General Norton A. Schwartz
Dear General Schwartz:
Chief of Staff
United States Air Force
Washington, DC 20330
We write to applaud your September 1, 2011 Memorandum, “Maintaining Government Neutrality Regarding Religion.” We very much appreciate your leadership in elevating this issue and highlighting its importance.
It is fundamental in the military that officers have virtually absolute authority over their subordinates. This creates a unique potential for undue pressure for an individual to conform in order not to jeopardize his/her military career. Your critically important instruction that leaders “must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion” rightly recognizes this unique, defining aspect of our military and service academies.
We are proud to have contributed in some measure to the new climate for religious respect at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). It appears that our work with Air Force personnel following a series of incidents in 2004-2005 involving religious harassment and unwelcome, coercive proselytizing at USAFA, is paying dividends. We know that our colleagues in ADL’s Mountain States Regional Office in Denver look forward to continuing to build on the very successful relationship we have developed with USAFA’s Superintendent and Chaplains to implement the training course on religious freedom and respect that we designed cooperatively with them specifically for the entire Cadet Wing of the USAFA.
The real difference now apparent in the climate for religious respect at USAFA, especially for members of minority faith traditions, is a very positive accomplishment-- one that we expect will have a lasting impact beyond the Academy as graduates become Air Force officers around the world.
Your September 1, 2011 guidance is an essential complement to the ongoing training at USAFA and is a model of leadership and understanding of the unique environment in the military. We plan to promote the adoption of similar guidance by other service branches and welcome your help in doing that.
Again, General Schwartz, thank you for your leadership on this issue. We look forward to our continuing relationship with the USAFA.
Robert G. Sugarman
Abraham H. Foxman
Cc: Scott Levin, Director, ADL Mountain States Region