It seems pretty innocuous for the Air Force Global Strike Command at Louisiana’s Barksale Air Force Base to promote something they’re calling the “Year of the Family.” The plan is to “focus our efforts on areas that greatly affect our Strikers and their families” and create “quality-of-life programs for years to come.”
That’s all well and good, right?
The problem is that, in addition to promoting how Airmen live, learn, play, and are cared for, the Air Force is also emphasizing the importance of prayer.
The Year of the Family will also see an increased emphasis on spiritual health. Command leadership recognizes a need for retreats for both married and single Airmen as well as the need for overall spiritual wellness. The command also plans to expand existing programs and foster a sense of community among its members, according to The Year of the Family plan.
What sort of retreats would these be? Presumably religious ones that emphasize Christianity. That’s the concern held by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. MRFF President Mikey Weinstein told me he’s representing 36 members of the Air Force Global Strike Command — 21 Christians and 15 members of minority faiths (and atheists) — who object to the inclusion of praying as one of the prongs of the military’s approach to improve the lives of Airmen.
One of them wrote in an email to MRFF:
The fact is, not all airmen pray. Some airmen are agnostic or atheist. Some pray, but do so in different ways at different times than the mainstream. I personally do not pray. Prayer is not important to me and I’ve never seen it as an essential (or even minor) component of my reasonably successful 30+ years in the Air Force, not have I ever “used” prayer to accomplish a mission, motivate my subordinates, or build my own skills or resiliency.
So, if I were in AFGSC does that make me only 80% good to go in the eyes of my supervisors and commanders? What if my boss says “Prayer’s part of the plan — get with the plan because that’s what [AFGSC Commander Gen. Robin] Rand clearly wants — he had it posted on the webpage!”
Once again, we’re telling some of our airmen that they have to be religious to be good airmen — that religion is a NECESSARY condition for having a healthy happy family, for being a full-fledged member of the AFGSC team, and for supporting our subordinates.
But, if our airmen reflect our society (and in large part they do), then there’s a growing number who are at least non-practicing religiously if not outright atheists.
It’s not the government’s job to tell people prayer will improve their lives. There’s a difference between promoting legal secular spirituality and pushing a specific religious form of it.
Despite a phone call to AFGSC Director of Staff Jeff Beene to explain the concern, Weinstein tells me he has not heard back from the military regarding how they’ll address this situation.