Dr. Don Snider (Col, US Army, Retired), a Political Science instructor at the US Military Academy at West Point, responded to USAFA law instructor David Fitzkee’s (Maj, US Army, Retired) prior Parameters article on religious freedom with a commentary criticizing the analysis of command involvement. Regarding the memorandum on religious neutrality issued last year, Snider said
It seems fair to say that the Chief of Staff of the US Air Force does not trust some of his Commanders to correctly fulfill their responsibilities to “support individual Airman’s needs and provide opportunities for the free exercise of religion.” So, he has withdrawn autonomy from all of his Commanders to do so, turning it over to their Chaplains.
Snider accurately notes that this singles out issues of religion for separation from command guidance: Read more
David Fitzkee (Maj, USA, Retired) is a law professor at the US Air Force Academy. In the fall of 2011 he had an article published in Parameters (vol. 41, no. 3), (“The US Army’s Senior Professional Journal”) entitled “Religious Speech in the Military: Freedoms and Limitations.”
The 14-page essay is an interesting read, and it opens with a strong premise:
It is crucial that military leaders understand and respect the scope of religious speech rights. Honoring the constitutional rights of subordinates is inherently the “right thing to do” in a society and military governed by the rule of law, particularly when all military leaders take an oath to support the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the very next paragraph of the introduction sets a poor tone for the paper:
Failure to understand the rights and limits concerning religious speech can adversely affect the mission…It can result in internal investigations into allegations of violations or even lawsuits against the military, both of which entail substantial time, effort, and distraction from the mission.
Maj Fitzkee aptly notes that “investigations into allegations of violations” can “distract from the mission” — but he illogically assumes Read more
Newly-retired General Norton Schwartz’s parting gift to the Air Force was Air Force Instruction 1-1, a newly formed regulation (dated 7 Aug 2012, three days before his retirement) simply entitled “Air Force Standards” (implementing AFPD1).
Unlike other standalone AFIs, the new 1-1 is essentially a collection of the high points from multiple other regulations, or citations with a Chief of Staff tweak. For example, there are paragraphs on professional relationships, drug use, and paying one’s bills. Airmen are prohibited from ever burning an American flag (except for its reverent disposition), and Airmen can travel in any uniform — except the flight suit. While some people have mocked the fact bullying and hazing are allowed in this AFI if they are part of an approved training program, certain specialized programs do exist that would likely fall under some definitions of “hazing,” despite their essential contribution to the Air Force mission.
There are, however, two notable “new” subjects.
First, General Schwartz included a paragraph from his 2011 memo on “religious neutrality.” The same memo over which Michael Weinstein berated USAFA Superintendent General Mike Gould for not distributing to all Airmen is now Read more
General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, has apparently issued a memorandum to his commanders entitled “Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion.” It makes what is probably the most significant official change to the religious environment in the Air Force in some years (reference the “Religious Guidelines” of 2006).
First, it notes that “leaders at all levels”
must 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.
which is substantially similar to previous military positions. Of course, the complexity of the environment prevents a detailed explanation as to what constitutes “apparent use” or what may be “apparent…preferential treatment” vice the expected (and required) accommodation of religion. This has long been an understandable challenge with regard to religion and the government, not just the military.
The memorandum then raises new content: Read more