Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged the Air Force to adopt guidelines that bar the official sponsorship of religion and coercive forms of proselytization by senior officers and chaplains.
Attorneys with Americans United were invited to comment on proposed guidelines on religious activity by Air Force officials. In a seven-page letter delivered Nov. 2, AU Legal Director Ayesha Khan and Assistant Legal Director Richard Katskee outline a series of recommendations to strengthen and clarify the guidelines.
Khan’s and Katskee’s recommendations include: prohibiting official prayer at any event where attendance is mandatory; adopting a clear rule barring the proselytization of subordinates by senior officers; banning proselytization by chaplains and developing clear guidelines dealing with use of government e-mail system to disseminate religious messages.
Noted Khan and Katskee in the letter to Mary L. Walker, U.S. Air Force general counsel, “There is much in the proposed guidelines that is excellent. But there are also several aspects of the proposed guidelines that give rise to constitutional concerns by misleading individuals or otherwise engendering confusion about the legal requirements for permissible religious expression under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
Earlier this year, Americans United asked Air Force officials to look into allegations of official preference toward evangelical Christianity at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. A team that investigated the atmosphere at the Academy recommended the adoption of guidelines governing religious activity in the Air Force.
The proposed guidelines have been attacked by Religious Right groups and their congressional allies. U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and 70 members of Congress have written to President George W. Bush, urging him to issue an executive order permitting chaplains to pray in a sectarian manner.
Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn criticized Jones and his supporters for dismissing the need for religious diversity in the military.
“The Air Force exists to defend the country, not spread evangelical Christianity or any other faith,” Lynn said. “We urge the Air Force to adopt guidelines that respect individual religious practice but bar the official promotion of religion.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.