According to that great bastion of honest and impartial reporting, FOX News has revealed that 66 Republicans have signed a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alleging that the U.S. Air Force is “hostile” to religion.
The letter cites several incidents which they claims shows that the Air Force is taking separation of church and state “too far” — how you can take such a concept too far is a little beyond me…
The letter accuses the Air Force of bowing to pressure from “outside groups” (I guess they’re talking about the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.) The letter was drafted by Diane Black (Tennessee), Randy Forbes (Virginia), and Todd Akin (Missouri).
So what are these incidents? What heinous crimes against basic decency are being brought to Leon Panetta’s attention?
- A decision to remove a Latin reference to “God” from a logo/motto for the Rapid Capabilities Office
- A decision to stop requiring staff to check for Bibles in Air Force Inn rooms
- The removal of a document from a distance-learning course for Squadron Officer School that suggested chapel attendance is a sign of strong leadership
- The suspension of an ethics course because the material included Bible passages
First of all, “god” may have been removed from the motto, but it wasn’t exactly improved. The original Latin phrase was “Doing God’s Work with Other People’s Money.” It was then changed to say, “Doing Miracles with Other People’s Money.” Leaving aside the obvious complaints about the idea of miracles, the updated phrase still seems more than a little crass and insensitive — especially during a recession.
The second point is a welcome step but one that doesn’t go far enough. While the command to check for Bibles in hotel rooms has been removed from the checklist, it is not mandatory to remove any Bibles that are found, nor is it against the rules to place one there. It has merely changed from mandatory to optional. No doubt there are still Air Force officers who do still place Bibles in the rooms.
Third, and I think the most offensive of the points raised, is the notion that to make yourself an example as a strong leader, you must attend church. The wording of the phrase which is removed from the document is a little more barbed than that, but it is suggestive:
If you attend chapel regularly, both officers and Airmen are likely to follow this example. If you are morally lax in your personal life, a general moral indifference within the command can be expected.
To me this just seems like a re-wording of the utterly obnoxious idea that a person without faith has no morality, and cannot even live a decent life let alone effectively lead in a combat situation. Of course the phrasing is sufficiently confusing as to allow its inclusion in the first place, but one hopes the training manual will be better for its expulsion. It was a challenge by The Military Religious Freedom Foundation in March that led to its removal. They successfully argued that the line “creates the inescapable impression that regular church attendance is a requirement for commissioned Air Force officers in order to demonstrate positive morals to subordinates.”
Finally the suspension of an ethics course. This was a blatant breach of the separation of church and state. The course was titled “Christian Just War Theory” and had been taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base for over 20 years. The course used Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments to show missile launch officers that it can be moral to go to war.
Following a complaint by The Military Religious Freedom Foundation on behalf of 31 plaintiffs, the course was suspended pending a review. I do not object to an ethics course being in existence. Clearly there is a need to discuss ethical issues if you’re training people to make decisions which could cost people their lives, but the removal of religious-based ethics is an absolute must.