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Religious intolerance at Air Force Academy

Interim guidelines re: freedom
of religion in the U.S. Air Force

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Overview:

Over 50 allegations of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO became widely known during 2004.  One involved a Jewish cadet who was allegedly told that the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus. Another Jew was allegedly called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.  Reacting to the allegations, a visiting Pentagon task force interviewed Academy personnel in mid-2004.  The Associated Press reported that the Academy's No. 2 chaplain, Captain Melinda Morton, said that she was fired for speaking up about religious intolerance among cadets and staff. She had co-written a report in 2004 which criticized "strident" evangelizing of cadets by Christian officers. She alleged that Evangelical Christians wield too much influence at the Academy. Major General Charles Baldwin, the Air Force's chief chaplain said that she wasn't fired, only reassigned to Japan. 1

The Air Force team investigating religious intolerance in the Air Force Academy issued this set of religious guidelines on 2005-AUG-30. The guidelines extend well beyond the Academy: they apply to every officers, enlisted personnel and civilian employees within the Air Force. Donald H. Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary, told a group of religious leaders in late 2005-AUG that if the guidelines work well in the Air Force, they will be implemented across the armed forces. 2

The guidelines follow the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which simultaneously guarantees:

bulletFreedom of religious expression.
bulletSeparation of church and the federal government. This was later extended to include the states.

These two requirements are in a continual state of tension. One set of criteria that has been used to implement the First Amendment is that the government -- including the military, public schools, etc. -- should avoid:

bulletPromoting one faith group over another.
bulletPromoting religion as superior to a secular lifestyle.
bulletPromoting a secularism in favor of a religious lifestyle.

Although the guidelines currently have no influence beyond the Air Force, they may well find widespread use throughout the U.S. The problems faced by religious oppression in the Air Force Academy can appear anywhere that some people are in a position of authority over others: government, schools, industry, commerce, etc.

Text of the interim guidelines:

Interim guidelines concerning free exercise of religion in the Air Force.

SUBJECT: INTERIM GUIDELINES CONCERNING FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN THE AIR FORCE TEXT: UNCLASSIFIED// REF: CHIEF S SIGHT PICTURE; AIRMEN, SPIRITUAL STRENGTH AND CORE VALUES (28 JUNE 2005) CSAF MESSAGE; RESPECTING THE BELIEFS OF ALL AIRMEN (MSG DTG 241334Z MAY 05)

  1. PURPOSE: RECENTLY, THE ACTING SECAF AND CSAF EXPRESSED THEIR VIEWS ON FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN THE MILITARY CONTEXT (SEE REFERENCES). SUBSEQUENTLY, THEY APPROVED AND HAVE DIRECTED THE FOLLOWING INTERIM GUIDELINES BE FOLLOWED BY ALL AIR FORCE MEMBERS AND CIVILIAN EMPLOYEES. THIS MESSAGE CONTAINS THOSE GUIDELINES, TO BE PROMULGATED BY COMMANDERS AND CIVILIAN LEADERS, AND TASKS THE AIR EDUCATION AND TRAINING COMMAND TO SUBMIT A PLAN FOR INCORPORATING GUIDELINES IN ALL VENUES OF FORMAL TRAINING AND EDUCATION FOR OFFICERS, ENLISTED AND CIVILIAN PERSONNEL WHERE OUR CORE VALUES AND PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS ARE ADDRESSED. IT ALSO TASKS THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY TO SUBMIT A LONG RANGE PLAN FOR INCORPORATING THIS GUIDANCE IN THEIR TRAINING PROGRAM.
     
