Thursday, February 09, 2006

Air Force Issues Revised Religious Guidelines

The U.S. Air Force today issued a revised version of its interim religious guidelines. (Press release, Text of Revised Interim Guidelines, Explanatory Memo.) A first version of the Guidelines were issued in August 2005, and generated a good deal of controversy because of their insistence that prayers at military ceremonies be non-sectarian. Many Christian chaplains wanted to be able to mention Jesus in their public prayers. While today's new Guidelines still call for only a moment of silence or inclusive, non-denominational prayer at military ceremonies, they explicitly provide that military chaplains "will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths."

The new draft of the Guidelines, now shortened to one page, call for:
  • Religious accommodation for military personnel.
  • No endorsement of particular religious beliefs.
  • Protection of voluntary discussion of religion.
  • Public prayer limited to special ceremonies, and then it must be inclusive and non-denominational.

The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family issued a release praising the revised guidelines:

The guidelines appropriately caution superiors against making comments that could appear to subordinates to be official policy. With that in mind, they properly state that "superiors enjoy the same free exercise rights as all other airmen." Just as important, we hope these guidelines will bring an end to the frontal assault on the Air Force by secularists who would make the military a wasteland of relativism, where robust discussion of faith is impossible. That has not been the history of our armed forces, and it should not be their future. We particularly thank the Air Force for specifically recognizing that "voluntary participation in worship, prayer, study and discussion is integral to the free exercise of religion." Some have claimed an offense against the Constitution at the mere mention of these matters, although nothing could be further from the truth.

UPDATE: Statements from groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have criticzed the Air Force's amended Guidelines. Language that was in the earlier version that discouraged public prayer at "staff meetings, office meetings, classes, or officially sanctioned activities such as sports events or practice sessions" has been omitted from the shortened revised Guidelines. (New York Sun report, Feb. 10.)