The U.S. Air Force Academy will hold its prayer luncheon as scheduled on Thursday after a Colorado judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to stop the event.
U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello ruled Wednesday against the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s request for an injunction on the prayer luncheon. Arguello said the plaintiffs, MRFF and Air Force Academy professor David Mullin, had no legal standing to challenge the event.
In their complaint, Mullin and MRFF lamented that the luncheon violates the separation of church and state because of its overtly Christian keynote speaker, Marine Corps Lt. Clebe McClary. The retired Vietnam veteran, who lost an eye in battle, has been endorsed by Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell. He is known to intertwine military values with his evangelical beliefs.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the New Mexico-based MRFF, argues that allowing McClary to speak means the academy is actively promoting the Christian faith through the event.
Air Force Academy professor Mullin said he felt he had to attend the event or face retribution. But a Justice Department attorney said the plaintiff’s fears of retribution were "entirely speculative." The attorney also said Mullin didn't raise his concerns with the academy’s chain of command.
The National Prayer Luncheon, which will be held on the Colorado Springs campus of the USAFA on Feb. 10, has drawn fire for featuring McClary. Interfaith Alliance President, C. Welton Gaddy, raised his concerns about the Vietnam veteran in a letter dated Jan. 29.
“Inviting Lt. McClary appears to be a step backward in creating a climate of religious respect,” Gaddy wrote to USAFA superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould.
The Academy is still recovering from reports in 2004 that alleged the campus is religiously intolerant.
Organizers of the prayer luncheon have taken steps to maintain an atmosphere of religious pluralism. The USAFA announced that there will be readings by an Islamic, Jewish, and Christian airman, as well as from a Jewish chaplain, Buddhist sensei and a Catholic chaplain.
The luncheon will continue as planned today on the USAFA’s campus.