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Academy trainer says he will talk about faith

Nov. 8, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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An Air Force Academy athletic trainer pledged to proselytize his faith on the job in a Nov. 6 email to a controversial activist for separation of church and state in the military.

“I am on staff at USAFA and will talk about Jesus Christ my Lord and savior to everyone that I work with,” academy preparatory school trainer Allen Willoughby said in an email to Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

The academy confirmed that Willoughby is an employee and sent the e-mail. Academy spokesman Maj. Brus Vidal said Willoughby sent the email in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the academy.

When asked what the academy’s policy was on employees discussing their religious beliefs while on the job, Vidal said that academy leaders must balance their constitutional protections of free exercise of religion with the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion.

“All academy airmen, especially commanders, supervisors and those who are in daily contact with cadets or cadet candidates, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline, or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force and the Air Force’s academy,” Vidal said.

Willoughby did not respond to a request for comment.

Weinstein said Willoughby should be disciplined and made to apologize, and rejected the academy’s explanation that he sent the email on his own time.

“When you work in the U.S. military, there is no 9 to 5 job. He said, ‘I am on staff and I will talk about Jesus Christ.’ ” This is a direct violation of Air Force policy on religious neutrality, Weinstein said.

Weinstein specifically cited Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.11, which was issued last year. The instruction, titled “Government Neutrality Regarding Religion,” warns leaders to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion.”

Weinstein last month complained to the academy about its inclusion of the phrase “so help me God” in its cadets’ honor oath. He wanted the phrase to be dropped entirely, and was unsatisfied when the academy decided to keep the phrase, but make it optional.

On Nov. 6, MRFF erected a billboard near the academy urging it to drop the religious language.

In Willoughby’s email, which he sent late on Nov. 6 from his personal account, he said he hopes Weinstein is escorted off campus and told him to “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,” Willoughby wrote. “Do something productive with your life and stop harassing the fine people at USAFA. I really pray for your soul.”

The MRFF has been a vocal critic of the academy over nearly a decade, accusing leaders there of allowing evangelical Christian airmen to proselytize their faith to cadets.

To address that issue, the academy launched a religious respect training program to help cadets, cadet candidates, faculty and staff understand how the First Amendment applies and how to respect other people’s beliefs.

Under this program, for example, first-year cadets are taught strategies for handling someone who is attempting to exert unwanted religious influence, and seniors who are about to be commissioned as officers are taught how to promote religious respect as commanders.

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