Sep. 1, 2005
CBS SportsLine.com wire reports




AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry will forgo his customary team prayer before Saturday's game against Washington, one of the first visible changes brought on by a new policy on public displays of religion at the academy.

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Instead, the team will observe a moment of silence in the locker room, The Gazette of Colorado Springs reported Thursday.

The Air Force issued guidelines Monday that discourage public prayer at official functions and urge commanders to be sensitive about personal expressions of religious faith.

The guidelines, which apply to the entire Air Force, were drawn up after allegations that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the academy in Colorado Springs that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment became pervasive.

DeBerry had led pregame prayers in his previous 21 years as Air Force's coach. Senior academy staffers decided the moment of silence was more appropriate under the new guidelines, athletics spokesman Troy Garnhart said.

DeBerry declined to comment. "All I'm thinking about right now is football," he said.

The guidelines say public prayer "should not usually be included in official settings such as staff meetings, office meetings, classes, or officially sanctioned activities such as sports events or practice sessions."

Last year, academy officials told DeBerry to remove a banner from the locker room that said in part, "I am a Christian first and last. ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

Describing pregame prayers during a panel discussion in February, DeBerry said, "We get on our hands and knees and we wrap our arms around each other and we thank God for the opportunity of having competed that particular day."

He said players were not required to participate.

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