Saturday, February 11, 2006

With (deity of choice) as my wing man..

You may not have envisioned the United States Air Force as the organization of choice if your goal was self-expression. The military life has always stressed the subjugation of personal displays of individuality in order to inculcate a sense of camraderie and brotherhood among young men from various geographical, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Unit cohesion, discipline, and combat effectiveness depends on this sense of brotherhood, this shared identity as Marines, or soldiers, or airmen, or seamen.

Last year a controversy at the United States Air Force Academy involving several incidents of allegedly preferential treatment to particular religious views, specifically Evangelical Christian, by officer instructors led the Air Force to adopt a statement of policy governing the the way that Air Force personnel could express their personal religious viewpoints during the conduct of their duties. Many conservative Evangelicals, in Congress, the media and the clergy pushed the Air Force to weaken the guidelines that they adopted in the wake of the controversy. They succeeded this week in that task.

The revised guidelines are considerably shorter than the original, filling one page instead of four. They place more emphasis on the Constitution's free exercise clause, which is mentioned four times, than on its prohibition on any government establishment of religion, which is mentioned twice.

The guidelines still warn superior officers to be "sensitive to the potential" that personal expressions of faith may appear to be official statements. But they say that, "subject to these sensitivities, superiors enjoy the same free exercise rights as all other airmen." They now add that there are no restrictions in situations "where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion."

Baldwin acknowledged in a telephone interview yesterday that the changes reflect the criticism from evangelicals.

"I think that my evangelical friends were concerned that we did limit, and somehow restrict, the chaplains' service, for example, because the guidance said chaplains should be 'as sensitive to those who do not welcome offerings of faith as they are generous in sharing their faith with those who do,' " Baldwin said.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of New Life Church, a congregation near the Air Force Academy, said the revised document restores the proper balance between the free exercise and establishment clauses.

"When I read it, I thought, if I were nonreligious, I would feel protected; if I were a minority religion, I would feel respected; and as a member of the majority religion, I feel the need to be respectful," Haggard said.

Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.), a principal author of the congressional letter, said he considers the revised guidelines an improvement but is not wholly satisfied.

He noted that the revisions include a sentence saying: "We will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths."

But he said the guidelines still call for "nondenominational, inclusive prayer or a moment of silence" at military ceremonies. "There is some progress, but it does not go as far as it needs to go in making sure that Christian chaplains can pray in the name of Jesus and other chaplains can pray according to their faiths," Jones said.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based group whose investigation of the Air Force Academy helped spark the controversy last year, said the revisions "focus heavily on protecting the rights of chaplains, while ignoring the rights of nonbelievers and minority faiths."

Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, an Albuquerque lawyer who is suing the Air Force over its policy on religion, questioned the sentence allowing commanders to share their faith when it is "reasonably clear" that they are speaking personally, not officially.

"Reasonably clear from whose perspective, the superior's or the subordinate's?" asked Weinstein, a 1977 Air Force Academy graduate. "When a senior member of your chain of command wants to speak to you 'reasonably' about religion, saying 'Get out of my face, sir!' is not an option."

It will be interesting to watch how Evangelicals take advantage of this change in the regulations. I am a big supporter of the freedom of religious expression, but it has always been obvious to members of the military that military life poses restrictions on contstitutional rights, in the form of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, that are not placed on civilians. Freedom of speech does not entitle a soldier to argue with his superior officer. The need to maintain unit discipline and morale often trump the manner in which service personnel can exercise their rights.

If the new guidelines end up allowing religious majorities to inject their views into the daily operations of their units in a way that establishes a defacto division of the unit into "us" and "them", then they will have succeeded in destroying the very cohesion, camraderie and discipline that has made the Air Force in particular, and the United States military in general, the most effective fighting force in the world, and they would have failed in their pledge to serve and protect the United States Constitution, the Flag, and the American people. That is all I have to say.


Blogger David said...

Mostly I'll let Skipper go first, breaking with my usual rule that actual knowledge about an issue is disqualifying. I will note that there are serious First Amendment issues with the policies as originally promulgated.

February 11, 2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Does anyone have a link to the text of the new guidelines?

February 11, 2006 5:28 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

You don't (or didn't) have this problem with a conscript army.

February 11, 2006 10:34 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

If the new guidelines end up allowing religious majorities to inject their views into the daily operations of their units in a way that establishes a defacto division of the unit into "us" and "them", then they will have succeeded in destroying the very cohesion...

Duck, I intend to observe on this one too, but the Air Force has been around a long time, presumably without any guidelines on this at all. Why are they necessary all of a sudden and why do you assume guidelines will be the source of new behaviour?

