The Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition teamed up with the Family Research Council on Wednesday to deliver a petition with 105,000 signatures to the Air Force Academy seeking to have First Amendment freedoms, particularly religious liberty, restored to its cadets.
Religious freedom and the First Amendment have been a source of recent conflict at the Academy. In 2011, administrators issued an apology for mentioning the organization Operation Christmas Child. Most recently, in March of this year, a cadet leader voluntarily removed a Bible verse from the whiteboard on his dorm room door after someone complained to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson. The verse, Galatians 2:20 reads, “I have been crucified with Christ therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
The petition delivered Wednesday directly relates to the Bible verse controversy. It voices concern about the culture of fear produced by eradicating religion and any other source of discomfort. “If cadets are taught to be afraid of Bible verses, how will they respond against terrorists who are willing to die for their cause?” the petition asks.
Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of an organization devoted to strictly limiting religion in the military, argued that the presence of the Bible verse “pours fundamentalist Christian gasoline” on an Air Force Academy religious culture he believes is “raging out of control.”
But Lt. Gen. (Rt.) Jerry Boykin, Family Research Council’s executive vice president, disagrees. He wants the religious problems within the Academy sorted out in a way that benefits the cadets to prevent further damage. “The Academy’s recent actions and policy pronouncements, unless quickly corrected, will continue to chill speech among cadets, harm morale, and create unnecessary confusion,” he said.
Lawmakers in Congress have not remained silent on the issue. Rep. John Fleming, R-La., praised the petition.
“We need this kind of resounding effort by the American people echoing that message to the Air Force,” he said. “I believe we will make progress on this issue, and the efforts of citizens speaking out are playing a leading role in that fight.”
Travis Weber, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, believes the petition speaks for many people in the military worried about their First Amendment rights. “To remove a Bible verse from that whiteboard that the cadet would want to put on there is something that is seriously concerning,” he said.
The petition shows people outside the military also support the ability of soldiers to freely express their religion while in uniform, Boykin said. With the more than 100,00 signatures, the American people “have spoken out loudly against such efforts to suppress speech and belief,” Boykin said.