Coach takes it down at school's request

Updated: November 20, 2004, 9:08 PM ET
Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Longtime Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry hung a Christian banner in the team's locker room a day after the academy's superintendent announced the school would do more to fight religious intolerance.

DeBerry agreed to remove the banner, which bore the "Competitor's Creed," on Friday after officials said it was inappropriate, academy spokesman Lt. Col. Laurent Fox said Saturday.

The creed on the banner includes the lines "I am a Christian first and last ... I a member of Team Jesus Christ." Fox said DeBerry put the banner up Wednesday to encourage the team which has been having one of their worst seasons in recent years.

On Tuesday academy superintendent Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa announced the school would do more religious tolerance training. Some non-religious cadets reported on a survey that they felt ostracized in a school where 90 percent of cadets are either Protestant or Catholic. Others reported hearing religious slurs, comments or jokes.

Outgoing Air Force Secretary James Roche issued a statement Friday backing the academy's effort.

"Our policy is clear. Tolerance of gender, racial, ethnic and religious diversity is required at our Air Force," Roche said.

The training began Nov. 2 but The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported Saturday that some staffers are still not clear on what is and isn't allowed at the school, including where Bible studies may be conducted.

Citing an unnamed source who attended a briefing on the new training program, the newspaper said that Commandant Brig. Gen. Weida contradicted chaplain Michael Whittington during a briefing by saying that Bible studies would be allowed in dormitories.

Fox said Saturday that Whittington said that he prefers that Bible studies be held in the chapel where rooms are set aside for that rather than in dorm common rooms, where cadets also study and watch television. Fox said that during the meeting Weida was only clarifying that Bible studies are still allowed in dorms.

In September, officials sent a memo to everyone at the school explaining the government's e-mail policy after some staffers put New Testament verses at the bottom of their e-mails. Some cadets were admonished in March for using academy e-mail to encourage other people to see "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson's movie about the crucifixion of Jesus.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press