Magazine article Church & State

Air Force Retreats from Religious Guidelines after Religious Right Push

Magazine article Church & State

Air Force Retreats from Religious Guidelines after Religious Right Push

Article excerpt

Under withering assault from Religious Right organizations, the Air Force has retreated from its plans to introduce tough new guidelines dealing with proselytism and sponsorship of religious activity.

Last year, the Air Force issued a four-page set of interim guidelines to cover religious activity in the service. The guidelines warned superior officers not to pressure subordinates on religion and advised chaplains to use "non-sectarian" prayers when addressing large groups. The guidelines also called for tolerance of religious "diversity" and labeled as "unacceptable" disrespectful conduct based on religious beliefs.

The new guidelines, only one page long, omit that material. They no longer discuss religious coercion by senior officers and give chaplains a green light to use sectarian prayers, stating, "We will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths."

Americans United criticized the new guidelines, saying they emphasize the alleged right of chaplains to proselytize. "They focus heavily on protecting the rights of chaplains while ignoring the rights of nonbelievers and minority faiths," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

Evangelical groups have been pressuring the White House to allow sectarian prayer in the military. U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) took up the cause last fall. …

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