  2. GUIDING PRINCIPLES:
    bulletA. WE ARE SWORN TO SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES. IN TAKING THIS OATH WE PLEDGE OUR PERSONAL COMPLIANCE WITH THE CONSTITUTION S PROTECTIONS FOR FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION AND PROHIBITIONS AGAINST GOVERNMENTAL ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION.
    bulletB. WE WILL ACCOMMODATE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION AND OTHER PERSONAL BELIEFS, AS WELL AS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, EXCEPT AS MUST BE LIMITED BY MILITARY NECESSITY (NOTE: In considering when military necessity may lead to some constraint on individual rights in this context, we consider The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Title 42, United States Code, Section 2000bb-1, which provides, in part: Government may substantially burden a person s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.)). WE WILL NOT OFFICIALLY ENDORSE OR ESTABLISH RELIGION EITHER ONE SPECIFIC RELIGION, OR THE IDEA OF RELIGION OVER NON-RELIGION.
    bulletC. OUR CORE VALUES SUPPORT AND ARE CONSISTENT WITH OUR CONSTITUTIONAL OBLIGATIONS. OUR INTEGRITY DEMANDS THAT WE RESPECT OTHERS AND THAT WE LIVE UP TO OUR OATHS. SERVICE BEFORE SELF DEMANDS RESPECT FOR THE CONSTITUTION, OUR AIR FORCE AND EACH OTHER, AND AN UNDERSTANDING THAT IN THE MILITARY OUR SERVICE BEGINS WITH A COMMITMENT TO OUR RESPONSIBILITIES, NOT ONLY OUR RIGHTS. COMMITMENT TO A CLIMATE IN WHICH INDIVIDUALS OF DIVERSE BELIEFS FORM AN EFFECTIVE TEAM IS ESSENTIAL TO ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE.
    bulletD. CHAPLAIN SERVICE PROGRAMS ARE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF COMMANDERS. CHAPLAINS FUNCTION AS STAFF OFFICERS WHEN ADVISING COMMANDERS IN REGARD TO THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION, AND THEY IMPLEMENT PROGRAMS OF RELIGIOUS SUPPORT AND PASTORAL CARE TO HELP COMMANDERS CARE FOR THE WELFARE OF ALL THEIR PEOPLE.
    bulletE. SUPERVISORS, COMMANDERS, AND LEADERS AT EVERY LEVEL, BEAR A SPECIAL RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THEIR WORDS AND ACTIONS CANNOT REASONABLY BE CONSTRUED AS EITHER OFFICIAL ENDORSEMENT OR DISAPPROVAL OF THE DECISIONS OF INDIVIDUALS TO HOLD PARTICULAR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR TO HOLD NO RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.
    bulletF. ABUSE OR DISRESPECT OF OUR WINGMEN OUR FELLOW AIR FORCE PEOPLE INCLUDING DISRESPECT BASED ON RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR THE ABSENCE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, IS UNACCEPTABLE.
    bulletG. WE WILL RECOGNIZE AND VALUE THE MANY HERITAGES, CULTURES, AND BELIEFS REPRESENTED AMONG US, AND BUILD A TEAM BY STRESSING OUR COMMON AIR FORCE HERITAGE: THE OATHS WE TOOK; THE CORE VALUES THAT WE EMBRACE; AND, THE MISSION THAT WE UNDERTAKE TO PROTECT OUR NATION.
    bulletH. AT A TIME WHEN MANY NATIONS ARE TORN APART BY RELIGIOUS STRIFE, WE MUST UNDERSTAND THAT OUR ABILITY TO STAND TOGETHER AS AMERICANS AND AS AIRMEN THOSE WHO REPRESENT MANY RELIGIONS, SHOULDER-TO-SHOULDER WITH THOSE WHO CLAIM NO RELIGION IS PART OF OUR HERITAGE, AND OUR STRENGTH.
     
