Air Force Takes Giant Step Back

by TChris

As reported here, here, and here, the Air Force Academy took some well deserved heat for allowing religious extremists to proselytize while expressing intolerance of other religious views held by cadets. The controversy sprouted a lawsuit, and the Academy rescinded a code of ethics for chaplains that endorsed their right to evangelize those who weren't already affiliated with a religious body.

The evangelical right reacted with outrage to a perceived attack on Christianity. In response, the Air Force caved, "dropping a requirement for chaplains to respect others' rights to their own beliefs and no longer cautioning top officers about promoting their personal religious views." The new rules permit superior officers to lecture cadets about religion so long as it is "reasonably clear" that they are speaking personally, not officially. The new rules emphasize the vitality of the free exercise clause while undermining the protections afforded by the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

Chaplains and superior officers, like everyone else, have a constitutionally protected right to freely exercise their religion. But government-provided chaplains and military officers who work for a government academy aren't free to ignore the establishment clause, which prohibits the government's endorsement or advancement of religion. Permitting proselytizing by a superior officer amounts to a government endorsement of the officer's belief, even if the officer thinks it is "reasonably clear" that he's speaking on his own behalf.

"Reasonably clear from whose perspective, the superior's or the subordinate's?" asked [Michael] Weinstein, a 1977 Air Force Academy graduate. "When a senior member of your chain of command wants to speak to you 'reasonably' about religion, saying 'Get out of my face, sir!' is not an option."

The new rules "respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths" without respecting the right of a captive audience -- cadets attending the academy -- to adhere to their own views without being subject to efforts by superior officers to convert them. It's disheartening that the Air Force Academy so quickly caved in to pressure from the religious right to undo its reforms.

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  • Re: Air Force Takes Giant Step Back (none / 0) (#1)
    by Che's Lounge on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 09:23:27 AM EST
    Ah, good. Back to brainwashing and religious bigotry. Don't they fly planes too?

    Re: Air Force Takes Giant Step Back (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 10:45:48 AM EST
    Are cadets permitted to tell the chaplains and assorted other Jesus's Little Helpers to f>ck off? (Not in other words. Those words. Without the ">.") I don't see that the proselytizers-on-the-public-dime are entitled to an iota more courtesy than that, seeing as they're basically telling the proselytizees:"Your own beliefs are cr@p." However, I'd hate to see the cadets get in trouble for what amounts to standing up for religious freedom.

    Re: Air Force Takes Giant Step Back (none / 0) (#3)
    by Lora on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 10:57:34 AM EST
    OK, Who's running this country? Not the people.

    Re: Air Force Takes Giant Step Back (none / 0) (#4)
    by jondee on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 06:20:33 PM EST
    Probobly not a coincidence that one of the nations largest enclaves of religious right nutjobs is in Colorado Springs. What better way to insure that the end will come soon than to make an alliance with the military?

    Re: Air Force Takes Giant Step Back (none / 0) (#5)
    by squeaky on Fri Feb 10, 2006 at 06:25:22 PM EST
    Hey if it religion works for the suicide bombers, why not our own?

    Re: Air Force Takes Giant Step Back (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sun Feb 12, 2006 at 02:06:31 AM EST
    joke right? are you writing about muslims? that is the only intolerance religious ideals i know, and remember the muslims boys want your head.