New Air Force Guidelines for Religious Tolerance Slammed by GOP Lawmaker

By E.B. Solomont

Published September 02, 2005, issue of September 02, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

New U.S. Air Force guidelines for religious tolerance drew praise from some Jewish organizations but are being criticized by a Republican lawmaker.

The guidelines, issued Monday, say commanders should try to comply with religious accommodations for all airmen and women, and that senior airmen and women need to be sensitive to the fact that personal expressions of faith might be viewed as official statements.

The new regulations come amid reports from the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., that members of religious minorities felt pressure to prioritize their military duties over religious observance and felt they were in an overtly Christian atmosphere. Chaplains at the school reportedly spoke of evangelizing the “unchurched,” and the football coach made references to Jesus.

The guidelines were criticized by Rep. Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who suggested in May that the allegations of religious coercion at the Air Force academy amounted to “political correctness.” Jones, who made the comment during a May 18 House Armed Services Committee hearing, told the Forward that the new guidelines suggested that the Air Force had yielded to liberals who backed legislative action.

“My concern is that it just seems like one assault after another on what I think are the Judeo-Christian values of America,” Jones said. “I felt that the Air Force defended itself very well. But if they have made significant changes, then I think they are yielding to outside political pressure.”

Jones introduced a bill July 27 that would protect prayer in military academies. The Military Academy First Amendment Protection Act, co-sponsored by Del. Madeleine Bordallo, a Democrat from Guam, ensures that military academies may offer voluntary, nondenominational prayers.

“This practice seems to meet reasonable standards of inclusion and does not seem to be disrespectful of any religion or those with no religious beliefs,” Bordallo wrote to the Forward in an e-mail. “It would be regrettable if the military, which has its people in harm’s way, did not allow for reasonable accommodations for the expression of spirituality.”

The new Air Force guidelines, published August 29, are the culmination of a months-long investigation prompted by allegations of religious coercion in an April report by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based advocacy group. In outlining complaints from cadets — including a vocal Jewish cadet, Casey Weinstein — the report described “systemic and pervasive” incidents of proselytizing and harassment of cadets by evangelical senior cadets and academy instructors at the Colorado Springs-based military academy.

On Tuesday, President Bush nominated a new superintendent of the Air Force academy, Lt. Gen. John F. Regni.

The debate over the allegations has pitted some conservative Republicans, including Jones, against those who have called for legislative action to address the situation at the academy, including Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, who proposed an amendment that would have required the Air Force to submit a plan ensuring religious tolerance at the academy.

At the May 18 hearing, Rep. John Hostettler, an Indiana Republican, expressed disdain for the “mythical wall of church-state separation” and added that Israel’s measures would “quash the religious expression of millions of service personnel.”

On Tuesday, Israel dismissed criticism of the new guidelines. “Extremists will never be satisfied,” Israel said. “I’m not surprised that extremists who have no problem compelling Air Force cadets to pray a certain way would have a problem with a commonsense Air Force report that enforces pluralism and tolerance in our military.”

Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, praised the new guidelines.

In a related story, The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Army has listed former military chaplain, Rabbi Jeffrey Goldman, as a deserter, though Goldman reportedly claims he left in 2002 for his native Canada after bearing the brunt of antisemitic harassment from Christian colleagues.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.