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Saturday, February 26, 2005
Air Force coach considers keeping team prayers

Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Air Force football coach Fisher DeBerry, who was asked to remove a Christian banner from his locker room last season, said religion can't be separated from football or other parts of life.

He also told The Gazette on Friday that he would consider continuing team prayers after football games.

"It's something we will have to consider, but this is our foundation and this is what we're all about in Falcon football. I don't think you separate religion from normal, everyday life," said DeBerry, 66. "Football, academics, military training -- everything -- all encompasses everything. Religion is a part of life."

Surveys have shown some cadets feel Christians get preferential treatment at the school, and non-Christians reported being harassed. As of November, the academy had received 55 complaints of religious intolerance since 2000. It launched sensitivity training Nov. 2.

Also in November, DeBerry posted a banner in the locker room that read in part: "I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ." He removed it after academy leaders said it was inappropriate.

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa said DeBerry can lead postgame prayers, if they do not promote a particular religion.

"He understands he has a right to express his beliefs, but any type of coercion isn't allowed. ... He is the last guy I think that wants to offend anybody," Rosa said.

DeBerry told The Gazette that he advises his players to attend church the day after games, most of which fall on Saturdays, but that he doesn't force religion on players.