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Air Force Academy faulted over religion

Report finds 'perception of intolerance' but not discrimination

Lt. Gen. Roger Brady's report pointed to a "lack of awareness" over where to draw the line on religious expression.


U.S. Air Force

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Air Force Academy cadets have been subjected to "well-intended but wrong" professions of faith by instructors or senior officers, but an investigation found no overt religious discrimination, an Air Force general said Wednesday.

Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, the service's deputy chief of staff for personnel, said the Air Force needs to instruct commanders on what religious expression is considered appropriate.

"I have no reason to believe that people who are doing things that I think were inappropriate were doing so maliciously," Brady said.

"In fact, I think they thought they had the best intentions toward the cadets. I think in some cases, they were wrong."

Brady's 100-page report follows allegations that evangelical Christian cadets and faculty and staff members improperly proselytized and harassed other cadets. (Full story)

A former Protestant chaplain, Capt. Melinda Morton, accused academy chiefs of transferring her out of the college after she publicly complained about the situation.

The report found that "a perception of religious intolerance" exists among some at the academy.

"The root of this problem is not overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members' needs and a lack of awareness over where the line is drawn between permissible and impermissible expression of beliefs," the report concluded.

About 4,300 cadets attend the college north of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Graduates become officers in the Air Force.

Brady said he referred seven cases of "questionable behavior" to senior officers for possible disciplinary action, but would not elaborate.

And he said allegations involving Morton, who recently resigned from the service, were referred to a Pentagon inspector general for review.

He said some of those he talked to "feel it's their duty to profess their faith," but he said that such professions from instructors or senior officers "can be construed easily as coercive" by cadets who don't share those beliefs.

"They are being made aware that there is a setting where that was inappropriate," he said.

The report also found the needs of cadets from minority religions were rarely addressed, which "placed the burden for seeking religious accommodation on the cadets."

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Michael Dominguez acknowledged that had left "raw nerves among some of our population out there."

"We may not have been sufficiently aware of their unique needs and the need to think about them before we did things like schedule a military training event in the middle of Passover," he said.

Brady and Dominguez said the academy's outgoing superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, already has taken some steps to correct the problems identified in Brady's report.

Rosa took over the school in 2003 after a scandal over how the academy handled complaints of rape and sexual assault from female cadets, who said victims were punished for coming forward.

Brady said some cadets will make "the occasional religious slur or disparaging remark, and we jump all over that."

But he added, "It's also the home of 4,000 18- to 22-year-olds who are trying to learn and make decisions about some of the weightier matters of life.

"They need to be able to do that, just like students at other universities get to do that," he said.

"And we need to provide that in a developmental setting that helps them do that in a way that also incorporates the values of respect for diversity."

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