Air Force Removes Chaplain From Post

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By T.R. Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

DENVER, May 12 -- An Air Force chaplain who complained that evangelical Christians were trying to "subvert the system" by winning converts among cadets at the Air Force Academy was removed from administrative duties last week, just as the Pentagon began an in-depth study of alleged religious intolerance among cadets and commanders at the school.

"They fired me," said Capt. MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran minister who was removed as executive officer of the chaplain unit on May 4. "They said I should be angry about these outside groups who reported on the strident evangelicalism at the academy. The problem is, I agreed with those reports."

"The choice of a new executive officer was a standard transition," said Lt. Col. Laurent Fox, an academy spokesman. "The situation is, both the commanding officer [of the chaplain unit] and the executive officer are scheduled to leave this post in a couple of months. It was decided to replace the executive officer now for reasons of continuity."

Amid a rising chorus of complaints about preferential treatment for evangelical Christians -- and command pressure on non-evangelicals -- among the 4,000 cadets, a Pentagon task force is visiting the Colorado Springs campus this week to study the religious atmosphere and propose possible remedial steps.

Morton, whose removal as executive officer was first reported in USA Today, said she has not been asked to brief the task force.

Surveys of present and former cadets have shown that some students said they felt a heavy and sometimes offensive emphasis on evangelical Christianity, with praise for cadets who pronounce their "born-again" status and insults aimed at Jews, Roman Catholics and non-evangelical cadets.

One staff chaplain reportedly told newly arrived freshmen last summer that anyone not born again "will burn in the fires of hell."

Such slurs have been heard for decades on the campus, according to Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, a 1977 academy graduate who said he has repeatedly complained to the Air Force brass about the "religious pressure" on cadets. "This is not Christian versus Jew," Weinstein said. "This is the evangelical Christians against everybody else."

The Air Force's new attention to the issue stems from an earlier scandal at the school in which female cadets said commanding officers ignored or played down numerous cases of sexual assault by male students.

As part of its response to the sexual assault charges, the academy asked a team from Yale Divinity School to visit the campus during the summer training for incoming freshmen.

"We were asked to study the quality of cadet-centered pastoral care," said Yale Prof. Kristen Leslie. "What we found was this very strong evangelical Christian voice just dominating. We thought that just didn't make sense in light of their mission, which was to protect and train cadets, not to win religious converts."

Morton, who was executive officer of the squadron of 16 chaplains at the academy, said she shared the concerns expressed by the study group from Yale.


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