  3. GUIDELINES. THESE GUIDELINES ADDRESS SOME KEY AREAS: RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION; PUBLIC PRAYER OUTSIDE OF VOLUNTARY WORSHIP SETTINGS; INDIVIDUAL SHARING OF RELIGIOUS FAITH IN THE MILITARY CONTEXT; THE CHAPLAIN SERVICE; EMAIL AND OTHER COMMUNICATIONS; AND, GOOD ORDER AND DISCIPLINE. THEY DO NOT PROVIDE ALL THE ANSWERS. RESOLUTION OF PARTICULAR ISSUES WILL BE FACT-SPECIFIC, REQUIRE COMMON SENSE, AND WILL OFTEN BENEFIT FROM THE ADVICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL, THE CHAPLAINCY, AND THE EQUAL OPPORTUNITY OFFICE.
    bulletA. RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION.
    1. IT IS AIR FORCE POLICY THAT REQUESTS FOR ACCOMMODATION SHOULD BE APPROVED EXCEPT WHEN PRECLUDED BY MILITARY NECESSITY. THEY SHOULD NORMALLY BE APPROVED UNLESS APPROVAL WOULD HAVE AN ADVERSE IMPACT ON MILITARY READINESS, UNIT COHESION, STANDARDS, OR DISCIPLINE. WHEN REQUESTS ARE PRECLUDED BY MILITARY NECESSITY, COMMANDERS AND SUPERVISORS SHOULD SEEK REASONABLE ALTERNATIVES. COMMANDERS AND SUPERVISORS AT ALL LEVELS SHOULD ENSURE THAT REQUESTS FOR RELIGIOUS ACCOMODATION [sic] ARE DEALT WITH AS FAIRLY AS PRACTICABLE THROUGHOUT THEIR ORGANIZATIONS.
    2. BASIC GUIDANCE FOR RELIGIOUS ACCOMODATION [sic] IN MANY AREAS, INCLUDING WORSHIP SERVICES, HOLY DAYS, SABBATH OBSERVANCES, DIETARY REQUIREMENTS, MEDICAL ISSUES, AND APPAREL, IS INCLUDED IN DOD DIRECTIVE 1300.17. THIS GUIDANCE IS IMPLEMENTED THROUGH AF INSTRUCTIONS, INCLUDING AFI 36-2706, CHAPTER 8; AFI 36-2903, TABLES 2.6 AND 2.9; AND AFJI 48-110, PARA 13.
      COMMANDERS AND SUPERVISORS SHOULD BECOME THOROUGHLY FAMILIAR WITH THESE POLICIES, AND INCLUDE THEM IN STAFF AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TRAINING.
    3. COMMANDERS CANNOT ANTICIPATE EVERY REQUEST FOR ACCOMMODATION, BUT, WHERE PRACTICABLE, AVOIDING SHEDULING CONFLICTS WITH MAJOR RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE DAYS CAN BUILD UNIT CONFIDENCE IN LEADERSHIP AND ENHANCE UNIT EFFECTIVENESS.
    4. ABOVE ALL, COMMANDERS MUST ENSURE THAT THEY CREATE A CLIMATE WHERE INDIVIDUALS BELIEVE THAT REQUESTS FOR ACCOMMODATION ARE WELCOMED AND WILL BE FAIRLY CONSIDERED.
    bulletB. PUBLIC PRAYER OUTSIDE OF VOLUNTARY WORSHIP SETTINGS.
    1. 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.
    2. COMMON SENSE--AND MUTUAL RESPECT--SHOULD ALWAYS BE APPLIED AND EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES MAY DRIVE EXCEPTIONS. (NOTE: For example, there may be extraordinary circumstances where the potential benefits for the welfare of the command outweigh the potential of causing discomfort. These circumstances might include mass casualties, preparation for imminent combat, and natural disasters.)
    3. CONSISTENT WITH LONG-STANDING MILITARY TRADITION, A BRIEF NON-SECTARIAN PRAYER MAY BE INCLUDED IN NON-ROUTINE MILITARY CEREMONIES OR EVENTS OF SPECIAL IMPORTANCE, SUCH AS A CHANGE-OF-COMMAND, PROMOTION CEREMONIES OR SIGNIFICANT CELEBRATIONS, WHERE THE PURPOSE OF THE PRAYER IS TO ADD A HEIGHTENED SENSE OF SERIOUSNESS OR SOLEMNITY, NOT TO ADVANCE SPECIFIC RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. MILITARY CHAPLAINS ARE TRAINED TO DEAL WITH SUCH EVENTS.
    4. IN ADDITION, A MOMENT OF SILENCE FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION DOES NOT REQUIRE THE SAME CONSIDERATIONS AS PUBLIC PRAYER AND MAY BE APPROPRIATE IN OFFICIAL SETTINGS.
    bulletC. INDIVIDUAL SHARING OF RELIGIOUS FAITH.
    1. IN OFFICIAL CIRCUMSTANCES, PARTICULARLY SITUATIONS WHERE SUPERIOR/SUBORDINATE RELATIONSHIPS ARE INVOLVED, INDIVIDUALS NEED TO BE SENSITIVE TO THE POTENTIAL THAT PERSONAL EXPRESSIONS MAY APPEAR TO BE OFFICIAL EXPRESSIONS. THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE WHEN SUBORDINATES ARE PRESENT AS PART OF THEIR OFFICIAL DUTIES AND OBLIGATIONS.
    2. THE MORE SENIOR THE INDIVIDUAL, THE MORE LIKELY THAT PERSONAL EXPRESSIONS MAY BE PERCEIVED TO BE OFFICIAL STATEMENTS. THE MORE SENIOR THE LEADER, THE MORE RESPONSIBILITY HE OR SHE HAS TO SEND THE MESSAGE THAT WE ARE A TEAM BASED ON TRUST, RESPECT, AND A COMMON MISSION TO DEFEND OUR NATION AND THAT WHAT IS EXPECTED OF ALL OUR PERSONNEL IS TO LIVE UP TO OUR OATHS, EMBRACE OUR SHARED AIR FORCE CORE VALUES, AND DO OUR DUTY.
    3. NOTHING IN THIS GUIDANCE SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD TO LIMIT VOLUNTARY, PEER TO PEER DISCUSSIONS.
    bulletD. THE CHAPLAIN SERVICE.
    1. AIR FORCE COMMANDERS HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO ENSURE THAT THE PEOPLE UNDER THEIR AUTHORITY HAVE OPPORTUNITY TO OBTAIN SPIRITUAL CARE. CHAPLAINS ASSIST COMMANDERS IN MEETING THIS RESPONSIBILITY.
    2. CHAPLAINS ARE COMMISSIONED TO PROVIDE MINISTRY TO THOSE OF THEIR OWN FAITHS, TO FACILITATE MINISTRY TO THOSE OF OTHER FAITHS, AND TO PROVIDE CARE FOR ALL SERVICE MEMBERS, INCLUDING THOSE WHO CLAIM NO RELIGIOUS FAITH. IN THESE VARIOUS ROLES, THEY SHOULD RESPECT THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS TO THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO HOLD NO BELIEFS. THEY MUST BE AS SENSITIVE TO THOSE WHO DO NOT WELCOME OFFERINGS OF FAITH, AS THEY ARE GENEROUS IN SHARING THEIR FAITH WITH THOSE WHO DO. IN ADDITION, THEY MUST REMAIN SENSITIVE TO THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF SUPERIOR RANK, AND THEY SHOULD RESPECT PROFESSIONAL SETTINGS WHERE MANDATORY PARTICIPATION MAY MAKE EXPRESSIONS OF RELIGIOUS FAITH INAPPROPRIATE.
    3. CHAPLAIN SERVICE GUIDANCE INCLUDES AFPD 52-1 AND AFI 52-101.
    bulletE. EMAIL AND SIMILAR COMMUNICATIONS.
    1. GENERAL RULES FOR USE OF GOVERNMENT COMPUTERS APPLY TO RELIGIOUS MATTERS AS THEY DO FOR OTHER MATTERS IAW AFI 33-119, AFI 33-129, AND 33-112.
    2. INDIVIDUALS WILL TAKE THESE GUIDELINES INTO ACCOUNT IN THEIR OFFICIAL COMMUNICATIONS. AS IN OTHER AREAS OF EXPRESSION, IT IS IMPORTANT TO AVOID THE REASONABLE PERCEPTION THAT ANY OFFICIAL E-MAIL OR COMPUTER POSTING IMPLIES THAT THE AIR FORCE SUPPORTS ANY ONE RELIGION OVER OTHER RELIGIONS, OR THE IDEA OF RELIGION OVER THE CHOICE OF NO RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION.
    bulletF. GOOD ORDER AND DISCIPLINE. NOTHING IN THESE GUIDELINES RELIEVES COMMANDERS OF THE RESPONSIBILITY TO MAINTAIN GOOD ORDER AND DISCIPLINE IN THEIR COMMANDS.
     
