Air Force Academy football players have a right to pray publicly before games, an academy athletic department review has found.
“The United States Air Force Academy places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion or to observe no religion at all,” academy officials said in a statement on Wednesday. “Recently the United States Air Force Academy received a complaint about its football players kneeling in prayer. An inquiry was initiated, which found 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 Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group that opposes proselytizing in the military, complained about academy football players praying in the end zone after its Nov. 28 game against the University of New Mexico. The Falcons also prayed in the end zone before their Dec. 5 game against San Diego State University despite the complaint.
Shortly afterwards, the academy received an “opposing viewpoint” from The Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that advocates for religious expression, arguing that the football players should be allowed to continue to pray publicly, an academy spokesman told Air Force Times on Dec. 8.
“The United States Air Force Academy will continue to reaffirm to cadets that all Airmen are free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all,” academy officials said in the statement. “The players may confidently practice their own beliefs without pressure to participate in the practices of others.”
But Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said be believes the issue is far from settled.
“This outrageous internal administrative decision to allow its football team to engage in massive orchestrated sectarian Christian prayers right before kickoff for the world to see on television is a monstrous travesty and brutal breach of federal constitutional law and Department of Defense/Air Force regulations,” Weinstein said in an email to Air Force Times on Wednesday.
“On behalf of our 144 Air Force Academy clients, including five members of the football team, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is in consultation with its litigators to decide if it is possible to go into federal court to obtain injunctive relief to stop this pernicious and pervasive practice of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exhibitionism.”