The Air Force has told its top commands worldwide to make sure officers don’t use their positions to advance religious beliefs, following criticism of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy.
An Air Force task force spent several days at the academy two weeks ago looking into allegations that Jews and others were harassed by evangelical Christians. A new values statement was sent to all major commands on Tuesday.
“From an Air Force perspective, one of the reasons we did that is because we are taking what is happening at the Air Force Academy seriously,” Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said Thursday from the Pentagon.
The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said that “climate surveys at our Air Force Academy have pointed out instances where respect may be lacking or where declaring one’s religious beliefs may be perceived as imposing on others.”
“Commanders must be alert to the issue of religious respect throughout our Air Force,” the statement added.
Capt. MeLinda Morton, an Air Force Academy chaplain who says she was fired for criticizing the power of evangelicals at the academy, said the statement “speaks for the fact that they are beginning to recognize that they have a problem, and that it isn’t just at the academy and there needs to be some clarity.”
The report by the task force, under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, will be released later. In the meantime, the Air Force asked the Defense Department’s inspector general to look into whether Morton was demoted as executive officer in the chaplaincy and ordered transferred to Okinawa for her viewpoints.
The new statement updates a Jan. 1, 1997, statement in a document known as “The Little Blue Book” that said in part: “Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience.”
The new document notes: “Senior leaders, commanders, and supervisor at every level must be particularly sensitive to the fact that subordinates can consider your public expressions of belief systems coercive. Using your place at the podium as a platform for your personal beliefs can be perceived as misuse of office.”
One minor quibble- Using your place at the podium as a platform for your personal beliefs IS a misuse of office, not just something that can spawn the perception.
At any rate, this is a promising sign, and the military recognizes what the problem was, even if some refuse to deal with reality and instead choose to play the ever popular persecuted Christian card. Unfortunately, to some, politics and political advantage are the only thing that matters, so I expect the usual suspects will continue to try to spin this as somehow anti-Christian. That is one of their main fundraising techniques, and they have almost achieved permanent victim status in the minds of their base. You remember Focus on the Family’s immediate response to these charges:
Tom Minnery, an official at Focus on the Family, disputed claims that evangelical Christians are pushing an agenda at the academy, and complained that “there is an anti-Christian bigotry developing” at the school.
This is, however, not a matter of persecuting Evangelicals, but a matter of what appeared and in some cases was reported to be coercive and forced proselytization by Commandig Officers. Those who have not been in the military simply do not recognize how important and influential the behavior of leaders is- soldiers, in a good military unit, echo the behaviors of their commander. That is what is meant by ‘lead by example.’
If the example being set is, or as the new statement declares, can be perceived, as pressuring cadets about religious beliefs, then this will create a hostile environment throughout. A small example: In my OSUT unit (Bravo 2/13, Disney Barracks, Ft. Knox, KY, for those of you intertested) all those years ago, we had a particularly charismatic Drill Sergeant (Drill Sergeant Shirley Mason, for those of you still interested), who was fond of saying “Holy Cow!” Over the course of several weeks, in the pressure cooker environment, we bagan to adopt not only his sayings, but his mannerisms, and I would wager to this day some of us still say Holy Cow! much more frequently than others.
That is just a small example of how soldiers echo the sentiments and behaviors of their unit commanders. You can see how this would be a problem if cadets at the Air Force Academy are allowed, even innocently, to be exposed to what can be interpreted as a green light to behave in ways that smacks of religious tolerance.
And again, because I have to say this, this is not about the right of Evangelicals to worship, something I would go to bat for any day of the week. This is about the right of evangelicals to use their positions of authority to proselytize or to demonize the faiths of others. In short, they don’t have that right and shouldn’t for the obvious reasons.