Americans United for Separation of Church and State is calling for an end to Christian prayers at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
“West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation’s military without having religion forced upon them,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “Academy officials must respect the religious liberty rights of all cadets who should be free to make their own decisions about prayer without government coercion.”
The church-state watchdog group gave the academy 30 days to respond to the letter – calling for an end to all prayers at official events because the prayers violate the U.S. Constitution.
A spokesman for West Point told Fox News they had received the letter. The spokesman said that all prayers at West Point are voluntary.
Americans United alleged that some cadets have complained about the inclusion of prayers at a number of events – including Thanksgiving Dinner and Christmas Dinner.
The letter comes after cadet Blake Page left the academy reportedly over claims that he faced discrimination for being an atheist, Americans United said.
Ron Crews, of Chaplain Alliance, told Fox News he was disturbed by the letter.
“Any form of religion is under attack in the military – from Nativity scenes on military chapels to prayers at events,” Crews said. “We need to respect our plurality instead of trying to quash those who do have faith.”
Crews said it’s another example of misunderstanding the First Amendment as well as the history of the nation’s military.
“George Washington was famous for his prayers for his soldiers,” he said. “He was the one who asked Congress to authorize chaplains to be in every brigade.”
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with official prayers at official events,” Crews added.
“America is increasingly diverse, and so is the student body at West Point,” Lynn said in a written statement. “We must stop thinking that a ‘one size fits all’ prayer works for everyone. It doesn’t.”
Retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin blasted the letter from Americans United.
“Barry Lynn’s objective is to destroy Christianity in America – it has nothing to do with wanting to support the First Amendment under his understanding of it,” Boykin told Fox News.
Boykin is executive vice president of the Family Research Council.
Boykin told Fox News he was concerned about the attacks on Christianity within the military – noting that the “spiritual climate at the Air Force Academy has been reduced to nothing more than Sunday chapel services.”
“Prayer at West Point is a tradition,” he said. “Because it is a tradition that derives from Christianity, Barry and others want to destroy that tradition because they are anti-Christian and want to erase any remnant of the influence of Christianity on our society.