5/19/14 MCCLATCHY DC – Air Force pushed to allow proselytizing by superiors, which FRC’s Perkins compares to “Dominoes”

Selected Article Excerpts:

  • “The Air Force religious freedom regulations and practices are inconsistent with the Constitution and with current law,” 20 House of Representatives Republicans wrote in an April 15 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. The regulation “introduces a subjective and unworkable restriction on a leader’s ability to speak about their faith.

    The Air Force defends the regulation as a measure that “seems to make good sense.” Yet the pressure – legislation, congressional hearings, meetings, letters, media statements and online appeals – to revise or dump it is having an impact.

  • The prospect alarms supporters of the policy, who say a pro-Christian bias in the Air Force remains overwhelming and that the regulation provides an avenue of relief to service members who object to being regaled with their superiors’ religious views or who worry that declining invitations to “voluntary” Bible classes might jeopardize their fitness reports and chances of promotion.

    The regulation has been “an umbrella in a tsunami of Christian fundamentalist extremism,” asserted Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a former Air Force officer whose outspokenness has won him scorn and death threats.

    Since the regulation went into effect, 4,121 Air Force personnel have sought the organization’s help in fending off proselytizing by superiors, Weinstein said. The organization has a 95 percent “success rate” in ending “the offending behavior,” he said.

    Evangelical Christians draw the largest number of complaints – ironically enough, from fellow Christians, he said. There’s little disagreement about the importance that the free practice of religion plays in ensuring the cohesion, morale, “good order and discipline” of military units. But the regulation says superiors who proselytize “may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity.”

    “The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order and discipline,” the regulation says. “Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious freedom, they do not degrade morale, good order and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the Air Force.”

    The regulation grew out of a 2005 uproar over proselytizing by evangelical Christians and Weinstein’s allegations of religious discrimination at the U.S. Air Force Academy, at Colorado Springs, Colo.

    Since then, the Air Force has worked hard “at balancing . . . free expression of religion with the needs of the military and not giving the appearance or an actuality of forcing anything or appearing to force,” James told the Senate committee.

    Not so, said Perkins of the Family Research Council, which issued a report in March that included a long list of alleged incidents ranging from officers ordered to remove Bibles from their desks to retaliation against personnel for expressing opposition to same-sex marriage.

    “The Air Force for some reason has done the worst in terms of violating the religious freedom of its personnel,” Perkins charged. The result has been a “chilling effect” on leaders’ rights to religious expression, he said.

    “We don’t advocate that someone in a position of authority use that authority to somehow force someone to participate in a religious activity,” Perkins said. “On the flip side of that is just because someone in a command position (has) a devotional or weekly Bible study and you invite your colleagues, there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are not requiring (attendance). It’s like asking someone to come play dominoes.” 

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