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Group wants West Point survey withdrawn

Questions related to religion are unconstitutional, Military Religious Freedom Foundation says

Aug. 24, 2012 - 03:35PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 24, 2012 - 03:35PM  |  
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A watchdog group is demanding that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., withdraw an online survey of cadets that asks about religion, claiming it violates their constitutional protections.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said Friday an anonymous survey sent to members of the Class of 2013 asks 89 questions related to leadership and character. The foundation claims a half-dozen questions related to faith and spirituality represent an unconstitutional test of religious preference.

The foundation says the survey consists of statements like "My faith makes me who I am" and "I practice my religion." Respondents are asked to click on one of five circles describing how the statements apply to them, ranging from "very much like me" to "very much unlike me."

Brig. Gen. Theodore D. Martin, the commandant of cadets, encouraged cadets to take the survey in an Aug. 21 letter provided to Army Times by the foundation.

Lt. Col. Webster M. Wright III, West Point director of public affairs, said in an emailed statement, "The United States Military Academy is looking into the statements made in Mr. Weinstein's letter dated August 23, 2012. The survey referenced in that letter is voluntary and anonymous. For the most recent survey 25% of the cadets chose to participate."

According to an Army official, the survey is one in a series of surveys prepared for the class, part of the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic's effort to track leadership development at the academy. Its questions were compiled by a computer program from a broader pool of questions, the official said.

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told Army Times he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the academy if the survey was not withdrawn.

"The military academy, sadly, needs to be educated about what's constitutional and what's not," Weinstein said. "We'll give them a reasonable time to fix this, and after that we'll see them in court."

A West Point cadet, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals, said he contacted Weinstein to report the survey as part of a pattern at the school and in the military.

The cadet told Army Times that officers and others routinely equate resiliency and leadership ability with religious devotion. As an avowedly secular person, he said he feels marginalized.

"I am not religious, but this does not mean I lack resilience or character," the cadet said in a letter to Weinstein. "Being asked if I lean on faith in someone else's god or if I pray or meditate on the same page of a survey as questions about my perseverance through hardship is absurdly disrespectful and a violation of my most basic constitutional, civil and human rights."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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