There had been many complaints that the US military and the Air Force in particular showed preference for Christianity and even allowed senior officers to openly proselytize and discriminate against non-Christians. In response, a regulation was promulgated that bars senior officers from “the actual or apparent use of their positions to promote their religious convictions to their subordinates.” That seems reasonable, right?
But Jonathan Landay reports that evangelical Christians and conservative activists are enlisting Republican congressional support to protest this rule as suppressing religious freedom and are advocating for a change.
The prospect alarms supporters of the policy, who say a pro-Christian bias in the Air Force remains overwhelming and that the regulation provides an avenue of relief to service members who object to being regaled with their superiors’ religious views or who worry that declining invitations to “voluntary” Bible classes might jeopardize their fitness reports and chances of promotion.
The regulation has been “an umbrella in a tsunami of Christian fundamentalist extremism,” asserted Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a former Air Force officer whose outspokenness has won him scorn and death threats.
Since the regulation went into effect, 4,121 Air Force personnel have sought the organization’s help in fending off proselytizing by superiors, Weinstein said. The organization has a 95 percent “success rate” in ending “the offending behavior,” he said. Evangelical Christians draw the largest number of complaints — ironically enough, from fellow Christians, he said.
Of course, the religious people do not see it that way. Here’s Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council.
“We don’t advocate that someone in a position of authority use that authority to somehow force someone to participate in a religious activity,” Perkins said. “On the flip side of that is just because someone in a command position (has) a devotional or weekly Bible study and you invite your colleagues, there is nothing wrong with that as long as you are not requiring (attendance). It’s like asking someone to come play dominoes.”
For them, anything other than a direct order means there is no coercion, which goes against everything we know about the subtle ways in which hierarchical systems exert pressure on people. In the military, it is even worse and the only ‘colleagues’ are peer officers of the same rank. Even a ‘suggestion’ to a subordinate, even to play dominoes, will be viewed as an order.