Air Force May Change Religious Freedom Policy

Mikey Weinstein’s confused take on the Air Force’s policy:  It’s like an umbrella in a tsunami…

McClatchy asked the question no other media outlet has in the past few weeks: What ever became of the “offsite” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said she was convening?

Late last month, James and Welsh convened a “Religious Freedom Focus Day” conference of senior chaplains and legal and manpower officials to discuss the policy. An Air Force spokeswoman, Rose Richeson, declined to make the results of the April 28 meeting public, saying it would be “too premature to provide an interview.”

It would seem, though, someone may have heard what occurred:

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council…said that based on what he’d heard from people at the meeting he expected the Air Force to “make a policy change shortly.”

The article says Perkins’ statement “alarms supporters of the policy,” and cites exactly one person: Michael “Mikey” Weinstein.  The policy in question is AFI 1-1, which contains a sentence on religious exercise that Weinstein’s group has claimed he was essentially responsible for.  Weinstein and his ilk are painting the Air Force religious policy as the last bulwark against commanders trying to convert their troops:

The regulation has been “an umbrella in a tsunami of Christian fundamentalist extremism,” asserted Mikey Weinstein…

Weinstein’s detail-oriented research assistant Chris Rodda is probably wincing at the metaphor.  Why would anyone reach for an umbrella during a tidal wave?  It’s an example of perfectly acceptable tool being applied to completely the wrong situation — which seems to be precisely the problem Congressmen pointed out with the current religious policy in the Air Force.

No reasonable person asserts that any person should use their position to coerce others into religion.  The article quotes Perkins saying as much:

We don’t advocate that someone in a position of authority use that authority to somehow force someone to participate in a religious activity.

The umbrella, though, hasn’t been used to stop people of authority from trying to convert their subordinates…because there isn’t a single public record of anyone using their authority to convert their subordinates — despite the number of times AFI 1-1 has been cited in the past 18 months since it was created.

Instead, the policy has only been used for one purpose: by Weinstein as a club to attack military religious liberty.  Need proof?  The latest example is only the most obvious: An Air Force Academy cadet was forced to erase a Bible verse on a whiteboard under the auspices of this policy (at least according to Weinstein).  How is that trying to convert anyone, much less using one’s authority (which the Academy explicitly admitted he didn’t have) to do anything?

Weinstein has also quoted the same policy to demand the Air Force remove a Nativity (it did), pull down a chaplain’s commentary (it did, before it reversed itself under criticism), and prohibit Bibles in the workplace (the Air Force didn’t, but some commanders reportedly have).

None of those situations involved people using their position to attempt to convert another, yet the Air Force’s policy in AFI 1-1 was either the impetus to the complaint or the reason cited for the Air Force’s surrendering to the criticism.

The disconnect between the AFI’s stated intent and how it was applied brought pressure from Congress, and, to her credit, Secretary James admitted there were issues and instituted a review of how the policy was being applied.

Perhaps, then, the Air Force will revise its policy so that its application matches its intent.

People of authority should not use their positions to try to convert others.  Legitimate expressions and practices of faith should be protected, even in the military.

A policy intended to prevent the former should not be misapplied to restrict the latter.

Just as reaching for an umbrella during a tsunami is the wrong application of a perfectly fine tool.

Also at the Stars and Stripes.