The debate over the U.S. Air Force Academy's recent removal of the words "So help me God" from oaths and making the phrase instead optional for cadets has intensified as a chaplains religious liberty group is calling for the military branch to explain why the action was taken, and activists have stepped up their campaign against expressions of Christian faith within the academy located in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty said in a statement received by The Christian Post on Tuesday that it is receiving calls from concerned parents of Air Force Academy cadets about the Academy's removal of the phrase based on its decision made last month from the Cadet Oath, the Officer Oath, and the Enlisted Oath in the Academy Contrails Cadet Handbook.
"The removal of this phrase is a disservice to the countless men and women who wish to include it as a solemn reminder that they are pledging their fidelity to God and their country," said Chaplain (COL) Ron Crews, USAR retired, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. "This phrase is a deeply rooted American tradition which George Washington began as the first president of the United States, and many who take an oath of service to our country still state it."
Crews explained that the Chaplain Alliance is calling on Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson and the Air Force to explain why it removed the phrase from many of its oaths and also explain why it removed a poster portraying the words of the Academy Honor Oath, which ended with the same phrase.
"We respectfully request that Lt. Gen. Johnson bring the Air Force Academy oaths into line with the law. While we respect the right of any cadet to not say 'So help me God,' the law requires that the words remain part of the oath. Cadets who come from faith backgrounds should be supported in solemnizing their oath with the words that generations of officers before them have used."
"We commend Congressman Jim Birdenstine and his many colleagues in the House for their leadership in investigating this issue," Crews added regarding a Nov. 18 letter to Johnson. "We thank them for urging the Academy to ensure its oaths reflect the original statutory language in full and to support those cadets who wish to include 'So help me God' in their administration of the oath."
Meanwhile, Military Religious Freedom Foundation leader Mikey Weinstein is "venting his anger at the Air Force Academy" with the second roadside billboard within a month place in the Colorado Springs area where the Air Force Academy is located, according to The Gazette, a local newspaper.
Weinstein also began a campaign of television advertisements. "The Air Force Academy has become a fundamentalist Christian Military Ministry," the cable television ad claims, as reported by The Gazette.
Weinstein is objecting to the academy's inaction over an email the MRFF received from Allen Willoughby, a trainer at the academy's preparatory school who criticized Weinstein for targeting Christian beliefs. Weinstein apparently received the email from Willoughby after more battling occurred about the use of "so help me God."
In an excerpt from Willoughby's email sent apparently from his personal account, he states:
"Stop pushing your beliefs on us. God will always be a part of the US Military even when you are gone to meet him face to face. You know you can do a lot for the homeless veterans out here but you could care less about them but when it comes to Christians you are willing to fight against us, well you will never win and so you know the war has already been won. I am on staff at USAFA and will talk about Jesus Christ my Lord and savior to everyone that I work with. Do something productive with your life and Stop harassing the fine people at USAFA. I really pray for your soul."
The MRFF leader says the Academy is "encouraging persecution of non-Christians" by doing nothing in regards to the email.
"The brazen assertion by a leader at the United States Air Force Academy that he WILL proselytize to 'everyone that I work with' at the academy, and the Academy's stunning, baseless defense of this individual, has provoked the latest barrage from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation," the MRFF stated in a news release.
The academy says Willoughby was acting as a private citizen and was protected by free speech rights, according to The Gazette.
"Mr. Allen Willoughby does not speak for the Air Force Academy and we absolutely do not tolerate proselytizing among our ranks," a statement from the academy said. "Regarding the email sent by Mr. Willoughby to the MRFF, we can confirm that Mr. Willoughby is a trainer at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, and yes, he did send an e-mail to the MRFF in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the Air Force Academy or the Prep School."
The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty is an organization of chaplain endorsers, the faith groups that provide chaplains for the U.S. military and other agencies needing chaplains. The endorsers in the Chaplain Alliance speak for more than 2600 chaplains serving the armed forces.