A former Air Force Academy chaplain calls praying by members of the school’s football team before games “another ‘territorial conquest’ of the Christian right.”
“This stands in a long line of conservative Christian usurpation of government space via supposed voluntary demonstrations of Christian piety,” MeLinda Morton, a former captain said.
Morton, who said the Falcons never offered public prayers when she served at the academy 10 years ago, believes that home games are essentially mandatory formations for cadets and public displays of faith should be banned.
“I’ve not been to the academy in a decade. I didn’t see it when I was there,” she told Military.com on Wednesday.
Morton was fired from her position at the academy in 2005 after she backed up reports that Christian officials were improperly attempting to proselytize cadets. She then resigned her commission after 13 years in the service and now serves on the advisory board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a watchdog group that promotes the separation of church and state.
“The football game is a required military formation for both players and, in the case of home games, also for students,” she said. “[Cadets] are required to attend these games, and they are also required to have automatically withdrawn from their military pay the entrance fee for [home] game attendance. That makes play and attendance during an “official military function. ”
Cadets who are part of a faith group that worships on Saturday, Morton said, must make a special request through the office of the chaplain, up through the chain-of-command, to be excused from the game, just as you would for any military formation.
Mikey Winstein, also part of the MRFF, raised the issue after seeing Falcons players kneel in prayer before Saturday’s game against San Diego State.
“It’s a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism and it has to stop,” Winstein said in a statement.
Calling the prayers a “disgrace,” Winstein said players have complained anonymously to him that the prayers are not optional and that they fear reprisals if they speak out.
The MRFF says the public prayers by members of the U.S. military raise serious constitutional issues.
The group says it has received complaints from Air Force officers, who argued that the “optics” of Air Force players praying could be used for propaganda by ISIS.
The Air Force Academy said in a statement that it will conduct an “inquiry” into the situation.