Rocky Mountain News - June 17, 2005
Muslim cadets allege unequal treatment
Duties block them from attending services, they say
By Dick Foster
COLORADO SPRINGS - Muslim cadets at the Air Force Academy were prevented from attending mosque services last semester because of school obligations, while similar duties were scheduled to avoid conflict with Jewish and Christian services, a Muslim student says.
The issue of unequal treatment for the academy's Muslims comes as the school is working to address charges of religious intolerance, favoritism and proselytizing by its large evangelical Christian population.
Of the 4,300 cadets at the academy, about 2,600 are Protestant, 1,300 are Catholic and 43 are Jewish.
The nine cadets who are Muslim are too few to justify their own chaplain, the academy has said, so last fall they attended Friday services at Colorado Springs' only mosque as their schedules permitted.
But in March, the group formally sought permission to skip Friday lunch and the following two hours at the academy - from noon to 2:30 p.m. - for the remainder of the semester to attend a weekly service.
Part of that period, from 12:25 to 12:55 p.m., is called "commandant's time," which consists of marching, safety briefings and other issues the academy commandant considers important. Classes resume at 1 p.m.
Academy officials said they tried to accommodate the cadets regarding classes, but said their request came mid-semester, too late to adjust schedules.
Still, a "sanction committee" of staff and faculty approved the Muslim students' request, but then attached so many restrictions that it effectively blocked the cadets from attending services, the student said.
A recent academy graduate who was aware of the controversy because he knows some of the Muslim students agreed that the restrictions all but prohibited them from attending worship services. "It doesn't make it impossible, but it makes it really, really hard, because of the tight schedule we have at the academy," said the graduate, a Catholic.
Jewish cadets, who share a lunch table with some of the Muslims, told them that a sanction committee had excused Jewish cadets from some Saturday military training so they could attend synagogue, the Muslim cadet said. "We thought they were giving the privilege to the Jewish cadets, but not to the Muslim cadets," he said.
There are no classes or military training on Sundays, the Christian holiday…..