Location: United States

Friday, February 10, 2006

Religious Tolerance and the Military

I saw this tidbit in the news today:

The Air Force released new guidelines for religious expression Thursday that no longer caution top officers about promoting their personal religious views.The revisions were welcomed by conservative Christians, who said the previous rules was too strict and lobbied the White House to change them.

I've served in the military (though not in the Air Force). I remember very few, if any, restrictions on religious observation. In fact, I remember our ship's chaplain openly discussing the possibility of having to learn Satanic rites if anyone ever declared that as their official religion. We even had a good laugh about having to requisition goats for sacrifice and trying to coordinate that with flight ops.

I read a bit more - because, you know, some reporters are just wrong. Here's what I found:

The original guidelines issued in August grew out of charges from members of minority faiths that they were targets of slurs and discrimination by the Air Force Academy's evangelical Christian majority.

The original rules called for tolerance of religious "diversity" at the academy and throughout the Air Force. They labeled as "unacceptable" disrespectful conduct based on religious beliefs.

Here's the interesting part:
No such language is contained in the new guidelines.

So Conservative Christians were protesting the call for diversity and forbid disrespectful conduct towards religious minorities? Let's remove the clauses concerning a "live and let live" attitude and what happens?

“We think this is an important and positive move by the Air Force,” said Sekulow, whose Washington,

D.C.-based group gathered more than 200,000 signatures on a petition to protest a requirement in the previous guidelines that all chaplains had to give nondenominational prayers at public events.

Conservative Christians are calling the new set of rules a "Bill of Rights for chaplains". The problem isn't with the chaplains - it's with the individuals who serve in the Air Force. How would you like to be serving in Iraq, a faithful Bhuddist who believes in non-violence, walk over to your chaplain to discuss whether or not you should switch to formal "conscientious objector" objector status, only to be told, "Look, it doesn't matter what you do. You're gonna burn in hell, you heathen. Now get on your knees and beg for forgiveness."

Now, consider this report:

Justice Department attorneys have told a federal judge that an Air Force Academy graduate has no legal standing to sue the Air Force over allegations of proselytizing by chaplains and that the military already has safeguards in place against improper religious pressure.

This means that the US Government is saying that a graduate of the Air Force Academy isn't entitled to file lawsuit for mistreatment at the Academy. This is generally used as a means of someone filing a lawsuit on behalf of someone else - like a sibling filing suit against a husband who beats his wife. The idea is "You aren't involved in this, so mind your own business."

The government motion, dated last week, again asked U.S. District Judge James Parker to dismiss the case. It said Weinstein and his co-plaintiffs haven't shown they would be harmed by the alleged proselytizing and that their claims have no substance.

Being told that you will burn forever in a lake of fire is not harmful? That undermines the entire concept that a person owns and has a inalienable right to their own faith! Beyond that, any discussion of issues with the military HAS to take into account the inherent power structure. No one - and I mean no one - is equal in the military. Even people of the same rank are arranged according to seniority.

Weinstein said anytime a senior officer asks to discuss religion, a lower-ranking service member would feel coercion.

The revised guidelines on religion released today by the U.S. Air Force are simply 'dead on arrival.' They blatantly fail to deal with fundamental issues - namely the protection of the Constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state, and protection for junior officers and enlisted airmen from coercive proselytizing and evangelizing by their superiors.

Context matters. I have friends that attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis. They tell me that the only proper response to any question is "Yes", "No", and "No excuse". In that atmosphere, this is the appropriate response to the removal of "live and let live":

It is because of these continued, now institutionalized offenses and deliberate disregard for the treatment of all Air Force personnel, including Air Force Academy cadets, as well as the Constitution that I first filed suit against the Air Force in October and it is because of these ever-worsening offenses that I will continue to prosecute that litigation vigorously and to speak out publicly.


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