New Air Force Standards Soften Prohibitions on Proselytizing November 17, 2014

New Air Force Standards Soften Prohibitions on Proselytizing

Late last week, the U.S. Air Force updated its Standards. Usually, updates make things better, but the changes regarding religious exercise, while superficially sound, leaves much to be desired.

Here’s what the 2012 version of Standard 2.11 said:

2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example, they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline. Airmen, especially commanders and supervisors, must ensure that in exercising their right of religious free expression, they do not degrade morale, good order, and discipline in the Air Force or degrade the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.

The 2014 version looks very different:

2.11. Free Exercise of Religion and Religious Accommodation. Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own. Every Airman also has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment.

2.11.1. Your right to practice your religious beliefs does not excuse you from complying with directives, instructions and lawful orders; however, you may request religious accommodation. Commanders and supervisors at all levels must fairly consider requests for religious accommodation. Airmen requesting accommodation will continue to comply with directives, instructions and lawful orders from which they are requesting accommodation unless and until the request is approved.

2.11.2. If it is necessary to deny free exercise of religion or an accommodation request, the decision must be based on the facts presented, must directly relate to the compelling government interest of military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment, and must be by the least restrictive means necessary to avoid the cited adverse impact.

2.12. Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause. Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief.

Gone in the latest version is the section from 2012 explicitly saying,

[Leaders at all levels] must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order, and discipline.

That used to say Don’t do it at all, and here’s why!

Now, it’s more like Try not to… but if you do it, do it very subtly!

Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers explains the implications of the changes:

The new Air Force Instruction 1-1 is published with eliminations of the more inclusive regulations in the original publication. Language explicitly restricting commanders and chaplains from proselytizing has been removed. However, the language still acknowledges the importance of the establishment clause alongside the free exercise clause. So while important restrictions against rampant evangelism has been removed, the language itself still sounds reasonable. But even a few words can make a difference. Where the old regulation protected those in need from those in power, the new regulation protects the powerful.

You can see a nice summary of all the relevant changes right here.

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