AIR FORCE TIMES – Air Force struggles to find balance on religion

Selected Article Excerpts:

  • You have sworn to uphold the constitution and defend the nation, “So help me God.” You’re led in prayer at the start of meetings and events. And you work for a military that keeps chaplains close by to meet your spiritual needs.
    It’s all of those things — and more — that stir the polarizing debate over religion in the Air Force.
  • The debate over what’s appropriate came to the forefront again in February, when Lt. Gen. Ronnie Hawkins, the new head of the Defense Information Systems Agency, gave a presentation at his first commander’s call that included two references to God.
  • Hawkins showed slides listing “Ronnie’s Rules,” 18 priorities of which the first and last were “Always put God first, and stay within His will” and “Always remember God is good — all the time!” He told Air Force Times in a statement that the rules have served as his “moral compass” that he has followed since he was a captain.
  • Some members of his staff, offended by the presentation, reported it to watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which called for Hawkins to be punished.
  • In September, Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz sent a servicewide email cautioning leaders at all levels to balance the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom and the prohibition on government intrusion.
  • In Schwartz’s memo, titled “Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion,” he warned that leaders must avoid even the appearance of using their position to proselytize. “Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity,” Schwartz wrote. “The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order and discipline.”

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