Tuesday Afternoon, September 28, 2021
AIR FORCE ACADEMY INSTRUCTOR
OUTRAGEOUSLY ASKS CADET IF HE'S ACCEPTED JESUS CHRIST; THEN IMPLORES
CADET NOT TO RUN TO MIKEY WEINSTEIN!


"When my instructor asked me whether I’d 'accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior' during a tough EI session in a class in which I am having some difficulties I was shocked. I looked back at him and thought maybe it was meant to be a bad joke but that was not the case. ... When the instructor asked me the next day after class to 'not run with this thing to Mikey Weinstein' I was shocked again."

— U.S. Air Force Academy cadet/MRFF client
United States Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Colorado
(The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense visual
information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.)
MRFF OP-ED
ON DAILY KOS

#1 Trending story on Daily Kos

No, Air Force Academy instructor, it’s not OK to
ask a cadet if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ

By: MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda

Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Chris Rodda
Imagine that you’re a young cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. You’re struggling in one of your classes so you go to your instructor for extra instruction. You admit to your instructor that you’re still struggling with the material even after the extra instruction and his response to your difficulty in mastering this academic material is to ask: "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?"

That is exactly what happened to one Academy cadet last week. The cadet, not surprisingly, was dumbfounded, and when the instructor, apparently realizing he had crossed the line, approached the cadet at the next class and asked him not to "run to Mikey Weinstein with this,” the cadet decided to do just that — he contacted Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) founder and president Mikey Weinstein.

Mikey put MRFF Advisory Board member Marty France, a retired USAF Brigadier General and former professor and department head at the Academy, on the case. Marty quickly reached out to Colonel Otis Jones, the Vice Superintendent of the Academy, and the following pair of emails from their email exchange tell the whole story.

From: Martin France
Subject: Classroom Issue
Date: September 23, 2021 at 12:12:16 PM MDT
To: "Jones, Otis C Col USAF USAFA HQ/CV"

Otis,

I just learned of a situation in one of the USAFA academic departments that troubles me. A cadet reported to the MRFF that they recently went to an instructor for EI in a class in which they were struggling. As the session was concluding--and the cadet admitted that they were still struggling with the material--the instructor asked, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"
The cadet admitted to reacting in a stunned fashion--slack-jawed at best. The instructor immediately knew that their question had crossed a line based upon the cadet's reaction--in other words, the cadet didn't immediately respond with a faithful, "Of course, sir/ma'am!"

The cadet WAS stunned. The instructor apologized for the question, but that didn't erase the experience.

After the next time they were in class, the instructor confronted the cadet (one-on-one) and asked that they not "run to Mikey Weinstein with this."

The cadet thought about it for a number of days, though, before doing exactly that. They admitted to having the entire experience color their view of the instructor--who had made little secret of their strongly conservative views in the classroom on other occasions. It also forced the cadet to take another look at the entire climate at USAFA and see, notice, and hear things that reinforced a new, cautious perspective. They were clearly troubled by the entire series of events and had lost considerable sleep and focus as a result.

The cadet admitted that they like and respect the instructor and don't want to cause undue harm, but they came to the MRFF anyway. It's obvious that a once professional relationship between professor and student has been irrevocably poisoned. 

This is clearly a case of something that can't be undone. (I'm sure you can think of many analogous situations that would be similar, e.g. the toothpaste can't be put back in the tube now.) In my view, it supports the perspective that this sort of thing still happens routinely with some faculty and staff. The second interaction tells me that the instructor (and others) KNOW that this is also wrong, or at the very least that they could get in trouble for this sort of inappropriate interaction. I suppose, in some ways, that's a good thing.

I'm not sure you can do anything about this particular case--the cadet won't provide enough information to identify the instructor and we won't divulge any information about the cadet without their permission, of course. Fear of potential retribution here is akin to what one faces with other issues.

I suppose the best we can ask is that this be forwarded to other leadership at USAFA and the point be reemphasized that there are no circumstances under which a cadet or subordinate should really even KNOW a superior's religious perspective (outside of a personal friendship well away from a work/school setting) and that any expression, question, or solicitation on the part of a superior to a subordinate of this nature is grossly irresponsible, egregious, and in direct, actionable violation of AFI1-1, Sec 2.12 and other DoD guidance.

I know you and other leaders have made this clear in the past, but it's equally clear that the message needs to be constantly reiterated--and enforced--before situations like this cease to occur.

I'd appreciate your perspective and thoughts on this.

Sincerely,

Marty

Colonel Jones didn’t immediately respond, and a few more emails went back and forth, including one from Marty to Academy Superintendent Lieutenant General Richard Clark, but when Colonel Otis finally did respond his answer was, shall we say, less than satisfactory.

