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Air Force to review end-zone prayers following advocacy group complaint

The worlds of sports and religion are colliding yet again, this time at one of the nation’s service academies.

According to the Air Force Times, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which the paper describes as a group that opposes proselytizing in the military, has filed an official complaint with the Air Force Academy regarding its football program. Specifically, the group has taken issue with members of the academy’s football team’s pregame tradition of kneeling in the end zone prior to and after games, holding hands and praying.

“This end zone praying is just another territorial conquest of the religious Christian right,” MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein said. “This stands in a long line of conservative Christian acts like this.”

Because of the complaint, the academy is conducting a review of the situation.

“The Air Force Academy Inspector General opened a third-party complaint and referred the issue to the athletic department for an informal inquiry,” an Air Force spokesperson said in an email. “Friday morning we received an opposing viewpoint requesting cadets continue to be afforded the right to pray. Thus, we are being prudent and deliberate in our review of this issue.

The players are not being required, compelled or forced to pray by any program or academy official. Rather, according to the academy’s official stance, they do it of their own volition.

The MRFF currently represents what the Times describes as 144 Air Force Academy cadets, faculty and staff. Included in that number are five current members of the Falcons football team. The group that represents the football players has no confidence that the academy can conduct an unbiased review into their complaints.

“Allowing the Air Force Academy to investigate itself — this is simply the fox investigating the hen-house,” Weinstein said. “We expect that we’ll get nothing positive out of this and we’ll continue to take a look at whether our clients could possibly get ‘John’ and ‘Jane Doe’ protections to go into federal court to seek an injunction.”

The academy maintains that it is “attentive to all religious freedom concerns” and looks to create “an environment in which people can realize their highest potential regardless of personal religious or other beliefs.”