Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Air Force Amends Instruction On Religious Freedom and Accommodation

Last week, the U.S. Air Force announced that Air Force Instruction 1-1 on Air Force Culture has been updated as of Nov. 7 to clarify standards on free exercise of religion and religious accommodation. The amended Instruction (full text) strengthens free exercise and religious accommodation rights of military personnel, and weakens restrictions on proselytizing. The new amendments provide in part:
Every Airman also has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment.....
[Leaders] must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.
Gone from the amended version is previous language providing that leaders "must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates."

The original version of the Instruction allowed religious accommodation requests to be denied on the basis of "military necessity."  The new amendments provide:
If it is necessary to deny free exercise of religion or an accommodation request, the decision must be based on the facts presented, must directly relate to the compelling government interest of military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment, and must be by the least restrictive means necessary to avoid the cited adverse impact.
The amended Instruction also makes it clear that these guidelines on religious expression apply to communications on social media.

Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has an analysis of the amendments as well as a chart of the changes in language in the 2014 amendments.