Activist Mikey Weinstein believes that the team prayers that are regularly uttered before Air Force Academy football games are blatantly unconstitutional and "putrid," charging that they provide a "propaganda bonanza for [the Islamic State]."
The debate over the Air Force Falcons players' pre-game prayers on the field has gone viral in recent days, with strong opinions emerging on both sides of the divide.
As for Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a First Amendment group, he's doubling down on his opposition to the prayers, telling TheBlaze on Thursday that the inspector general at the Colorado-based Air Force Academy is currently looking into the matter.
The academy, too, has confirmed that an investigation is ongoing.
"The United States Air Force Academy is attentive to all religious freedom concerns, and we are conducting an inquiry into the complaint," the academy said in a statement issued to KNSD-TV. "The Air Force is dedicated to maintaining an environment in which people can realize their highest potential, regardless of personal religious or other beliefs."
Despite the investigation, Weinstein told TheBlaze that he has little hope that the outcome will be favorable toward his cause, as the issue has been sent to the academy's athletic department for an internal review.
"We don't have any expectations that they are going to do the right thing," Weinstein said, adding that he plans to potentially take the issue to federal court, pending whether or not he can secure John and Jane Doe protections for the five players who complained about the invocations.
The battle began gaining widespread traction this week after Weinstein spoke out on behalf of five anonymous players on the Falcons team who disagree with the prayers, believing that they are essentially forced upon them.
And so far, Weinstein hasn't been mincing words about how he views the invocations.
"It’s a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism and it has to stop," Weinstein said in a statement issued through the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The military activist's argument is that the armed forces are "incredibly tribal" and that there's essentially an increased pressure on members to participate in religious activities like prayer, even if they have no personal wish to do so. The fear of not invoking God, Weinstein said, amounts to an unconstitutional burden.
"We're not saying they can't pray. They can do it in front of their lockers. They can take a private moment," he said. "But when you're making an initial play out there, together, this creates a compelling need to show solidarity and brotherhood ... and basically the keywords are 'it exacts an unconstitutional toll.'"
For those who might argue that people in the military — like everyone else — deserve First Amendment protections that would allow them to pray on the field, Weinstein had some caveats.
"As for the USAFA football players, the football game is a required military formation for both players, and in the case of home games, also for students," he said. "USAFA students are required to attend these games, and they are also required to have automatically withdrawn from their military pay the entrance fee for game attendance. This is an official military function."
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Weinstein continued, "Indeed USAFA football games are official military functions and when conducted 'at hom' are held in a federal government facility, at government expense. While the public is invited to these events the stadium does not become 'public space' for the purposes of speech or action."
It seems another group is pushing back against Weinstein's prayer grievance as well, considering academy spokesman Meade Warthen's statement to the Air Force Times, noting that the institution had received "an opposing viewpoint requesting cadets continue to be afforded the right to pray."
Warthen said that the academy is, thus, "being prudent and deliberate" in reviewing the issue. It's unclear what will happen next.
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