Many of the players on the Air Force Falcons football team are in the habit of taking a knee, and sometimes holding hands in a circle, to pray in their end zone before or after a game.
That doesn't sit well with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that opposes proselytizing in the military. In fact, Mikey Weinstein, MRFF president and founder has called it a "scandalous outrage."
"It's a disgrace," Weinstein said, himself an Air Force alum. "It's a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism and it has to stop. Those individuals that are dressed in the Air Force uniform; that's their uniform of the day. They're members of the military and they are under different rules than the civilian counterparts they're playing on the field."
He points to the "no establishment clause of the first amendment," and to a subsequent Supreme Court case in 2000 (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe) which ruled that the Santa Fe Independent School District's policy that permitted student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games violated the establishment clause; and he points to this sentence in a 1974 Supreme Court ruling (Parker v. Levy), which says: "while military personnel are not excluded from First Amendment protection, the fundamental necessity for obedience, and the consequent necessity for discipline, may render permissible within the military that which would be constitutionally impermissible outside it."
The Air Force Academy itself does not appear to have problems with prayer, given that it sometimes uses its Facebook page to say it is thinking about and praying for people when tragedy strikes.
In October, the Air Force posted that its thoughts and prayers were with families and friends of the U.S. service members and civilians who were killed when a C-130J crashed in Afghanistan.
For Thanksgiving 2014, the Air Force posted this message on its Facebook page: "We are thankful for each and every Airman protecting freedom at home and abroad. Enjoy this time with your friends and family, and keep our deployed service members and those not able to be home today in your thoughts and prayers. Happy Thanksgiving!"
And in 2013, it took to Facebook when a shooting occurred at the Naval Sea System Command Headquarters in Washington, D.C., saying its "thoughts and prayers are with the families and victims of the shooting."
Despite Weinstein's objections, some of the Air Force players prayed in the end zone before its Dec. 5 game against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Championship.
Air Force academy spokesman Meade Warthen says the issue is being investigated internally.
"The Air Force Academy Inspector General opened a third-party complaint and referred the issue to the athletic department for an informal inquiry," Warthen said in an email to Air Force Times. "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."
Franklin Graham weighed in on the topic, pointing to "irony" in "Military Religious Freedom Foundation" name and complained the organization is "now picking on the US Air Force Academy (Official) football team!" he wrote on Facebook.
"After seeing Falcon players kneel in prayer before last Saturday's game against San Diego State, he says it must stop. He said Air Force players participating in public prayer 'is a scandalous outrage' and calls it 'a disgrace' and 'a putrid example of Christian supremacy.' Since when is voluntary prayer scandalous or putrid?"
Graham went on to ask people to join him in praying "that the religious freedoms of these young men will not be taken away as a result of one bitter person bent on removing God and His Son Jesus Christ from everything in this country. America owes its blessings to Almighty God—and our founding fathers knew that."
This article was originally published in Christian Examiner.