Air Force Academy cites progress in tackling religious intolerance

November 2, 2010

WASHINGTON (RNS) A recent survey on the religious climate of the
U.S. Air Force Academy showed that 41 percent of non-Christian cadets
face unwanted proselytizing at least once during a year-long period.


The Cadet and Permanent Party Climate Assessment Survey, which was
released Friday (Oct. 29), analyzed religious, racial and gender
relations within the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The survey
detected an increasing trend in religious freedom since 1998, but points
out persistent problems with proselytizing and religious tolerance.


"I'm encouraged by the mostly positive trends we saw from the
survey, but I also know we've got some work to do in regards to the
basics of respect and dignity towards each other," said Lt. Gen. Mike
Gould, academy superintendent, in a statement.


From 2007 to 2009, the portion of non-Christian cadets who believed
there was a low tolerance for non-religious people at the academy
increased from 30 percent to 50 percent, the survey found, which was
down from approximately 75 percent in 1998.


Although the nine-year trend was positive, additional training on
the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion was instituted
in the 2010 basic combat training manual to address lingering issues of
intolerance.


While the academy has made steps to address problems of religious
intolerance, some believe the issues are being downplayed.


Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force veteran who launched the Military
Religious Freedom Foundation, said Gould is trying to "spin" the
religious oppression as trivial. Weinstein, a longtime critic of the
academy, was denied access to the official release of the survey.


"It is, of course, obvious why Gould barred MRFF," Weinstein said in
a statement. "He cravenly wanted to silence all opposition and dissent
to his farcical briefing."


The findings were based on the answers of 2,170 cadets (a response
rate of 47 percent). Of the respondents, 1,337 were Christian, 128 were
non-Christian and 252 stated no religious preference.