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Air Force appoints task force to address religious climate at the United States Air Force Academy

5/4/2005 - WASHINGTON (AFPN)  -- Acting Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Michael L. Dominguez, directed the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff, Personnel, Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, to immediately stand up a cross-functional task force on the religious climate at the United States Air Force Academy May 3.

The task force will assess items ranging from Air Force policy and guidance on the subject of religious respect and tolerance, to the practices of the academy chain of command that either enhance or detract from a climate that respects both the “free exercise of religion” and the “establishment clauses” of the First Amendment.

Considerable efforts have been made during the past several months at the academy to address issues of religious tolerance and respect. After discovering perceptions of religious bias during surveys in 2004, Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., academy superintendent, implemented a proactive plan to address this issue with the support of Air Force senior leadership and the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors.

A team from Air Force headquarters, led by Ms. Shirley A. Martinez, deputy assistant secretary for equal opportunity, with outside help from Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff, a former U.S. Navy chaplain, was dispatched to provide an initial assessment and advice to academy leadership in December 2004.

Using feedback from that team, focus groups and others, academy leadership, with assistance from the Air Force chief of chaplains, instituted a new training program for all academy cadets, staff and faculty called Respecting the Spiritual Values of all People. The mandatory small-group RSVP seminars, each facilitated by a chaplain, a lawyer and a commander, address the diversity of the Air Force and the need for each person to respect others, regardless of their beliefs or faith.

To augment the ongoing effort, Lt. Gen. Rosa also reached out to the civilian sector, including organizations such as the Yale Divinity School. In addition, he is looking at incorporating character development recommendations from the Josephson Institute of Ethics and considering offers of support from the Anti-Defamation League.

Members of the Board of Visitors, including former Governor James S. Gilmore III, Senators Wayne Allard and Larry Craig, and Representatives Joel Hefley and Carolyn Kilpatrick, recently attended an RSVP session to observe and assess its quality firsthand.

According to Mr. Dominguez, “This program encourages people to confidently and authentically live out their own faith and belief commitments and deeply respect others whose spiritual strength comes from a faith or source different from their own. Such mutual respect is essential to the culture of the Airmen.”

However, lingering allegations from sources such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State are being taken very seriously by the Air Force. This newly appointed task force will assess the religious climate and adequacy of Air Force efforts to address the issue at the academy.

Specifically, the task force is directed to assess:

a. Air Force and academy policy and guidance on the subject of religious respect and tolerance.

b. The appropriateness of relevant training for the cadet wing, faculty and staff

c. The religious climate and assessment tools used at the academy

d. The effectiveness of academy mechanisms to address complaints on this subject, to include the chain of command, the academy’s inspector general and the military equal opportunity office

e. The practices of the chain of command, faculty, staff or cadet wing that either enhance or detract from a climate that respects both the “free exercise of religion” and the “establishment” clauses of the First Amendment

f. The relevance of the religious climate at the academy to the entire Air Force

The task force’s report will provide findings and may include specific recommendations. The task force will refer any evidence of specific misconduct to the appropriate authority. A preliminary assessment is due to the Acting Secretary of the Air Force by May 23.

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