- Just days before retiring as Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Norton Schwartz issued a document designed to dictate the conduct of U.S. airmen worldwide — all violations enforceable by military law. For the first time, amid regulations on tattoo size and flag handling etiquette, it laid down the law on religious proselytizing by leaders: Don’t do it. [...] Section 2.11 of the 27-page Air Force Instruction AFI 1-1 Standards of Conduct is the latest salvo in a battle over religious bias and Christian proselytizing in the military branch. It calls on officers and supervisors to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. [...] “The document’s section on religion echoes a memo Schwartz sent out to all Air Force leadership on religion last September, but adds the threat of penalty for violations. [...] “COMPLIANCE WITH THIS PUBLICATION IS MANDATORY,” the memo says in bold, adding that “failure to adhere to the standards set out in this instruction can form the basis for adverse action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).”
- In 2006, after complaints by non-Christians that they were being pressured by evangelicals to convert, the Air Force issued guidelines cautioning superiors from pressing their personal religious views on subordinates. But months later they eased the guidelines after Christian conservatives argued that the guidelines restricted freedom of religion.
- Shortly after this revelation, Schwartz issued a memo using language almost identical to that used in AFI 1-1 calling on all Air Force leaders to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. [...] “He went on to say that opportunities for worship, religious studies and prayer meetings can be promoted by chaplains, but not by commanders. And he instructed those who felt they were facing unfair bias on the basis of religion to contact a military attorney.
- For those who advocate a “complete separation” of church and state, the Schwartz memo would have been a victory, except that some commanders refused to disseminate the memo, according to Mikey Weinstein, founder of the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation. [...] That omission prompted MRFF to receive “a literal torrent of complaints” from military members who Weinstein says are afraid to directly confront the pervasive Christian culture in the Air Force. [...] The organization invested in a large billboard down the street from the academy containing the text of the entire memo.
- For Weinstein, it remains to be seen if AFI 1-1 marks a move in the right direction — and it depends on distribution and enforcement. [...] “It looks very nice,” he said. “The problem is if you create a mandate that is complied with more frequently in the breech than in the conformance you create a problem 100 times worse than if you had not created the mandate in the first place … It is looked at with scorn and derision. [...] “Weinstein, who has been involved in dozens of battles to extricate religious materials from military settings, recently lambasted Schwartz for his “scandalously non-confrontational approach to the Christian extremist predators” in the Air Force. [...] “It was a transparent and likely guilt-ridden concession by Schwartz, yet it was both too little and too late,” Weinstein wrote in an op-ed article. “With Schwartz’s butt-covering, last second, ‘midnight drive-by’ delivery of AFI 1-1, we have no alternative left but to look to the new USAF Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, to show the all-too-rare backbone once required of all top leaders within the U.S. Military.”
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