UPDATE: Religious freedom group alleges another incident of Christian exceptionalism at Academy

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A banner displaying numbers of senior soccer players at the Air Force Academy-Seattle University game on Oct. 30. Courtesy MRFF


This just in from Lt. Col. Brian Maguire, the Air Force Academy’s director of public affairs.

“There was no significance to the order of the senior jersey numbers posted in the soccer stadium during last weekend’s men’s soccer game.  The intent was to recognize the 10 seniors playing in their last home game. Recognition was conducted in a pregame ceremony with the players and their families and with two banners inside the soccer stadium highlighting their jersey numbers (1,2,3,6,8,9,11,12,15,16).  The numbers were to be printed sequentially and attached to each banner. After completing the first banner, our staff recognized that the number three was missing. To correct the oversight, the number three was added to the second banner out of sequential order – it was done simply to insure the player was represented as one of the ten seniors.

“Again, the only intent behind the banners was to celebrate  the senior cadets at their final home soccer game.”

In response, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s CEO Mike Weinstein says, “It’s such an obvious lie. Why not stick it [number 3] on either end or somewhere else?” He also noted that such a “blatant lie” is demoralizing for the Academy’s staff, faculty and cadets in light of the Academy’s Honor Code, which states that cadets vow not to lie, cheat or steal or tolerate anyone else who does.”

Moreover, Weinstein notes, the Academy took more than a day to respond to the Indy‘s questions about the banner, undermining the idea that it was a happenstance incident.


The Air Force Academy is being called out for a third misstep within a few months for alleged favoritism shown toward Christianity — this time involving a proselytizing message embedded in a list of Academy senior soccer players’ jersey numbers.

In what the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) calls “blatantly deliberate Christian public messaging,” a reference to John 3:16, the passage that states the foundation of Christianity, appeared in a banner during the Oct. 30 soccer game against Seattle University.

MRFF alleges in a letter to Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark that the Academy intentionally placed the uniform number 3 out of sequential order so that the list of seniors on the team by uniform number read: 1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 3, 16.

Courtesy MRFF

MRFF clients notified the nonprofit of the banner.

“Twice already this Fall semester, the MRFF has publicly released (on behalf of our MRFF/USAFA faculty, cadet, and staff clients) shamefully egregious examples of pro-fundamentalist Christian and related pro-religious bias at the Air Force Academy for which you are completely responsible,” MRFF founder and CEO Mikey Weinstein says in a Nov. 1 letter to Clark, copied to Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

The first involved “Spiritual Fitness Month,” which MRFF says ignored religions other than Christianity and non-faith traditions, such as humanists and atheists, and the second was the Academy’s decision to schedule a mandatory military training on the most holy of Jewish observances, Yom Kippur.

Weinstein notes showing favoritism to one religion over another violates Air Force Instruction 1-1.

Now, the Academy has taken to stealth methods to convey its message of Christian salvation, Weinstein says, via the soccer team banner.

All of which should be laid at the feet of Clark, his letter says.

“You were actually THERE, Lt. General Clark, and saw the Christian supremacist banner, just as you and/or your subordinate USAFA senior leadership were in meetings that discussed (and approved) the Commandant’s Challenge scheduling on Yom Kippur and Spiritual Fitness Month’s saturation-bombing of continuously proselytizing videos in Fairchild Hall (USAFA’s main academic building),” the letter states.

“All of these latest repulsive matters clearly show a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of fundamentalist Christian nationalism and proselytization at USAFA under your command and stewardship, an illegal and oppressive hellscape for which you are completely responsible.”

(The Academy contended the Yom Kippur training date was an oversight.)

Weinstein dismisses that claim, saying MRFF clients have reported Academy officials were reminded of the conflict with Yom Kippur ahead of time but did nothing to address it.

After a Jewish cadet, whose family is an MRFF client, sought guidance from a senior cadet in her chain of command and was told the problem was her “being Jewish,” and that she should “try Christianity,” three U.S. senators submitted a letter of inquiry on Oct. 24 to the Academy seeking an explanation for the issue, citing the Indy‘s reporting on the matter.

“It’s just one ‘mistake’ after another, General—each one utterly wretched but (apparently) deniable by you—hammering home the indisputable message to our USAFA faculty, cadets, and staff that one, and ONLY one, specific religious perspective at USAFA is far more equal than the others—fundamentalist Christianity,” Weinstein says in the letter.

Weinstein closes his letter by asking that Kendall order “an immediate, transparent, visible, and aggressive” investigation into the soccer team’s proselytizing and “other repugnant incidents of Christian exceptionalism.”

Those found in violation of the Air Force Instruction should be punished, he says.

We asked the Academy to comment on the letter and will update if and when we hear back.

We’ve also asked Secretary Kendall’s office for a comment.

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