On Mon, Sep 27, 2021 at 1:39 PM Jones, Otis C Col USAF USAFA HQ/CV wrote:

Sir,

I’ve checked with DF and CW and this appears that this may be an isolated/single incident, as we have no other complaints at the HQ or within DF/CW/AD. 

We already have explicit emphasis on professional relationships and respect and clearly, this faculty member was out of line and knew they were out of line…but they chose to cross the like anyway. DF will use this anecdote with leadership as an opportunity to re-emphasize boundaries and expectations.

It would help if we could identify the faculty member (or at least the department) so we can take specific action. Not sure if you would release that to me?

Also, I am inquiring about anonymous reporting options. LiveSafe App, Ask the Dean (not sure if this is anonymous though), and/or anonymous tip line to the Superintendent.

 V/R

Otis

OTIS C. JONES, Colonel, USAF
Vice Superintendent
United States Air Force Academy, CO

An “isolated incident”? Really, Colonel Jones? How many “isolated incidents” do there have to be before the Air Force Academy leadership will admit that incidents like the one experienced by this cadet are far from isolated at their institution?

MRFF has been battling these so-called “isolated incidents” at the Air Force Academy for over a decade and a half. From some of the scandals that led to the founding of the MRFF, like the antisemitic flyers and associated promotion of “The Passion of the Christ” in the Academy’s cavernous Mitchell Hall dining facility as far back as 2004 to basic cadets marching in “Heathen Flight” in the early 2000s, we’ve progressed to warnings about "Special Programs in Religious Education” (SPIRE) groups that coerced misogynistic behavior and encouragement of discrimination against female cadets (“Cadets for Christ”) through role indoctrination, and sought to transform cadets into “government-paid missionaries.” But there is much more; quasi-mandatory Bible studies, uneven off-base privileges to attend fundamentalist churches, off-base organizations led by retired colonels recruiting Christian cadets and forming closed-door clubs that self-select Cadet Wing leadership, causing some cadets to resort to pretending to be fundamentalist Christians to fit in and succeed, pressure to participate in fundamentalist Christian proselytizing projects, professorial coded messages in the classrooms, tacit encouragement of homophobia and gay conversion therapy, and nearly unanimous displays of exclusivist Christian public prayer in the Falcon Stadium end-zone. And then there are the many, many incidents, like the one experienced by the cadet last week, that don’t make the news, but are nonetheless just as impactful on and deleterious to the Academy’s good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion.

Someone with a keen insight into these issues Is Lieutenant General (ret.) Bob Caslen. Lieutenant General Caslen has been on both ends of the MRFF spectrum, first as someone who MRFF went after when, in 2006, he participated in the infamous Christian Embassy video at the Pentagon, being one of the seven officers found guilty by the DoD Inspector General of multiple regulation violations, but later becoming a MRFF ally. Lieutenant General Caslen, past president of the Officers' Christian Fellowship, learned his lesson from the Christian Embassy scandal, realizing and admitting that he had been wrong to participate in it, and conducting himself from then on through the rest of his military career as an exemplary model of a Christian officer who could lead in a pluralistic environment without compromising his own faith. His five-year tenure as Superintendent of the United States Military Academy (West Point), during which the religious climate at that institution was improved dramatically, also gives him a unique insight into the proper running of a U.S. military service academy. These were his thoughts on the situation faced by the Air Force Academy cadet:

On Sep 27, 2021, at 4:03 PM, Robert Caslen wrote:
 
Hi Mikey, 

Thanks for sharing this issue and for asking my thoughts. Bottom line is that I believe Marty France has the best perspective as he shared it with the Vice Superintendent. And of course, those comments were backed up with the AF ethics rules and regulations he referenced.
 
Every single cadet, faculty, and administrator has a constitutional right to believe in whatever faith, or no faith, they chose. That includes both the cadets as well as their instructors. But AF and DoD ethics regulations clearly state that a military member of higher rank cannot use his or her rank or position of authority to require subordinates to hear their personal beliefs, when the subordinate, supported by his or her constitutional rights, chooses not to hear them. I recall back when I was a plebe at West Point when we had mandatory chapel as directed by our Superintendent. The Supreme Court ruled that the Superintendent (our senior ranking supervisor) could not use his rank or position of authority to require us subordinates to do something (i.e. mandatory chapel) which violates our Constitutional rights. It wasn’t a matter or whether we wanted to go to chapel or not, it was our highest court’s interpretation of the violation of our Constitutional rights. 
 
