religious environment at the Air Force Academy. The report included nine recommendations which acting Sec. Dominguez accepted. Nevertheless, the report denied claims of pervasive intolerance while showcasing the responsive efforts of Academy officials. No disciplinary measures were recommended.

—Brian McGrath Davis, Pluralism Project Affiliate

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