Former U.S. Air Force captain and chaplain MeLinda Morton believes public praying done by Air Force Academy football teams on the field's end zone during home games does not honor the Separation of Church and State doctrine, as created by the U. S. Supreme Court. Additionally, Mikey Winstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Air Force players participating in public prayer "is a scandalous outrage."
"This stands in a long line of conservative Christian usurpation of government space via supposed voluntary demonstrations of Christian piety," Morton stated in an email, reported by Military.com.
Morton said Falcon home games are basically mandatory formations of the cadets, and thus should not include public displays of faith. The academy currently is investigating the public prayer ritual, in which team members allegedly bend down on one knee after the fashion of NFL free-agent quarterback Tim Tebow.
"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. "The Air Force is dedicated to maintaining an environment in which people can realize their highest potential, regardless of personal religious or other beliefs."
Morton, an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was removed as executive officer of the Air Force chaplain unit on May 4, 2005, according to The Washington Post. "They fired me," Morton told the Post.
"They said I should be angry about these outside groups who reported on the strident evangelicalism at the academy. The problem is, I agreed with those reports."
Her removal, along with complaints about preferential treatment for evangelical Christians -- and command pressure on non-evangelicals -- among the 4,000 cadets, prompted a Pentagon task force to visit the Colorado Springs campus to study the religious atmosphere and propose possible remedial steps.
In June 2005, Morton resigned her Air Force commission after 13 years in the service, citing an inability of Air Force leadership to confront and correct a systemic and pervasive atmosphere of religious intolerance and unconstitutional institutional support of proselytizing by activist Conservative Christian Evangelicals.
She now serves on the advisory board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that promotes the separation of church and state. She repeatedly has stated the concern at the academy is that evangelical Christians were trying to "subvert the system" by winning converts among cadets at the Air Force Academy.
Just before today's (Saturday's) Air Force versus Navy football game, Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham posted on Facebook: "Atheist Mikey Weinstein and his ironically named Military Religious Freedom Foundation is now picking on the US Air Force Academy football team! After seeing Falcon players kneel in prayer before last Saturday's game against San Diego State, he says it must stop."
Graham cited that Weinstein called Air Force players participating in public prayer "a scandalous outrage" and called it "a disgrace" and "a putrid example of Christian supremacy."
"Since when is voluntary prayer scandalous or putrid?" asked Graham.
"The Air Force Academy now says that it will conduct an inquiry into the situation. I call this a foul! Join me in praying that the religious freedoms of these young men will not be taken away as a result of one bitter person bent on removing God and His Son Jesus Christ from everything in this country. America owes its blessings to Almighty God--and our founding fathers knew that," Graham encouraged.
"Pray that the Falcons will be allowed to continue their voluntary time of prayer."
Within 4 hours of Graham's post, he has received 8,991 comments.
According to Retired Air Force Col. David Antoon, the pre-existing Air Force code of ethics in The Little Blue Book states: "Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience. Professionals, and especially commanders, must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates."