WASHINGTON—A group of 66 Republican lawmakers this week blasted the Air Force for taking what it termed “a series of steps signaling hostility toward religious freedom.”
Since an order last September by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz mandating that chaplains themselves – and not commanders – publicize religious programs, the Air Force has gone beyond what the Constitution requires in an attempt to set up “complete separation” between religion and military service, the legislators allege.
The group, led by Republican U.S. Representatives Diane Black of Tennessee, Randy Forbes of Virginia and Todd Akin of Missouri, voiced its complaints in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
It cited several recent instances in which references to religion, God or the Bible have been removed from Air Force mottoes, briefings and courses, and argued “The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of religion; however, the mere discussion of religion or reference to God certainly does not rise to that level.“
The letter represented a reversal of sorts, as the Air Force in recent years had come under fire for what critics said was aggressive religious proselytizing at the Air Force Academy and tolerance of commanders imposing religion on subordinates.
An Air Force spokeswoman denied that the service is hostile to religion, and said it was dedicated to creating an environment where people of any belief system could prosper.
“Airmen are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion—in a manner that is respectful of other individuals' rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission,” Maj. Jennifer Spires said in an email.