HINDU AMERICAN FOUNDATION CONCERNED ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AT U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY

Date: May 31, 2005

TAMPA, FL: The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) expressed serious concern over multiple reports that many in the faculty and staff at the Colorado Springs U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) are abetting the spread of evangelical Christianity on the campus while fostering a climate of religious intolerance towards other religious traditions.

The Air Force, according to a statement made in early May, was first made aware of religious prejudice through a survey in 2004, in which Jewish and other Christians claimed they were being pressured by evangelical Christian. Although the Air Force created a program for Respecting the Spritiual Values of all People (RSVP), HAF noted that according to reports by former chaplains and students from the campus, the program was significantly weakened and inconsistently implemented.

"These reports of prosletyzation by senior officers, teachers and chaplains represent flagrant violations of the American ethos of religious tolerance and pluralism that air force cadets will be asked to uphold," said Aseem R. Shukla, M.D., member of the HAF Board of Directors. "Forcing a narrow religious viewpoint on cadets when they are far from home for the first time and come to chaplains seeking spiritual comfort and solace is deplorable."

According to a May 3 report in the Washington Post, several cadets stated that those who chose not to attend chapel after dinner at the USAFA are organized into a "Heathen Flight" and taken to their dormitories; that the "Chaplain of the Year" urged Christian cadets to advocate that their fellow cadets convert or "burn in the fires of hell"; that many born-again Christian faculty members push students to become born-again; and that several mandatory cadet meetings begin with Christian prayers.

A May 28, 2005 statement by the most recent official taskforce to visit the academy confirmed some instances of commanding officers imposing religious views on others and demands these officers to be more sensitive to these issues. HAF members supported these findings but continued to demand concrete action and disciplinary measures. They expressed particular concern that Hindus, as followers of a non-Abrahamic tradition that is largely misunderstood in the U.S., would be even more vulnerable to religious discrimination and concerted prosletyzation.

"HAF strongly opposes any effort to pressure cadets on the basis of religious affiliation," said Dr. Shukla. "We urge the United States Air Force to consider the loss of morale and resentment prosletyzation effects on students and take definitive measures to restore the American tradition of real understanding and pluralism on the campus. Officers abusing this responsibility must face real consequences."