But there are some valid leadership principles that back this up. Leaders are inherently there to build teams, where every member of that team feels they are a valued member, and that they are respected and that they feel included. If the leader shows preference to one belief over another, he or she can’t help but make that subordinate feel “left out” or not part of the boss’ “special group”. In the end it is simply a matter of trust. Leaders build trust relationships between themselves and their subordinates. But if the leader polarizes those who do not share his or her personal beliefs, how then can that subordinate feel they’re in a trusted relationship? Even if the leader states they will not be treated any differently, the subordinate can’t help but wonder if that will indeed be the case. It should be noted that this important imperative of building inclusive teams does not only resonate over one’s religious beliefs, but applies equally in race, ethnicity, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and almost every other area of possible divide. Which is why our military is a military based on standards and not one’s faith group, or lack of faith. 
 
As a Christian myself, I value my constitutional right to embrace my faith. But as a Christian leader, in the profession of arms, where we often find ourselves in the crucible of war and elsewhere, I’ve learned the importance of building trust relationships where every single member of that team feels they are valued and they not only can trust their teammates, but must also trust their leadership. The DoD is wise enough to recognize that leadership imperative, and has published ethics rules and regulations backing it up. I applaud my fellow Christians and other faith group teammates for sharing their faith. But there is a proper way to do that, and there is no doubt many of us (me included) have crossed that line. Perhaps what is needed is some instruction on how to build inclusive teams, and how one’s faith or other beliefs play into that. There are plenty of “minefields” out there, and we need to understand them and in the end, build combat ready teams where leaders have legally, properly, and effectively integrated their faith and their profession. 
 
Bob Caslen
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Retired)
59th Superintendent United States Military Academy

The cadet, while understanding that his reporting of the incident to MRFF and wanting us to make it public could open him up to possible retaliation, expressed his gratitude for the intervention of MRFF:

From: (USAF Academy Cadet’s/MRFF Client's E-Mail Address Withheld)
Subject: Air Force Academy cadet thank you to the MRFF
Date: September 26, 2021 at 10:54:10 PM MDT
To: Information Weinstein <mikey@militaryreligiousfreedom.org>

Reference: General France email to USAFA Vice Superintendent Col. Otis Jones, Thursday 23 Sept 21

I write this letter of thanks to Mr. Weinstein, Brigadier General France and the whole Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

I am the cadet referenced in General France’s email to USAFA Vice Superintendent Colonel Otis Jones..

I wanted to thank you so much Mr. Weinstein for all of the help you, General France and the MRFF have given me and my family since this incident happened just (number of days withheld) days ago.

When my instructor asked me whether I’d "accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior" during a tough EI session in a class in which I am having some difficulties I was shocked. I looked back at him and thought maybe it was meant to be a bad joke but that was not the case.

I am from a Christian family (and we have pastors in my family) and consider myself to be a Christian. What my instructor said to me is still completely wrong. It has caused me so much stress and anxiety and I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this. My parents have too. I see the entire Academy so differently now.

My instructor saw my shocked reaction and seemed to know that the line had been crossed. The instructor tried to kind of apologize or make excuses ("I’m just trying to help you the best way I know how”) but we both knew that what the instructor said was not going to be fixed by that weak attempt. I just collected my stuff and left the instructor’s office as fast as I could. 

When the instructor asked me the next day after class to "not run with this thing to Mikey Weinstein” I was shocked again. To begin with I wasn’t even exactly sure who this Mikey Weinstein was? I asked for a meeting with my (USAFA staffer’s name and title withheld) and that person warned me that I should just let this whole thing slide and don’t rock the boat. I mentioned the name “Mikey Weinstein” and my (USAFA staffer’s name and title withheld) who I went to for advice just blew up and went off. (see more on what this person said to me below in my P.S.) I did not ask my instructor to hit me with that question about Jesus Christ. I did not ask for any of this.

I spoke with my girlfriend who is also a cadet. And she connected me with one of her USAFA faculty advisors who told me exactly who Mikey Weinstein is and encouraged me to reach out to the MRFF. So did my mom and dad.

It’s hard enough to keep your head above water academically at the Academy. And to have had this instructor ask me about my personal religious beliefs about Jesus was pretty terrible and demoralizing. I was humiliated.

I am pretty involved in some high profile USAFA activities as a cadet and this whole thing has affected me badly in ways I had never expected. I don’t know if I even want to stay here anymore?

Throughout my time as a student in this instructor’s class this instructor has not been shy about giving an opinion on almost all subjects controversial. This instructor apparently thinks dangers from global warming and COVID, and mandatory masks and vaccines are "over emphasized". That they may just be “fake news” who cry about it.. This instructor clearly supports the past president and doesn’t seem to like the current one very much. This instructor hates "abortion on demand” and the “liberal lefties". This instructor has mentioned how important Christian beliefs are to this instructor’s life and success in the Air Force. I had tried to not pay attention to that in there past. But this instructor had never asked me such an improper personal question about my religious faith before especially in an EI session.

