The United States Air Force top brass, which for decades has openly mixed evangelical Christian religion with military duty in blatant violation of the First Amendment Establishment Clause, finally took a few necessary steps recently to correct the problem after prompting from concerned organizations including The Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Changes in Air Force policy included: decisions to remove a Latin reference to “God” from a logo/motto for the Rapid Capabilities Office; stop requiring staff to check for Bibles in Air Force Inn rooms; removal of a document from a distance-learning course for Squadron Officer School that suggested chapel attendance is a sign of strong leadership; that chaplains, not commanders notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs; and the suspension of an ethics course because the material included Bible passages.
These innocuous changes have 66 members of Congress with their panties all in a bunch over what they describe as military policies which signify a developing culture that is "hostile towards religion," and which exceeds the Constitutional requirements of separation between church and state.
"Censorship is not required for compliance with the Constitution," they wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claiming that the Air Force is denying religious freedoms to individuals and has "succumbed" to demands from outside groups.
But in fact there is no censorship at all and clearly no denial of any individual’s right to religious freedom. The policies merely bring the Air Force a little closer to compliance with the United States Constitution First Amendment Establishment Clause which requires government neutrality in matters of religion.
There is no Air Force hostility toward religion here. The hostility is generated by Congress toward the Establishment Clause. These 66 Congressmen have it in their minds that compliance with the Establishment Clause amounts to hostility toward religion. That’s the problem here.
In the case of the Squadron Officer School course, the learning document in question stated that: "If you attend chapel regularly, both officers and Airmen are likely to follow this example. If you are morally lax in your personal life, a general moral indifference within the command can be expected."
Of course, that language clearly suggests that officers who don’t attend chapel regularly are morally lax in their personal lives, and that regular church attendance is a requirement for commissioned Air Force officers in order to demonstrate positive morals to subordinates.
How does removing that obvious derogatory language toward non-religious officers create a culture of hostility toward religion?
The removal of the “God” logo involved this Latin phrase: "Doing God's Work with Other People's Money." It was changed to say, "Doing Miracles with Other People's Money."
How does that change possibly amount to hostility toward religion?
Regarding the Air Force Inn rooms, a question from its checklist asking whether a Bible was provided was removed, however it did not order Bibles to be removed. So the Bibles are still in the Inn rooms for anyone to read.
How does that change result in a culture of hostility toward religion?
The Air Force said in a statement responding to the letter that airmen are "free to exercise their constitutional right to practice their religion -- in a manner that is respectful of other individuals' rights to follow their own belief systems."
Airmen are free as always to practice their religion in accordance with the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, and the Air Force has become more neutral in matters of religion which serves to put them into better compliance with the First Amendment Establishment Clause.
How in the name of all reason and logic does this amount to a developing culture which is hostile to religion?
These 66 Congressmen are simply guilty of political pandering to their Bible thumping constituents on the religious right – a large group of individuals who hate the Establishment Clause and who ardently believe that if the government does not support and promote their religion then that amounts to hostility toward their religion.
The hostility is not toward religion – it’s toward the Establishment Clause.