  4. FOR AIR EDUCATION AND TRAINING COMMAND: REQUEST AETC DEVELOP TRAINING MODULES FOR ALL ACCESSION AND TRAINING VENUES--OFFICER, ENLISTED AND CIVILIAN--WHERE AIR FORCE CULTURE AND CORE VALUES ARE ADDRESSED. AETC SHOULD INCLUDE THIS REQUIREMENT IN THEIR FY08 POM. PROVIDE A PLAN, WITH TIMELINE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION, TO AF/DP NOT LATER THAN 1 NOVEMBER 2005. IN DEVELOPING THIS TRAINING, CONSIDERATION SHOULD BE GIVEN TO FEEDBACK RECEIVED REGARDING THESE INTERIM GUIDELINES. UPON APPROVAL, THIS TRAINING WILL REPLACE THESE INTERIM GUIDELINES.
     
  5. FOR THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY: USAFA WILL INCORPORATE THIS GUIDANCE IN THE TRAINING MODULES ON RELIGIOUS RESPECT--RESPECTING SPIRITUAL VALUES OF ALL PEOPLE (RSVP)--CURRENTLY IN DEVELOPMENT. PROVIDE AN UPDATE ON DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF RSVP, WITH TIMELINES, TO AF/DP NOT LATER THAN 1 NOVEMBER.
     
  6. APPLICATION OF THESE GUIDELINES WILL REQUIRE MUCH THOUGHT AND JUDGMENT BY COMMANDERS AND SUPERVISORS. THEY ARE NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE ANSWERS TO EVERY SITUATION. WE WELCOME MAJCOM FEEDBACK AS YOUR COMMANDERS GAIN EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTING THIS GUIDANCE.

References used:

  1. "Chaplain says she was fired. Claim comes amid inquiry into alleged intolerance at AFA," Associated Press, 2005-MAY-13, at: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/
  2. Alan Cooperman, "Air Force Sets Rules Limiting Religious Expression," Washington Post, 2005-AUG-30, Page A04. Online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com
  3. "Interim guidelines concerning free exercise of religion in the Air Force," The Telegraph, Macon, GA, 2005-AUG-31, at: http://www.macon.com/

Site navigation:

Home page > Religious conflict > Specific conflicts > U.S. government > here

Home pageBasic info. > U.S. government > here

Home page Religious informationBasic info. > U.S. government > here

Originally posted: 2005-SEP-05
Latest update: 2007-FEB-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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