Accused her superiors of using their positions to promote evangelical ChristianityA chaplain at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs who has accused her superiors of using their positions to promote evangelical Christianity among the cadets says she was fired from an administrative job because of her outspokenness and was given orders to ship out to Japan.
An Air Force task force, meanwhile, has finished an investigation at the academy into charges by the chaplain and others that officers there were inappropriately proselytizing the cadets.
The academy chaplain, Capt. MeLinda Morton, said she had disagreed with her boss, the academy's chief chaplain, Col. Michael Whittington, after a critical report by a team from the Yale Divinity School was released to the news media in April. The report, dated July 2004 and which she helped write, found that some academy chaplains were insensitive to the religious diversity of the cadets.
Captain Morton said her boss asked her to denounce the report and defend the academy, but she told him she agreed with it. She said that about two weeks later, on May 4, she received an e-mail message from Colonel Whittington dismissing her from her position as his administrative assistant, or "executive officer." However, she remains a chaplain, retains her rank and earns the same salary.
"That is pretty plainly, in my mind, retribution," Captain Morton said. "That makes a big point on a staff. The point is, 'We don't regard Mel as trustworthy, and we humiliate her by firing her.' However, in the whole scope of things, that's pretty minor to what's going on in the academy."
She also said that in March she received orders to transfer to Okinawa, and from there could be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Captain Morton said she was surprised because in December she was told by Colonel Whittington that she would be staying at the academy through summer 2006 to see several projects through. At the time, Captain Morton was developing a sensitivity training program for the academy and was involved in pastoral care for cadets who were victims in a sexual abuse scandal that swept the academy in 2003.
An academy spokesman, Lt. Col. Laurent Fox, said in an interview that Captain Morton's dismissal as executive officer and her reassignment to Okinawa were entirely routine, and not retribution. He said that Captain Morton was removed from her position in order to make way for a new executive officer because Colonel Whittington was leaving the academy in June and Captain Morton is leaving in July.
"We don't see this as a dismissal," Colonel Fox said. "This kind of a transition is a normal process that happens in squadrons across the Air Force."
Colonel Fox said he knew nothing about a meeting that led to a quarrel over the Yale Divinity School report. A request to interview Colonel Whittington was denied because he was being interviewed by the task force investigating the religious climate at the academy. The task force is expected to release a preliminary report on May 23.
Complaints about the religious climate at the academy first surfaced after fliers were passed out in the dining hall advertising a showing of the movie "The Passion of the Christ." An alumnus of the academy, Mikey Weinstein, grew concerned after he visited his son at the school last year and learned that he had been subject to repeated religious slurs because he is Jewish.
Mr. Weinstein, who served in the Reagan administration, said yesterday that he became enraged and set out to see if others had similar experiences. He said he has now spoken with 117 academy cadets, staff members and faculty members who complained about religious intimidation and proselytizing at the academy. Of the 117 people, 8 are Jewish, one is an atheist, about 10 are Catholic and the rest are nonevangelical Protestants.
His son was interviewed by the task force this week, Mr. Weinstein said. He said he was not interviewed by the task force, even though "I have a boatload of information," he said.
"I can't reveal people's names, but I thought it might be useful," he said.
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN