Washington Gadfly

Air Force Football Players Primed To Keep Tebowing Despite Criticism

Evan Gahr Investigative Journalist
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The Air Force Academy football team plays University of California-Berkeley Tuesday in a nationally televised match known as the Armed Forces Bowl.

But the most excitement could occur shortly prior to the 2 p.m. kickoff at the Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

Despite vociferous objections from a military activist group, the Air Force Academy is allowing its football players to pray before the game, pushing a showdown that conceivably could end up in federal court.

The decision is one of the few times in recent months armed forces brass have rebuffed requests by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to prohibit troops and commanders from doubling as Christian crusaders, in violation, the group says, of both the First Amendment and military regulations.

In a telephone interview early Monday evening, MRFF president Mikey Weinstein called the Academy’s decision to allow the prayers after a sham investigation he likened to “Pol Pot investigating himself” and another example of “the fascistic contagion of fundamentalist Christianity.”

Weinstein contends that the prayers would violate a 2000 Supreme Court decision that barred “mass prayer sessions at high school football games.”

Plus, the players, are flouting USAF Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 which requires that “Leaders at all levels” to “ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.”

Weinstein first noticed what he calls a “putrescent example of fundamentalist Christianity” when he attended a November 28 game between the Air Force Falcons and the University of New Mexico. At that match the players, who are cadets, kneeled in prayer before kickoff. But they have also Tebowed at the end of games.

After getting nowhere with private inquiries Weinstein publicly condemned the “wholly illicit, illegal and unconstitutional pattern of exhibitionist pregame Christian prayer stunts displayed by players with the U.S. Air Force Academy‘s football team, the Falcons.”

In an email provided to this reporter, one player, a practicing Christian, implored Weinstein to intercede. “If you don’t go along with it you are not going to be viewed as a good follower or teammate,” he wrote. “I am not alone. There are enough of us who feel pressured to conform and this is wrong.

Nevertheless Breitbart in its infinite wisdom, falsely called Weinstein an atheist in cahoots with the Obama administration for voicing objections. Actually, most of his clients are Christian, including four Air Force Academy football players.

And Weinstein is about as much of an atheist as Attorney General Loretta Lynch was a Clinton impeachment defense lawyer. He is Jewish and prays daily.

Regardless, Weinstein about two months ago convinced the Dover Air Force Base to stop promoting an evangelical charity. But the El Paso County, Colorado-based Air Force Academy is not budging here.

In a statement earlier this week, the Academy said their investigation into Weinstein’s complaint determined that “the football players’ actions to be consistent with Air Force Instruction 1-1 and its guidance on the free exercise of religion and religious accommodation. The players may confidently practice their own beliefs without pressure to participate in the practices of others.”

What explains the Air Force Academy’s obstinacy?

Mike Berry, director of military affairs for the Liberty Institute, which calls itself a religious liberty law firm that represents people of all faiths, told this reporter that the Academy followed new guidelines — apparently drafted with Weinstein in mind — that commanders investigate complaints from outside groups rather than make unilateral decisions.

“I think it is the right decision. It is refreshing to see the academy take this approach” with the MRFF instead of reflexively acceding to the group’s request, Berry argued. “Service members have constitutional rights. You don’t give up your religious freedom by joining the military.”

He says Weinstein is misinterpreting the Supreme Court high school prayer decision to make his case and is also wrong to say other football players would be coerced into praying with teammates.

In a very subtle and oblique response, Weinstein called Berry a “raging mother fucker” and stalking horse for Christian fascism.

Weinstein said he is consulting with his attorney about whether to sue in federal court to preempt future praying. He worries that any Air Force Academy personnel who served as plaintiffs could face retaliation.