The Air Force has apparently neutered their previously released religious guidelines to stop coercion by Evangelicals:
The Air Force, under pressure from evangelical Christian groups and members of Congress, softened its guidelines on religious expression yesterday to emphasize that superior officers may discuss their faith with subordinates and that chaplains will not be required to offer nonsectarian prayers.
“This does affirm every airman’s right, even the commanders’ right, to free exercise of religion, and that means sharing your faith,” said Maj. Gen. Charles C. Baldwin, the Air Force’s chief of chaplains.
The guidelines were first issued in late August after allegations that evangelical Christian commanders, coaches and cadets at the Air Force Academy had pressured cadets of other faiths. The original wording sought to tamp down religious fervor and to foster tolerance throughout the Air Force. It discouraged public prayers at routine events and warned superior officers that personal expressions of faith could be misunderstood as official statements.
But evangelical groups, such as the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, saw the guidelines as overly restrictive. They launched a nationwide petition drive, sounded alarms on Christian radio stations, and deluged the White House and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne’s office with e-mails calling the guidelines an infringement of the Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion.
I have discussed this at length a number of times (previous posts on this issue here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), and I was happy with the new guidelines released in August. That turned out to be short-lived.
Again, on the surface, this sounds innocuous- who isn’t in favor of the free expression of religion by officials? But the devil, if you will, is in the impact. In the military, behavior by leaders is very important- ‘Lead By Example’ is repeated over and over and over again, almost as much as ‘Train like you fight.’ Leadership ‘openly expressing their religion’ becomes much more than that, and easily takes on the air of coercion. In Basic Training, I had a Drill Sergeant who repeatedly said the phrase “Holy Cow!” By the end of a few weeks, he had 32 recruits who also said “Holy Cow!”
So what is wrong with that? What is wrong with an Air Force in which the recruits follow deeply religious men? Well, nothing- if everyone in the Air Force was religious, and if everyone in the Air Force believed in the type of in your face evangelical Christianity spread by the Focus on the Family crowd. But they don’t, and not only that, the Air Force Academy trains officers. Those officers are going to one day leave the Christian enclave of the Air Force Academy and quickly learn that the troops they serve with are not going to share the same religious beliefs that the leadership at the Academy foisted on everyone else.
In short, expression of religious opinions by leadership is inappropriate, and will lead to nothing but trouble. It will quickly morph from a benign ‘expression of opinions’ and once again take on an air of coercion, intimidation, and forced prosyletization, in which events like the following happen:
We have been informed, for example, that, during a Basic Cadet Training session attended by a team of observers from the Yale Divinity School, one of the Academy chaplains Major Warren Chappy Watties led a Protestant worship service in which he encouraged the attending cadets to return to their tents and proselytize cadets who had not attended the service, with the declared penalty
for failure to accept this proselytization being to burn in the fires of hell.
It isn’t right, it isn’t the type of behavior officers in the military should be engaging in, it is not the type of behavior that should be inculcated in the next generation of officers. Furthermore, it isn’t religious bigotry to say that the Air Force is wrong to revise the guidelines they just released because they received some intense lobbying from a bunch of loudmouthed zealots who once again assumed their favorite role- poor, oppressed Christian. After all, the Air Force itself recognizes they have a problem:
The Air Force report cites some incidents but does not go into details: religious slurs and disparaging remarks between cadets and statements from faculty and staff with strong religious beliefs that some cadets found offensive.
There is a lack of awareness on the part of some faculty and staff, and perhaps some senior cadets, as to what constitutes appropriate expressions of faith,” said Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, in a press conference at the Pentagon.
Brady said he was unsure whether many of the incidents qualified as intolerance, but said “there’s certainly insensitivity” at the institution.
“Yes, I think there were cases where people said some things perhaps from a lectern that were overreaching, forgetting their position, that put cadets perhaps in an untenable position in terms of, ‘Gee, am I going to pass Physics 101 if I don’t agree with this guy?,’” he said.
Those are problems, and the Air Force should have stayed with the August guidelines.
And before we even go down this road, this is not, as some will undoubtedly pretend, a ‘free speech’ issue.
See also the Carpetbagger.