2009 Air Force Academic Paper: THE NEED FOR (MORE) NEW GUIDANCE REGARDING RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION IN THE AIR FORCE
The Air Force and the other services have recently been forced to deal with several high-visibility religious issues, including those at the service academies, in basic training, at the Pentagon and in deployed locations. Starting with the Air Force, in 2003, the Christian Leadership Ministries published an annual advertisement in the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) base paper, including the statement, “We believe that Jesus Christ is theonly real hope for the world. If you would like to discuss Jesus, feel free to contact one of us!” The signatories included over two hundred USAFA faculty and staff, including a majority of USAFA department heads.1
In 2004, Christian Embassy, a group established in 1975 to minister to members of Congress, ambassadors, presidential appointees and Pentagon officials2 filmed a promotional video inside the Pentagon showing several generals and senior defense officials talking about the importance of religion in their jobs and lives. In 2007, the Department of Defense Inspector General publicly released a report finding that senior Army and Air Force personnel violated the Joint Ethics Regulation when they participated in the video while in uniform and on active duty.3
On 28 April 2005, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sent a multipage complaint to then- Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, documenting what it called systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of USAFA command structure.4 On 2 May 2005, the Acting Secretary of the Air Force directed a team investigation to assess the religious climate at USAFA.5 Also in May 2005, Chaplain (Capt.) Melinda Morton, assigned to USAFA, stated that the religious problem at USAFA “is pervasive.”6
In June 2005, the Headquarters Review Group Concerning the Religious Climate at [USAFA]
(Review Group) released its report. The report documented seven specific events of 3 what appeared to be “questionable behavior,” and referred those events for command follow-up. In addition, the Review Group identified nine findings regarding the overall climate and made nine recommendations. The first recommendation was the following: “develop policy guidelines for Air Force commanders and supervisors regarding religious expression.”7
In July 2005, Chaplain Brig.Gen. Cecil Richardson, then the Deputy Chief of Air Force Chaplains (presently Maj.Gen. and Chief of Air Force Chaplains at the time of publication), stated in a New York Times interview, “We [chaplains] will not proselytize, but we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.”8 The distinction, he said, is that proselytizing is trying to convert someone in an aggressive way, while evangelizing is more “ gently” sharing the gospel.9
On 6 October 2005, USAFA graduate Mikey Weinstein joined four 2004 USAFA graduates in suing the Air Force in federal district court, claiming that USAFA illegally imposed Christianity on cadets at USAFA. The case was dismissed by the judge a year later, who ruled that the plaintiffs had graduated and were thus unable to prove any direct harm.10
On 25 October 2006, former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschimitt filed suit against the Navy in federal district court for, among other claims, violating his First Amendment rights by discouraging him from praying in the name of Jesus. 11 While he was a Navy chaplain, Klingenschmitt’s commander issued him a direct order which instructed him that he could only wear his uniform if conducting a bona-fide religious service. Soon afterward, Klingenschmitt conducted a prayer vigil in uniform outside the White House, followed by a news conference to pressure President Bush to issue an Executive Order regarding military chaplains’ right to pray as they wished. Klingenschmitt was subsequently court-martialed for failing to obey a direct order and was involuntarily separated from the Navy.
The religious issues continued well into 2008. In February 2008, USAFA was criticized by Muslim and religious freedom organizations for playing host to and paying three speakers who critics say are evangelical Christians pretending to be alleged former Muslim terrorists.13
On 5 March 2008, Army SPC Jeremy Hall, an atheist, and Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a group headed by USAFA grad Mikey Weinstein, filed suit against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and SPC Hall’s commander, MAJ Freddy Welborn. The suit alleged that SPC Hall was denied his First Amendment right to be free of government sponsored religious activity.14 On 10 October 2008, the plaintiffs dismissed the suit.15
In August 2008,the Air Force Times interviewed Chief of Air Force Chaplains Maj.Gen. Cecil Richardson. A reporter asked him to respond to a question about whether he wasconcerned that a Christian chaplain who was visited by a troubled airman who wasn’t interested in religion might steer the airman toward Jesus. Chaplain Richardson’s response: “Well, you know, sometimes Jesus is what they need.They’re asking for it.”16
On 24 September 2008, PVT Michael Handman, a Jewish soldier attending basic training at Fort Benning, GA suffered a beating at the hands of fellow soldiers.17 MRFF, in a 16 October 2008 letter to Secretary Gates, alleged that prior to the beating, PVT Handman was a victim of anti-Semitic actions by his drill sergeants.18...