Several dozen Republican House members have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta accusing the Air Force of creating a “culture that is hostile toward religion.”
According to Fox News, the letter cites several recent incidents in which the Air Force “succumbed” to pressure from outside groups. Among them: a decision to change a Latin office motto to remove reference to God; no longer requiring staff to check for Bibles in Air Force Inn rooms; and suspending an ethics course because the material included Bible passages.
The 66 lawmakers said the changes can be traced back to a memo last year from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz that said chaplains, “not commanders,” are expected to notify airmen of chaplains’ religious programs. The lawmakers said this suggested “that the mere mention of these programs is impermissible” and that combined with the other incidents, goes “beyond the requirements of the Constitution.”
“The changes lend credence to the notion that the Air Force will remove any reference to God or faith that an outside organization brings to its attention,” they wrote.
The letter, spearheaded by Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Todd Akin (R-Mo.), urges Panetta to investigate the incidents and whether the Air Force is having a “chilling effect” on people of faith, according to The Hill. It requests Panetta issue “clear Department of Defense policy guidance” to put a stop to it.
The Air Force confirmed to The Hill it had received the letter, and said in a statement that airmen are “free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems.”
“We are dedicated to creating an environment in which people can realize their highest potential without any consideration of one’s personal religious or other beliefs,” an Air Force spokeswoman said.