Anti-Christian group 'insults' U.S. Air Force cadets by demanding end to their public prayers in football games

Football players are seen here holding hands and kneeling down in prayer inside their dressing room after winning a game.Reuters

An anti-Christian group was accused of insulting the U.S. Air Force Academy football team when it demanded an end to its players' practice of kneeling down in prayer in public, calling the act a "putrid" example of "Christian supremacy."

Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) president and founder Michael Weinstein said public prayers that are often seen on the football pitch before games are "a scandalous outrage," and he demanded that the act be put to a stop.

He said the Air Force Academy football players had approached him about their public prayer concerns. According to them, they joined the others in prayer simply because they feared being punished.

Weinstein stressed the need for it to stop because public displays of prayers might even be used in anti-American propaganda by the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.

"It's a disgrace," said Weinstein, who graduated from the Academy in 1977. "It's a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism and it has to stop. Those individuals that are dressed in the Air Force uniform, that's their uniform of the day. They're members of the military and they are under different rules that the civilian counterparts they're playing on the field."

Weinstein claims that those who wear military uniforms are being coerced by the government to perform a religious activity, even if they don't want to.

"We have families of players, we have players, we have girlfriends of players, we have staff and faculty 144 strong at the Academy," he said. "They're terrified to go forward and go up the chain of command or to file an official complaint for fear of facing reprisal or retribution. They should not be coerced in any way, shape or form to publicly sit there and engage in a massive team prayer for one particular version of Christianity."

However, the religious liberty advocacy and legal defence organisation Liberty Institute defended the Air Force Academy football players' prayer routine during games.

Liberty Institute lawyer Michael Berry blasted Weinstein for "insulting" the cadets "who will soon become commissioned officers in the military, charging into harm's way and leading their fellow Americans into battle."

Berry, a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, said, "More than ironic, it's actually insulting for Weinstein to claim that, as future officers and tomorrow's military leaders, these brave men lack the courage to respectfully express their beliefs regarding religious traditions to their immediate superiors," Breitbart News reported.

For its part, the U.S. Air Force said it will formally conduct an investigation of their own regarding the situation. "The United States Air Force Academy is attentive to all religious freedom concerns, and we are conducting an inquiry into the complaint," it said in a statement. "The Air Force is dedicated to maintaining an environment in which people can realise their highest potential, regardless of personal, religious or other beliefs."