Last month, Americans United expressed concern about religious bias and a heavy evangelical Christian atmosphere at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
At the time, officials at Focus on the Family and other conservative organizations and publications dismissed AU's concerns and even accused the organization of launching a witch hunt against conservative Christians. But now vindication has come from a source who ought to know: the Academy's superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, has admitted the problem is real.
"As a commander, I know I have problems in my cadet wing. I have issues in my staff and I have issues in my faculty – and that's my entire organization," Rosa told reporters Friday after speaking to a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League's executive committee in Denver.
A May 3 Americans United report listed a number of examples of religious bias at the Academy. Among them was an e-mail from the Academy's number two commander, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, that some cadets and staff said stepped over the line into an inappropriate form of proselytizing by promoting the National Day of Prayer.
"We sat down and said, 'This is not right,' and he acknowledged that," Rosa said.
He also admitted that other incidents have crossed the line, telling reporters, "Perception is reality. We don't have respect. We don't have what we need. We know that."
Rosa vowed to make things right but, curiously, said it could take as long as six years.
Meanwhile, former Academy cadets and staff continue to step forward to comment on the unfolding controversy. The issue was put into perspective recently by John J. Michels Jr., an Academy graduate and former military attorney who now works in the corporate world.
In an opinion piece submitted to the Colorado Springs Gazette , Michels explained why religious proselytizing from commanders in military installations is especially problematic.
"Overtly religious conduct on military installations and at military functions is a problem because it is cloaked in the garments of command authority," Michels wrote. "Even Academy basic cadets understand that nothing happens on an installation without approval of the command structure. Large crucifixes being erected in the cadet area outside of the chapel, fliers placed under doors on Easter morning celebrating the reincarnation of Jesus, and video projections of Bible verses on screens in the dining hall during mandatory meal formations do not occur without the blessing (figuratively, and perhaps literally) of the commander. Cadets listening to their instructor at the beginning of a semester tell his students that he is a born-again Christian will properly believe that such conduct is within appropriate bounds as determined by the command."
Continued Michels, "Individually, and taken out of the overall Academy context, these incidents would raise eyebrows, but might not be of particular concern. Taken together, however, they show that there is a constant drumbeat of religious pressure at the Academy that will be perceived, in fact, must be perceived, as indicative of a command preference for a particular religious point of view."
Critics of the Academy say that's a good summation of why the problems in Colorado Springs must be taken seriously.