February 12, 2006 4:04 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

It is different this time because evangelicals have made a national campaign about changing the guidelines, and I think that they have an agenda to evangelize the armed forces. I really don't care what kind of holy spectacle they wish to make to evangelize the civilian population, but messing with the military goes too far. I've been in the military, and I've been responsible for a unit of 30 Marines . I know something about the problems of unit morale and discipline. The minute that there is even the slightest perception of favoritism for a group or a religion, then morale and discipline will go to hell. Even though I'm all for the right of homosexuals to live openly in society without fear, I don't support their right to do so in the military, because of the discipline problems it would create.

Another reason is that if a commander is going to make it his mission to share his faith with his subordinates, then he's not focusing on his primary duty which is the combat readiness of his unit. It sets up the opportunity for the commander to follow multiple duties. We didn't put him in uniform to pursue any other duty than to his service.

February 12, 2006 7:37 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Presuming the description of the guidelines is reasonably complete, there is something glaring in its absence: Article VI of the Constitution; the last phrase says:

[all executive officers shall swear to support the Constitution] ... but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

IMHO, this is far more restrictive than the 1st Amendment, because allowing religion into the military realm in ways compatible with free speech still leaves wide open the sub rosa violation of Article VI.

So a discussion where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and they can be reasonably free of the potential for, or appearance of, coercion, may well convey to a superior officer that the subordinate does not share his religious views.

That superior officer could then simply fail to put the same effort into managing that subordinates career, regardless of merit, as he might for a subordinate who does share his views, again regardless of merit.

Because promotions are a consequence not only of performance, but in what positions that performance occurred, providing the superior officer with information regarding a subordinates religious preferences provides ample opportunity to apply religious tests as a qualification for offices of public trust.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals ... said the revised document restores the proper balance between the free exercise and establishment clauses.

The Rev Haggard is a fool. The military is not civil society. There are any number of constitutional protections that simply don't apply. Freedom of association is one example (and why the issue of gays in the military is so difficult to deal with; but that is a subject for another time).

Free speech as civil society thinks of it simply does not exist in the military, meaning that "restoring some balance" is utterly beside the point.

Duck noted this, saying The need to maintain unit discipline and morale often trump the manner in which service personnel can exercise their rights.

I have only one quibble, Duck. You should have used "always" in place of "often."


I have had command-level experience with this in both the Air Force and the Navy. In considering the validity of my experiences, though, it is very important to keep in mind that they are not, in some senses, typical of the wider military. Flying squadrons are over 90% officers, who must be college graduates -- typically, units are 90% enlisted. That means the gulf between subordinates and superiors is much smaller in a flying squadron than elsewhere (something that struck me when I was a planeload commander at Army Airborne training, where I was in charge of roughly 50 Army enlisted).

I don't think that will color my comments unduly, but just in case ...

In my 20 years (1980-2000), religion was simply absent from the unit environment. Everyone, in my experience, implicitly understood that there were two things you simply didn't talk about: politics and religion.

The AF was a little more "relaxed" about this than the Navy. While it wasn't common, it wasn't unusual to see flyers for Bible study sessions in the AF.

Before I assumed command in the Navy, I had to attend a number of preparatory classes, one of which was a week long law seminar. One session dealt with religion, the lawyers made one thing very clear: there is no such thing as free speech in the military, but there is such a thing as equal speech.

That means if I allow one particular sect to proselytize in my squadron, or post flyers announcing, say, Bible study, then I must allow members of any faith the same privilege. Similarly, if I, or anyone in my command, personally approaches other members of my unit with regard to religion, then all members of my command may do the same.

So Commander Dobson has no more primacy of place than Commander Dawkins.

I'm sure Rev Haggard is perfectly happy with the all the Commander Dobsons out there, but one can only imagine the hissy fit that would issue forth from evangelicals should Commander Dawkins start having "reasonable" discussions with his subordinates.

Duck's post above is precisely on point.

Military service is all about protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States -- that is precisely the oath I took many times.

Evangelical Christianity cannot expect any other outcome than to corrode unit cohesion and insinuate religious tests for office.

That makes them completely out of line.

February 12, 2006 9:41 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Your criticism is well taken. Great post.

Here is a dicussion of the Fort Hood Wicca "scandal" of 1999. One interesting point to note is that prior to and during WWII there was not much support for evangelical rights of expression in the military, which explains their sensitivity to the Air Force Academy controversy. But GWB's reaction does not give much encouragement of his support for equal treatment of religious beliefs.

February 12, 2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I never talked this over as such with my Dad, who was a professional Navy officer, but we did talk about in general the attitudes of a good officer.

He would have agreed with Duck and Skipper right down the line.