I am afraid to officially report this matter to the Academy because I don’t trust any of them to handle this right. I would expect to be jacked up from many different sources.

I appreciate Mr. Weinstein personally helping me so much and General France writing the Vice Superintendent and even the Superintendent Lt. General Clark.. And I appreciate the rest of the MRFF taking up my case for me and my family and making USAFA senior leadership here aware of what happened. There wasn’t anyplace else to go to for this help.

Since this has happened I have noticed so many other things here that are oriented to Christians only or Christians first. There is a lot of work to do to fix this.

I hope that the Academy will take this matter seriously and not try to dismiss it because of the messed up excuse that I won’t reveal any names.

I now wonder how many other times this instructor or others here have asked that question abut Jesus Christ to other cadets?

Getting this whole thing out in the public is the best way to stop that instructor and others who would also try to do these things. If this all is just buried no progress will ever be made here at USAFA.

Thank you so much again Mr. Weinstein, General France and the whole MRFF for taking this fight where it needs to go. Thank you for taking my calls at all hours of the day and night Mr. Weinstein. My cadet schedule doesn’t allow for much free time. If anything else bad comes out of this like retaliation my parents and I know where to go!

Mr Weinstein please do not reveal any information about me or my girlfriend or my family personally to anyone else. I know you’ve promised me that many times. I trust you and the MRFF.

If my name got out there is a 100% chance that I would be targeted as a “traitor" for asking the MRFF for help. I have done all that I intend to do by reporting this to the MRFF and asking them to stop this instructor from any repeat actions. 

P.S. As mentioned above, I had originally asked for advice from my (USAFA staffer’s name, rank and title withheld). After telling me to do nothing at all about this that person also went on a loud rant about how horrible the whole MRFF is. And especially how horrible you are Mr. Weinstein. I am sorry to have to tell you this but it seemed some of what that person said was also very personal regarding your and MRFF’s “origin story” as this person called it. In particular this person told me that you and your Academy graduate children made an undeserved big deal out of certain minor "anti-Jewish” things that had been done to you and them. I have lost respect for that person and for so many people here since this all happened a few days ago. I’m still trying to figure it all out.

(USAF Academy Cadet’s name, class year, cadet rank and title and Cadet Squadron all withheld)

Mikey Weinstein, who the proselytizing instructor implored the cadet not to run to, expressed his thoughts on the long-standing and continuing, ever-present plague of religious fundamentalism at the Academy as only he can do:
Mikey Weinstein
“This current, horrible No Establishment Clause breach by the U. S. Air Force Academy is only the very latest in a wretched series of decades-long, shocking, illicit behavior stretching back to the early 2000s and even well beyond. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Air Force Academy continues to be an ignominious, nonstop train wreck when it comes to preventing the promotion of unconstitutional fundamentalist Christianity upon those Academy cadets, faculty, and staff who are subordinate and vulnerable to the unbridled proselytizing of their Air Force Academy chain of command superiors.

Fundamentalist Christian oppression and tyranny at the Air Force Academy are both ubiquitous and TOTALLY SYSTEMIC. This tragic fact was courageously recognized by former Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. General John Rosa (himself a Christian), well over 16 years ago, in a major speech he gave before the Anti-Defamation League on June 3, 2005.

The superintendent of the Air Force Academy acknowledged to leaders of a national Jewish group Friday that religious intolerance permeates the military school.

"As a commander, I know I have problems in my cadet wing," Lt. Gen. John Rosa said at a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League's executive committee. "I have issues in my staff, and I have issues in my faculty — and that's my whole organization."

He said he admonished the academy's No. 2 commander, Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, a born-again Christian, for sending an e-mail promoting National Prayer Day.

In all of these years since that 2005 watershed, honest admission by the then most senior Air Force Academy leader and commander, the Academy has NEVER once recognized the obvious SYSTEMIC magnitude of this unconstitutional disaster. The Academy has never made ANY genuine, effective efforts to combat this repugnant, scabrous, fundamentalist Christian bigotry and prejudice. 

The Academy has been maliciously maladroit, at best, and deliberately dishonest, at worst, in attempting to explain its sustained failures to stop this vile plague of majority faith exclusivism and exceptionalism. 

The imperious refusal of the Academy’s current senior leadership to confront and destroy this systemic, pernicious, and pervasive fundamentalist Christian triumphalism and domination is both damning and deplorable.

The vile misfeasance and malfeasance of the Air Force Academy's continuing blatant breaches of the Constitutionally protected civil rights of its cadets, faculty, and staff NOT to be subjected to religious persecution can only be surmounted when those superiors who perpetrate these crimes are punished via courts-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

PLEASE MAKE A
100% TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION

MRFF is a 501C3 Nonprofit
Please Share on Social Media
MRFF Information/Contact:
(505) 250-7727