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Air Force Academy officers defend prayer luncheon

DAN ELLIOTT Updated: February 7, 2011 at 12:00 am

DENVER — Four Air Force Academy officers defended an upcoming prayer luncheon in court filings Monday, after a lawsuit alleged the event is unconstitutional because it appears to be sponsored by commanders and some faculty members feel pressured to attend.

A flier and e-mails about the luncheon state it is sponsored by the chapel, not commanders, Chaplain Dwayne Peoples, an Air Force lieutenant colonel, said in one of the affidavits.

Luncheon organizers and academy commanders have repeatedly told cadets and faculty the event is voluntary, Peoples and the other officers said.

The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to stop the luncheon planned for Thursday. A hearing is scheduled Tuesday.

Five academy faculty members and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed the lawsuit last week in federal court seeking to block the event.

It claims e-mails sent to cadets, faculty and staff members give the impression the event is sponsored by academy commanders. The suit said attendance is officially voluntary, but the five faculty members who are plaintiffs believe their careers might suffer if they don't go.

One e-mail said it was sent on behalf of the vice commander of the 10th Air Base Wing, which oversees chaplain services, maintenance, health care and other services at the academy.

The vice commander, Col. Todd W. Robison, said in one of the affidavits that the notation on the e-mail meant he had given it routine approval for distribution to everyone at the academy, not that he or other commanders were sponsors.

Lt. Col. Robert Kraus and Capt. Jackson Grant also filed affidavits defending the event.

The academy said last week that Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, academy superintendent, told the cadets and faculty at a meeting that attendance at the prayer luncheon is voluntary.

"Let me just set something straight: this is totally voluntary," Gould said in an account posted on the academy website. "If anybody — and I mean this — if anybody is feeling pressure from his or her supervisor or from anybody else to go to this, I want to know about it."

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