February 12, 2006 12:29 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck: Sure, but those guidelines the Evangelicals wanted to change are only a few months old--hardly time immemorial. You certainly won't get any argument from me that preaching in the military should be verboten, but something is obviously going on here and feelings are obviouly raw. Do you think it starterd with evangelicals or ACLU types? Seriously, I'm not baiting you, but it is very hard to believe this problem just surfaced in 2006. But the way of dealing with it might have. Is it possible the problem is the existence of guidelines?

February 12, 2006 5:05 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


The problem had been breweing at the Air Force Academy over the last several years.

In fact, a Lutheran Chaplain complained about the evangelicals.

This article gives pretty good background.

The best I could to is the Interim Guidelines.

February 12, 2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

We'll have to see how it plays out. This isn't so much an atheist issue for me as it is a military issue. I honor anyone who serves in the armed forces, religious or otherwise. The military is one of the few organizations in the US where all the identities and differences of civilian life are of no consequence. It's hard to explain if you've not been there, but I made close friends in the Marines with people that I would never think of being friends with in civilian life. It is something special that I don't want to see anyone messing with.

February 12, 2006 6:18 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


What Duck said.

I have no problem with people having, or expressing, their own religious beliefs.

But there is a time and place, and within the operational environment, or closely related to it, is neither.

This extends far beyond religion, BTW. As a commander, if I happen to routinely play golf with a regular group of subordinates (a singularly unlikely proposition, since golf and I loathe each other), I am asking for trouble.

Adultery, when it occurs within a unit, is punished particularly harshly, because of the corrosive effect on unit cohesion.

One friend of mine spent three months in the brig for adultery. And a Commander of the base I was stationed at in England was offered the choice of resignation or court martial -- just after promotion to General -- for having inappropriate relations with his female executive officer.

As Duck said, the US Military has a special ethos, driven, IMHO, by the devotion to defend and protect the Constituion.

Anyone contravening that ethos has earned my enmity.

February 12, 2006 7:02 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Sorry, should have read "shouldn't be verboten...

February 13, 2006 2:22 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Hey Skipper:
Thanks for digging those interim guidelines up. I'm guessing that those are the guidelines before the latest guidelines? Is that right?

I had the following thought regarding military readiness. I would guess the breakdown in the military is something like the following:
75% at least moderately devout believers in Christianity.
18% non-believers of Christian background who are used to being surrounded by at least moderately devout Christians and aren't bothered much by it.
4% other religions
3% athiest (except, of course, in foxholes)
Given that (a) the distribution looks more or less like the above, (b) religious expression could increase unit cohesion and readiness assuming no one in the unit was offended, wouldn't it be possible to make an argument that to maximize military effectiveness, the easiest solution would be simply to exclude all non-christians (or at least those that have a problem with open expression of Christian religiosity)?

February 13, 2006 11:30 AM  
Blogger Duck said...


There are many Christians in the military that prefer to do their worship on Sunday (if at all) and would resent the imposition of religious observance during duty hours. It isn't like Christians are united in the ways they do worship. I was raised Catholic and if I remained Catholic I would be very uncomfortable being forced into an evangelical mode of worship. The Air Force Academy controversy shows the kind of friction that can occur between Christians of different sects.

The military has acheived unit cohesion under the current regime, why do we need to monkey with it to satisfy the desire of a single sect to use the military as a source of new converts? That's not what the military is for, it is for national defense. That's a non-starter, Bret.

February 13, 2006 11:47 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

Duck wrote: "The military has acheived unit cohesion under the current regime, why do we need to monkey with it..."

So the air force adopted "a statement of policy governing the the way that Air Force personnel could express their personal religious viewpoints" just last year. Are you saying that in the previous 200 some odd years, prior to the adoption of said policy, the military failed at adequate cohesion? Given all the wars it won, that seems unlikely. Or did something change in the last few years. If so, what?

February 13, 2006 1:52 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I believe those are the guidelines preceding the current version.

The spectrum of religious belief in the US Military is essentially identical to the population at large, which is pretty close to what you cited. However, the chaplaincy has become far more evangelical than the population.

If your only goal was unit cohesion, then you might be able to make an argument for excluding all non-Christians. But that argument would likely founder on some very treacherous shoals.

First is the minor issue of the US Constitution. Article VI, in as direct a use of language as you could ever hope for, prohibits religious tests for offices of public trust. That applies to the military. It is part of the executive branch, and military members swear the Article VI required oath, which is to the Constitution, not a religion.

But let's ignore that argument. Let's assume we have excluded all non-Christians from the military. There are those who will still have a problem with open expression of evangelical religiosity. Like pretty much all Catholics.

