The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to stand firm against unfounded criticism from 66 Republican members of Congress alleging that the U.S. Air Force is “hostile towards religion.” The attack was led by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. and Randy Forbes, R-Va.
FFRF has written Panetta to set the record straight saying the representatives mistake neutrality for hostility:
“Requiring superior officers to remain neutral about religious issues in front of their subordinates does not violate any freedom of conscience. But when a superior officer orders, influences, or encourages subordinates to participate in religious training, the subordinate’s Free Exercise rights are violated. … The promotion of religion by members of the military acting in their official capacity, using their official title, and clothed in official uniform bearing the badges of their rank, violates the central tenet of the First Amendmen.”
FFRF debunked each of the “lawmakers’ misrepresented claims [showing] that the U.S. military is not exceeding but struggling to meet minimal Establishment Clause requirements.”
For example, the representatives are upset that a USAF division changed its Latin motto from “Doing God’s Work with Other People’s Money” to “Doing Miracles with Other People’s Money.” As FFRF pointed out, “our military does not fight for a god, but to uphold our godless Constitution and the rights it protects, including the separation between religion and government.” FFRF urged Panetta to replace the “miracle” motto with secular wording.
The representatives attacked the removal of mandatory reading material that encouraged officers to “attend chapel regularly.” The deleted wording also said: “If you are morally lax in your personal life, a general moral indifference within the command can be expected.”
FFRF responded: “Equating church-going with patriotism is deeply troubling. Even more troubling is equating lack of chapel attendance or church-going with being ‘morally lax in your personal life.’ ”
The representatives are upset that bibles were removed from Air Force Inn checklists. As FFRF showed, “the government is not, nor can it constitutionally be, in the business of assuring its lodgers access to religious texts. Under our Constitution the military has no power to declare that a book is holy or which ‘holy book’ should be brought to the attention of lodgers; in fact, such powers are prohibited to the military under the First Amendment.”
The representatives are also upset that USAF officials stopped promoting “Operation Christmas Child,” a program designed to convert poor children to Christianity that is run by Franklin Graham.
FFRF noted to Panetta, “Every member of the military promises to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ but it is clear that sometimes they are the worst violators. If your office takes any action it should be to issue a military-wide order or memorandum explaining the need for greater vigilance in guarding the wall of separation between state and church.”