Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz's memo cautioned eaders at all levels to balance the Constitution's protection of religious freedom and the prohibition on government intrusion. (Chris Maddaloni / Staff)
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The Air Force's top officer has issued a stern reminder to leaders about religion and their jobs: Don't proselytize or show favoritism toward a particular faith.
Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz sent a servicewide memo Sept. 1 cautioning leaders at all levels to balance the Constitution's protection of religious freedom and the prohibition on government intrusion.
"We have seen instances where well-meaning commanders and senior noncommissioned officers appeared to advance a particular religious view among their subordinates, calling into question their impartiality and objectivity. We can learn from these instances," said Lt. Col. Sam Highley, Schwartz's spokesman.
The memo came about a month after the Air Force http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2011/08/air-force-nuclear-ethics-course-yanked-080411/">suspended an ethics course for new nuclear missile officers that contained biblical references, and announced a review of all ethics and character development training.
In the memo, titled "Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion," Schwartz wrote leaders must avoid even the appearance of using their position to proselytize.
"Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity," Schwartz wrote. "The potential result is a degradation of the unit's morale, good order and discipline."
Air Force leaders discovered Christian-based themes in the ethics course for nuclear officers after the watchdog group Military Religious Freedom Foundation obtained course materials through a Freedom of Information Act request. The organization handed over the documents to http://truth-out.org/">truth-out.org, which posted them on its website.
Schwartz's memo does not mention any specific incidents but stresses commanders must refrain from appearing to endorse religious programs such as those provided by the Chaplain Corps.
"I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corps programs," Schwartz wrote.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, called the memo a strong mandate of "constitutional religious compliance."
"While MRFF wishes that such a letter had been sent by the chief of staff of the Air Force a very long time ago, the old adage ‘Better late than never' most certainly applies," Weinstein said in a statement to Air Force Times.