The US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel. (Photo: pkd8)
New evidence has surfaced that the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) may have endorsed on-campus proselytizing by fundamentalist and evangelical organizations, particularly the Cadets for Christ ministry.
The Baas family, whose daughter Lauren was converted after entering the school to become a pilot, has been fighting with watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) for the USAFA to address the accusations against the academy and Cadets for Christ. The Baas family has alleged that the ministry, which was given free rein by the USAFA to operate on campus, convinced Lauren to abandon her career aspirations and focus solely on an arranged, subservient marriage.
Last week, Lauren's mother Jean Baas said USAFA head chaplain Col. Robert Bruno asked her to provide evidence of unconstitutional proselytizing. Bruno then told the family that the USAFA had received 35 letters in support of Cadets for Christ, addressed to chaplain Lt. Col. J. Daniel Brantingham and written by academy students and graduates. The letters were sent in response to an email from Cadets for Christ founder Don Warrick entitled, "Want To Do A Favor For Cadets For Christ?"
Those letters, Baas said, are the evidence of unconstitutional proselytizing for which the USAFA is asking.
"At this point, somebody's in hot water," Baas said. "Either Warrick is using the academy as a tool and saying it's okay and the academy doesn't know ... or the academy is in cahoots with them."
Warrick sent out multiple emails soliciting letters from Cadets for Christ members prior to the USAFA's Religious Respect Conference in November.
"The Wing Chaplain at the Air Force Academy and our Board thought it would be helpful if we had on file at the Chaplain's office letters from present and past cadets, parents, board members, and other friends of Cadets for Christ," Warrick wrote in the emails. "We are trying to build a stronger relationship with the Chaplain's office so we would be immensely grateful if you took a few minutes to write to the Wing Chaplain and share what Cadets for Christ has meant to you. Would you be willing to help?"
While the request itself is innocuous, Baas said, "I don't think they were just used for the sake of putting them on file. They needed to build artillery in case this came to a head."
"The timing [was] wonderful for the religious conference."
When the Baas family attended Lauren's graduation in 2010, Jean said she witnessed incidents of proselytizing by older cadets who attended the ceremony. "They went around asking the seniors who they were responsible for bringing to the fold," Baas said. At the time, the USAFA dismissed the account as hearsay - but the letters in support of Cadets for Christ show that "it's not hearsay anymore," Baas said. "It's been a hard struggle. They cannot continue it."
Chaplain Bruno also reportedly told the family that the USAFA had received nine negative responses about Cadets for Christ.
"Thirty-five to nine, like it's a score," Baas said.
MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein called the USAFA's move "a new level of deception and malfeasance."
"They're using tabulated numbers to convince our clients that there is no problem," Weinstein said, invoking Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's words that Americans "do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment."
The emails demonstrate unconstitutional proselytizing, Weinstein said, because Warrick and the Cadets for Christ are shown to be working with the USAFA in an attempt to justify their position. "This act is collusion," Weinstein said. "It's being used to mollify someone who's fighting a constitutional cause ... they're not asking for letters for other organizations." Warrick's solicitation of current cadets is compounded by the fact that the USAFA is federally funded, labeling his actions an attempt to "engage the power of the state."
If Warrick and the USAFA are found to have allowed unconstitutional proselytizing, Weinstein said, the academy will need "a complete change in leadership."
"This won't be solved by the same minds who got us into this disaster," Weinstein said. The USAFA should "replace senior leadership immediately."
The USAFA did not respond to requests for comment.