Air Force Academy Sanctions 'Ask an Atheist Days'

The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs sanctioned "Ask an Atheist" days last week in the campus' academic building.

Air Force Academy officials announced Wednesday that it would be allowing the campus's Freethinkers Club, an authorized cadet club, to hold "Ask an Atheist" days at the campus's Fairchild Hall, an academic building. The atheist-themed days were held on Wednesday and Thursday part of the student group's annual information fair. Other student groups, such as the Christian Faculty Fellowship, also set up informational booths down the hall from the Freethinkers Club's "Ask an Atheist" table.

Academy officials said in a statement that all cadet groups are allowed to hold information fairs because members of such clubs are volunteers and their beliefs are not officially linked with the views of the Air Force Academy. The Air Force Academy has about 90 cadet clubs focusing on several areas of interest, including sports, religion and hobbies.

"The Academy allows all cadet groups to host information fairs regardless of espoused religious beliefs or no beliefs at all," the academy said in a statement.

"Air Force policy does not limit the substance of voluntary discussions or the exercise of free expression where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and are reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion.

"Military members, including cadets, may not use their leadership position to promote personal religious or non-faith beliefs to subordinates because doing so may cause those subordinates to doubt their leader's impartiality and objectivity and, thereby, degrade unit morale, good order, and discipline."

The Air Force Academy chose to address the purpose behind the "Ask an Atheist" days after Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, was reportedly contacted by seven cadets at the academy complaining about the atheist-themed events. Weinstein agreed with the cadets, arguing that the "Ask an Atheist" days were sanctioning "proselytizing for atheism."

"What if this was ask a Muslim Day or ask an Evangelical Christian Day?" Weinstein said, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Weinstein added to The Huffington Post that he believes the academy should observe religious neutrality in all instances, even if it involves nonbelievers. "Religious neutrality means religious neutrality," said Weinstein. "Whether it's saying that Jesus is your lord and savior or saying that there is no god makes no difference. Neither is a neutral position, and neither can be promoted by the United States Air Force Academy."

This recent uproar comes after the Air Force Academy was criticized for forcing one of its cadets to erase a Bible verse that he had written on his whiteboard, which hung on the entrance to his dorm room. The academy released a statement, saying it had the cadet erase the verse because it posed a "potential perception" problem where some subordinates may fail to see the cadet's religious impartiality.

Although the cadet who wrote the whiteboard message was not punished because his actions fell into a "gray area," Weinstein is demanding that the cadet be "visibly punished" to show such actions are not permitted at the academy.

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