But let's pretend there will be a religious test for office, and one of those tests is affirming that you either agree with evangelicals, or don't have any problem with a now essentially unrestricted onslaught of evangelism.

What proportion of the existing pool of volunteers to you expect would find that state of affairs unacceptable?

Well, at least 20%. And maybe as much as 80% (the proportion of the US population that does not identify themselves as evangelical; who knows, perhaps they have a reason).

Let's go with a low-middle figure, 30%.

Can the use military achieve its recruiting goals having excluded 30% of the population?

Then there is the little matter of population size and quality. The larger the pool of recruits, the higher the standards can be.

Which do you want, unit cohesion or a quality force?

The way to maximize military effectiveness is to follow the standard of behavior in a Navy wardroom: no talk about religion or politics. That has served the US Military very well, except for some at the AF Academy, who forgot their mission, their sole purpose for existence, is to defend and protect the Constitution. Not just some of it; all of it.

NB -- many of those most offended were religious, including one of the chaplains at the academy.

The reason we need a policy now is because some officers at the AFA abandoned both long tradition and common sense.

I just wish someone could tell me why Article VI did not figure very prominently in the guidelines, as appeals to free speech are practically beside the point in the military.

February 13, 2006 2:30 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

Oh, okay, I didn't realize there was such a difference in the different Christian sects. As a non-christian, it all looks kinda the same to me. Also, as a non-christian, it doesn't bother me at all when christians spew forth about their religion, so I just assumed other christians wouldn't be too bothered either. I guess I forgot that they take it very seriously which magnifies the differences.

February 13, 2006 2:56 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


I can just as easily put someone on disregard as the next person. The problem is the perception, and the likelihood, that evangelism will lead to de facto religious tests.

In fact, it probably already had at the AFA (note the "Heathen Flight").

And I suspect many Christians could shrug it off, as well.

But what they understandably don't appreciate (and what surprised me) is the abuse that evangelicals heaped upon Mormons and Jews, in particular.

One of the many important lessons I learned in the military is that avoiding the appearance of impropriety is nearly as important as avoiding the impropriety itself.

Evangelicals in the military have list sight of this simple fact.

February 13, 2006 4:07 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

There was a pretty strong sense in the old military that 'the padre,' of whatever faith, was a sort of comforting intermediary between heaven and all the soldiers, of whatever faith.

The paltry few Muslims, Navajos and Buddhists may have felt excluded. They were too few to make a noise, if they did.

Robert Graves had something to say about that, for the British Army, in 'Goodbye to All That,' where he said that the English soldiers respected the Irish Catholic priests because they shared their trenches and disdained the Anglican priests, who (with some exceptions) didn't.

Evangelicalism, by its writ, cannot fulfill that kind of function, assuming it to be desirable at all, because Evangelicals are full-time excluders.

If cohesion is important, then you have to corral the excluders.

February 14, 2006 8:38 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Here are the revised interim guidelines.

February 14, 2006 12:15 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

I really don't see much in the guidelines to object to. I'm struck by the fact that the evangelicals wanted it to be clear that chaplains would not be required to participate in inter-faith services. I don't understand why anyone would become a chaplain if he didn't want to reach out to soldiers of other faiths or sectarian affiliations. That seems like a "my way or the highway" stance.

February 14, 2006 1:55 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Just one more comment on religious differences in the military. It is much easier to blow someone off or ignore them in civilian life, but in the military you work and live in a much more close and intimate environment, and the requirements for working together effectively are much higher than in your typical civilian work environment. Just think about life aboard a ship or submarine. There really is no separate private space that you can escape into. You can't disengage from the group when tensions are high. Behaviors that would be merely unwise in a civilian workplace can be downright disastrous in a unit at war.

I hope this helps.

February 14, 2006 2:04 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


There are several things I didn't like. First is the excessive reliance upon the word "reasonable."

IIRC, with regard to evangelism, "reasonable" isn't exactly a prized quality.

But most importantly, not only I object to the implicit assumption free speech exists in the military, but it's as if the only part of the Consitution the guidelines' authors heard about was the 1st Amendment.

I know I'm reiterating my repetitive repetition again, but Article VI is what is really in play here.

Or at least I think it is; I haven't heard mention of it anywhere else.

February 14, 2006 4:39 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Yes, I noticed that too, it will all come down to whose definition of reasonable is used. Like I said earlier, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. My understanding is that the Air Force concluded that the actions of the evangelical staff members at the AFA were not reasonable, and the guidelines were put in place to discourage further abuses. So even with the new guidelines, my understanding of the situation is that they are still on notice.

February 15, 2006 6:35 AM  
Blogger Scott A. Edwards said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

March 05, 2006 12:31 PM  

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