Air Force Mutes Prohibitions Against Proselytism
Update: Testimony by MAAF to Congressional hearing 11/19/2014
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.
Air Force Press Release
The changes to the new regulation are consistent with, though moving away from, Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17 continued which provides recognition and protection for those who don’t profess a religion. Changes to DoDI 1300.17 recognized accommodations for Sikhs and expanded protections related to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. However, the controlling precedent for more recent changes seems to be the National Defense Authorization Act (2013 and 2014) which provided for so-called conscience protection. Conscience protection has led to expanded opportunities for proselytism by commanders and chaplains.
It was concerning the General Schwarz’s explanations of the importance of establishment clause protections were deleted, and should be returned in future versions, or at least emphasized in implementing training.
Deleted: 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.
Another damaging change is from the old wording, “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,” to, “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.” The 2012 version expressed an imperative not to promote religion. The 2014 version switches to a third person referent passive voice implying that anyone objecting to evangelism by their commander isn’t a ‘reasonable’ person, and focuses on ‘official endorsement’ rather than improper personal expressions. This sort of oblique glossing-over of establishment clause protections implies broad freedom to push personal beliefs on others.
In 2012, AFI 1-1 regulation codified prior interim guidance on religious accommodation released in 2000, 2006, and 2011. The 2012 guidance was a great leap forward in that it recognized nonreligious/nontheistic beliefs: “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.” The regulation does not, however, require chaplain responsibility for humanists and other nontheists. In addition, the regulation asserts the need for spirituality while providing no definition.
Chaplain leaders briefed Congress in January regarding on the implementation of the National Defense Authorization Act, and this led into the update of DoDI 1300.17 and now AFI 1-1. These senior chaplains told members of Congress exactly how protected official sectarian religious expression is.
Representative Lamborn (R-CO) at 48:50, said that he was told there are no atheists in foxholes but maybe there were today, and he asked if chaplains would be able to ‘personally witness’ to them. Ms Penrod (who serves above the Chiefs of Chaplains in the civilian chain) answered that that would be ok and the chaplain could continue. The individual, the junior military person, would have to object to the senior officer to stop that expression. At 58 min, Admiral Tidd, then Chairman of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, answered to Representative Noem (R-SD) that personnel could express their personal religious faith to others, lay out religious symbols in their office, and encourage others to attend church without repercussions. (Readers are encouraged to put quotes from the video in the comments.)
Supplement – Changes to AFI 1-1:
Both versions, 2012 and 2014, can be found on the MAAF regulations list. Also included is a line-by-line comparison and short assessment of changes.
The first change was from General Norton Schwartz, former Chief of Staff, to General Mark Welsh. In the text, the changes were to section 2.11 and 2.12. Section 2.15.8 was added, but only to clarify that sections 2.15.1-7 do not invalidate sections 2.11 and 2.12. The only substantive changes were in sections 2.11 and 2.12, which were shuffled vigorously but not greatly changed.
The term “government neutrality toward religion” was deleted in favor of “Balance of Free Exercise of Religion and Establishment Clause”. The new wording is not problematic, but it is unfortunate that the concept of government neutrality toward religion was lost.
The idea of the ‘individual’s’ free exercise was added to include the leaders own free exercise. Evangelical leaders often lament their own loss of freedom, and this addition should help them remember their leadership responsibilities.
The most damaging change is from “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.” to “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.” The 2012 version expressed an imperative not to promote religion. The 2014 version switches to a third person referent passive voice implying that anyone objecting to evangelism by their commander isn’t a ‘reasonable’ person, and focuses on ‘official endorsement’ rather than improper personal expressions.
In the 2012 version, General Schwartz emphasized and explained the importance of not abusing one’s position to promote their personal beliefs. In the 2014 version, General Welsh dispensed with important explanations and emphasized the importance of personal religious expressions while providing only references to the establishment clause.
An addition stated: “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.” The addition clarifies this instruction but does not change military law. A similar change stated that any denials require demonstrated harm, compelling government interest, and least restrictive means. This follows the NDAA ruling and does not change the regulations applicable to the Air Force.