October 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

The United States Air Force has recently issued clear rules barring its officers from religious proselytizing.

In conduct regulations issued in August by Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, all officers and supervisors were required to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment to any religion.”

According to NBC News, this addition to the regulations seems intended to distance the Air Force from a checkered past regarding the promotion of religion. In 2006, Air Force Academy cadets accused school leaders of pressuring non-Christians to convert to evangelical Christianity, and until August 2011, the Air Force offered a course called “Christian Just War Theory,” NBC said.

The initiative from Schwartz (since retired) was not without backlash. The Congressional Prayer Caucus, led by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), complained about Schwartz’s support for church-state separation when the regulation was first issued in memo form last year. 

But the general’s action drew praise from legal scholars.

“It’s one thing for a chief of staff of the Air Force to issue a letter that goes around,” Eugene R. Fidell, a professor of military law at Yale Law School, told NBC. “It is another to put it in permanent form so the next chief won’t take a different approach. I think it was appropriate and gutsy.”

Americans United has repeatedly pushed for improvements in Air Force handling of religious diversity.