Air Force leaders announce religious guidelines
by Master Sgt. Mitch Gettle
WASHINGTON -- Air Force officials announced the release of interim guidance on free exercise of religion Aug. 29.
Air Force Directorate of Personnel officials issued the interim guidelines after careful consideration of the U.S. Constitution, laws and military necessity. The guidelines were developed after a review at the U.S. Air Force Academy indicated a need for additional guidance on the issue of religious respect throughout the Air Force.
"A crucial part of our vision is that the religious diversity we share as Americans is a strength that sets us apart from many other nations," said Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel. "In a world where many nations are torn apart by religious strife, we must understand that our ability to stand together -- those who represent many religions shoulder-to-shoulder with those who claim no religion -- is a great strength.
"Each of us represents the government of the United States and the Air Force," he said. "Our actions must be consistent with the Constitution we are sworn to protect and defend, and with the Air Force core values. We demand from one another integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. Our responsibility to the Constitution requires that we not officially endorse or establish religion -- either one specific religion, or the idea of religion over nonreligion -- as the only way or the best way to build strength or serve our nation."
The interim guidelines are based on the following principles:
* We are sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. In taking this oath we pledge our personal compliance with the Constitution's protections for free exercise of religion and prohibitions against governmental establishment of religion.
* We will accommodate free exercise of religion and other personal beliefs, as well as freedom of expression, except as must be limited by military necessity. We will not officially endorse or establish religion -- either one specific religion, or the idea of religion over nonreligion.
* Our core values support and are consistent with our constitutional obligations. Our integrity demands that we respect others and that we live up to our oaths. Service before self demands respect for the Constitution, our Air Force and each other, and an understanding that in the military our service begins with a commitment to our responsibilities, not only our rights. Commitment to a climate in which individuals of diverse beliefs form an effective team is essential to achieving excellence.
* Chaplain service programs are the responsibility of commanders. Chaplains function as staff officers when advising commanders in regard to the free exercise of religion, and they implement programs of religious support and pastoral care to help commanders care for the welfare of all their people.
* Supervisors, commanders and leaders at every level bear a special responsibility to ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed as either official endorsement or disapproval of the decisions of individuals to hold particular religious beliefs or to hold no religious beliefs.
* Abuse or disrespect of our wingmen -- our fellow Air Force people -- including disrespect based on religious beliefs, or the absence of religious beliefs, is unacceptable.
* We will recognize and value the many heritages, cultures and beliefs represented among us, and build a team by stressing our common Air Force heritage: the oaths we took, the core values that we embrace, and the mission that we undertake to protect our nation.
* At a time when many nations are torn apart by religious strife, we must understand that our ability to stand together as Americans and as Airmen -- those who represent many religions, shoulder-to-shoulder with those who claim no religion -- is part of our strength.