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The 'Gamble Report' -- A Defeat for Mikey Weinstein and His Forces of Satan?

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In its latest attempt to give the appearance of concern about complaints of religious intolerance, the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) recently conducted a five-day "investigation" that (big surprise) found that there were no problems at all, save for the occasional minor incident that could always be resolved at the lowest level.

Heading the investigation was retired Air Force General Patrick Gamble, a former Commandant of Cadets at USAFA, and the investigative team included a former USAFA dean and two former USAFA department heads -- certainly no chance that this team would want the Academy to come out smelling like roses, is there?

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These were some of the findings in Gamble's report, released on April 15:

"Cadets' acceptance of those with different beliefs is exceptional. USAFA should be recognized for its institutional leadership in this area."

"We found widespread agreement that everyone throughout the chain of command has been given and is giving appropriate guidance with respect to official neutrality, not only among religions, but also between religious and non-religious beliefs."

"Cadets and permanent party expressed a near-uniform belief that they can (and do) make their own choices to participate - or not - in religious activities, without repercussion. Reports of actual pressure to participate were rare and easily resolved by simply expressing that the invitation or speech was unwelcome."

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"Cadets are not unduly stressed about possible pressure to join or conform to a religion, and the majority clearly feels empowered to deal with unwanted approaches. Across the board, cadets disavow that any favoritism or retribution would accrue based upon religious or non-religious affiliation."

"Cadets clearly feel that they have the ability to resolve a conflict over religious tolerance and freedom, usually by addressing the issue head-on, by themselves. Alternatively, they have great confidence that their chain-of-command will be able to help them if called upon. The Superintendent was specifically lauded for his leadership in this area several times by faculty, staff, and cadets."

"The cadets with whom we talked trusted the various mechanisms internal to USAFA (including the cadet chain of command, the Interfaith Council, PEERS, AOCs/AMTs, and chaplains). These reporting mechanisms were deemed responsive and effective. In view of certain media reports of claims to the contrary we looked hard, but found no direct or supportable widespread evidence of cadets resorting to the use of outside agencies or organizations."

"We found no evidence in our interviews at any level that anyone fears for their physical safety based upon their religious beliefs or non-belief."

How could Gen. Gamble's findings, described as an "assessment of the current religious climate at the US Air Force Academy," be so drastically different than what was just reported by cadets and faculty last fall in the Academy's biannual "Climate Survey," in which 353 cadets (almost 1 out of every 5 survey participants) reported having been subjected to unwanted religious proselytizing, and 23 cadets (13 of them Christians) reported living "in fear of their physical safety" because of their religious beliefs?

The answer is simple: 40 percent of the Academy's cadets and 53 percent of the faculty staff members participated in the Climate Survey, confident that this anonymous survey really was anonymous, while only a few dozen faculty and staff members and only about a hundred cadets (barely more than 2 percent) were willing to participate in Gamble's investigation, due primarily to fears that the interviews with Gamble's team would not be kept confidential. In other words, the cadets who have actually experienced problems did not participate, allowing Gamble to base his findings on a sampling consisting of cadets who at best just haven't personally experienced the problems reported in the Climate Survey, and at worst included those who are among the perpetrators of these problems.

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As one Academy faculty member wrote to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) after reading Gamble's report, which includes a section on the investigation's methodology: "You don't do proper research with a self-selected sample -- unless, of course, you are fishing for the answers you already want. ... Frankly, General Gamble, I expected better. This Gamble Report would be laughed out of committee as even as a master's degree proposal. It doesn't even make a good term paper."

Another faculty member, referring to a faculty meeting at which the Gamble report was addressed, wrote: "What struck me as odd was that the Dean told everyone that the study used a random sample of cadets and faculty. A random sample? I think not. The cadets and faculty self-selected to provide interviews." This faculty member went on to tell MRFF that, at this same meeting, the dean proceeded to quote the Bible while addressing another item on the agenda, writing: "Are we to trust our leadership with improving the religious atmosphere if they are the ones quoting scripture? She made no attempt to apologize for the remark. I'm not even sure if it registered that she just quoted the Bible during a staff meeting."

MRFF also heard from numerous cadets after the Gamble report was released. Not surprisingly, with the report pointing out that Gamble's team had "read media releases from both inside and outside USAFA concerning charges made by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation," there was some talk about MRFF upon the report's release. As one cadet reported in the following email excerpt, the Gamble report was touted as "a defeat for Mikey Weinstein [the founder and president of MRFF] and his Forces of Satan."

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Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History.

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