January 20, 2011
A religious rights group is calling for the removal of the Air Force Academy’s top officer after a flap over a speaker planned for a February prayer luncheon at the school.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation says the academy’s choice of retired Marine 1st Lt. Clebe McClary shows that superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould remains tilted toward evangelical Christianity and tolerates an environment where proselytizing is accepted.
“We’re done,” said academy graduate Mikey Weinstein, the foundation’s founder and a frequent foe of religious practices at the school. “Gould needs to go.”
An academy spokesman, Lt. Col. John Bryan, defended the choice of McClary and said the planned prayer gathering is optional and inclusive of a broad spectrum of religious views.
“Nobody is being forced or coerced to go to this luncheon,” Bryan said.
McClary is a wounded Vietnam veteran who overcame his disabilities and now says he’s in the “Lord’s Army.”
Bryan said he’s heard McClary speak and came away with inspiration for overcoming obstacles rather than religious philosophy.
“He’s a nationally recognized motivational speaker,” Bryan said.
McLary’s website lists testimonials from celebrities including The Rev. Billy Graham and former Denver Broncos coach Dan Reeves.
The academy first sought retired Army general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell to speak at the luncheon, but when he couldn’t make it due to schedule conflicts, McClary was picked to keynote the annual event. He’ll be paid $2,500 and airfare reimbursement.
Weinstein points to McClary’s website for evidence that the speaker is too evangelical for the academy.
“To him, USMC will always mean a U. S. Marine for Christ,” McClary’s website says.
“Such statements are not only antithetical to the clear mission of the United States Air Force Academy, they are totally anathema to the purportedly globally inclusive purpose of this National Prayer Luncheon,” Weinstein wrote in a letter to Gould and Defense Department officials.
Several groups, including the Colorado branch of the American Civil Liberties Union have written Gould in support of Weinsten’s effort.
Weinstein has battled the academy in recent months over the school’s failure to include him in a conference on the school’s religious tolerance practices and the academy’s initial failure to release results of a survey that showed concerns about prosyletizing there.
Gould hasn’t responded to Weinstein’s latest letter.
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