June 27, 2005

Rabbi to advise U.S. Air Force Academy on religion

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Monday named arabbi who has served as a senior military chaplain to helpchange the religious climate at the Air Force Academy amidconcern over inappropriate proselytizing by evangelicalChristians.

Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff, previously the top chaplain in theU.S. military's European Command, will serve as a specialassistant for "values and vision" to acting Air Force SecretaryMichael Dominguez and Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper, the AirForce said. Resnicoff is a retired U.S. Navy captain.

The Air Force said Resnicoff will advise Dominguez onimplementing recommendations made last week by Lt. Gen. RogerBrady, who headed an assessment prompted by allegations thatthe academy promotes evangelical Christianity and a climate ofintolerance toward other religious beliefs including Judaism.

The academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, produces juniorofficers for the Air Force.

"As far as I know, there is no illegal discrimination --that means someone can't get a promotion or someone can't get agood grade or someone can't get into a class based onreligion," Resnicoff said.

"However, there is some insensitivity and there's somepeople who may have thought that speaking and proclaiming theirfaith was an innocent way to spread the word. Again, they haveto understand this idea that something has changed when theyput that uniform on or when they work for a military academy,"he told reporters in a conference call.

The U.S. Constitution mandates a separation of church andstate.

Brady's report faulted the academy for failing toaccommodate "adherents to minority beliefs," but concludedthere was no "overt religious discrimination." It found thatsome faculty and staff inappropriately expressed strongreligious views and Jewish cadets on campus faced anti-Semiticcomments.

The report recommended that the Air Force set newguidelines on appropriate religious expression and providetraining in religious diversity and respect.


Resnicoff, who already has visited the campus but will workout of the Pentagon, promised to help provide guidance onreligious expression, although "not a cookbook necessarily thatsays you can do this here and you can't do this here."

He said his work initially will focus on the academy, buthe would provide advice applicable to the entire Air Force andaddress every four-star general in the Air Force.

Resnicoff has served as national director ofinter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committeeadvocacy group. Before becoming a chaplain, he served as anofficer in the Vietnam War. Years later, he was involved in thecreation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

Capt. James Cunningham, an Air Force spokesman, saidResnicoff was not picked because he is Jewish.

"He was hired because of his credentials. He was selectedbecause he has inter-religious and military experience,"Cunningham said.

A team from Yale Divinity School said in April it foundevangelical Christian proselytizing commonplace on campus, andnoted "stridently evangelical themes" by staff. The teamdescribed a campus chaplain telling cadets they would "burn inthe fires of hell" if they were not born-again Christians.