- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Three senators have asked Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall to explain why the U.S. Air Force Academy scheduled a key training exercise for Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of observance in Judaism.

Sens. Ben Cardin and Chis Van Hollen, both of Maryland, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut expressed “grave concerns” over the apparent insensitivity by the academy Monday in a letter to Mr. Kendall.

Because the exercise was slated for “the most solemn of Jewish holidays, all Jewish cadets were put in an impossible position of choosing between freely exercising their faith, or participating fully in military training specifically planned to build teamwork and camaraderie,” the senators wrote.

“The scheduling of such an important Academy event on Yom Kippur was unnecessary and suggests a fundamental disregard for Jewish cadets and their first amendment rights,” they added.

Yom Kippur was observed Oct. 4-5. The academy later apologized for the scheduling conflict for the Commandant’s Challenge, a day to “foster teamwork, leadership, and character.”

The senators asked Mr. Kendall to detail the academy’s procedures for scheduling the Commandant’s Challenge, who allowed the event to proceed after the scheduling conflict was raised and the role of the school’s chaplains in setting the calendar to allow observances by “members of all faiths.”

The senators also cited a report from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has challenged the Air Force Academy over spiritual practices it claims illegally promote Christianity. The organization said a junior cadet was told that “being Jewish” was her issue and that she should “make an effort to try Christianity,” which the unnamed senior cadet allegedly said was “just enlightened Judaism.”

“If true, such flagrant religious prejudice demonstrated by a senior cadet in conjunction with a general disregard for Jewish religious observances indicates institutional concerns that we strongly feel must be examined,” the senators wrote.

In a statement late Tuesday, an Air Force Academy spokesman said the school “is aware of the questions sent to the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force and we are assisting the Secretary’s office in gathering information related to a future Air Force response.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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