The leader of a church-state separatist group says that there’s a “revolt” underway at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., after officials there removed a Bible verse from a white board outside a cadet’s bedroom door following complaints that its presence was offensive.
Cadets angry over the Air Force Academy’s removal of the verse have since begun posting scripture from the Bible and the Koran on their whiteboards in solidarity, said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
“The Air Force Academy has a revolt on their hands. What are they going to do?” Weinstein told TheBlaze Wednesday.
The Bible battle started after an unnamed cadet placed text from Galatians 2:20 on a whiteboard. It read, “I have been crucified with Christ therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
Weinstein said 29 cadets and four faculty and staff members — 26 of whom he described as Catholic or Protestant — disagreed with the verse’s presence and reached out to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to complain. Weinstein then contacted the Air Force Academy with concerns and the verse was subsequently removed.
“Had it been in his room — not a problem. It’s not about the belief. It’s about the time, the place and the manner,” Weinstein told conservative commentator Todd Starnes this week. “It clearly elevated one religious faith over all others at an already virulently hyper-fundamentalist Christian institution. It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at [the academy].”
Weinstein said posting verses outside a bedroom door is unacceptable and illegal because that’s part of the “working squadron area” — a central and public location where cadets assemble.
But it seems some at the academy disagreed with both the removal and with the activist’s assessment of the situation.
Weinstein shared an email with TheBlaze he said came from an unnamed agnostic cadet at the school highlighting the action that’s now underway.
“After the Fox News article was released about the Bible verse being removed from a cadet’s whiteboard, a population of the cadet wing has in turn responded with addition religious quotes placed outside their doors in the public hallways; one of which being the original quote that was removed,” the cadet’s alleged letter read.
It continued, “Theses posts, quotes, and comments on social media have created a hostile environment and have lead to a decrease in unit cohesion and morale and are unprofessional in the military environment.”
Weinstein is now calling on the Air Force Academy to take action against those individuals who are posting scripture messages outside their doors, though he indicated that he isn’t sure how widespread the problem is.
“It’s a toxic environment there,” Weinstein said of the academy. “When you have a law that is followed more in its breach than in its compliance … it’s worse than if you didn’t have the law at all.”
Weinstein cited an Air Force culture standards document which outlines how faith and religion should be handled within the Air Force.
2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
Weinstein said those who put Bible verses on their doors deserve “non-judicial punishment at the very least.”
Those who are put on trial for specific violations in the Air Force could see their pay docked, be kicked out or even go to jail, he said, though there is no indication that these ramifications would apply in this particular case.
Weinstein is willing to take the Air Force Academy to court if the issue isn’t resolved.
Air Force Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Brus Vidal told Starnes regarding officials’ removal of the first cadet’s verse, there was no misconduct and that the unnamed cadet won’t be punished.
He said there’s a “gray area” when it comes to one’s personal room and the hallway, where the message was posted.
“The whiteboards are for both official and personal use, but when a concern was raised we addressed it and the comment was taken down,” Vidal said.
Weinstein disagreed, saying that the incident showed “absolute misconduct” and that the individual should be punished.
Other legal analysts take a different stance on the matter.
“If the cadet didn’t violate any rules, then why was the quote removed?” Michael Berry, senior counsel for the conservative legal firm the Liberty Institute’s said in a statement. “It appears that the Air Force now believes Bible verses are a violation of AFI 1-1.”
In fact, Berry said the removal of the Bible verse and any punishment is actually a violation of the Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17, a provision that protects soldiers’ religious liberty.
“Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Military Departments will accommodate individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs (conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs) of Service members in accordance with the policies and procedures in this instruction…,” the provision states in part.
Air Force Academy officials did not respond to a request for comment from TheBlaze.
Featured image via Military Religious Freedom Foundation