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Letter to Armed Services Chairs on Religious Coercion in the Military



January 22, 2007
The Honorable Carl Levin
Chairman
Senate Armed Services Committee
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Levin:

On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League, we are writing to urge the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold hearings on coercive proselytizing and religious activity in the military – and to begin a process that will result in the promulgation of new guidelines on religious activity for the service branches. We were very disappointed that the FY 2007 Defense of Department authorization bill directed the Secretary of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Navy to rescind their existing guidelines on religious activity.

The League has taken a lead role in confronting concerns about religious intolerance at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. ADL submitted the attached statement at hearings on the issue before the House Armed Service Committee, Subcommittee on Military Personnel held on June 28, 2005. Our testimony documented a climate of religious intolerance for members of minority religions at USAFA and instances of inappropriate proselytizing and unwelcome religious harassment at that honored federal institution. The Air Force’s own investigation, The Report of the Headquarters Review Group Concerning the Religious Climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy, confirmed many of ADL's concerns and those raised by cadets, staff chaplains, civilian observers and military personnel that a persistent pattern of religious intolerance existed at the academy, and that change was necessary.

These charges of religious harassment and unwelcome proselytizing were especially disturbing in the context of the military command structure within our nation’s military service academies (and, indeed, anywhere in the military) in which instructors, officers, and upper class cadets have virtually absolute command authority over their students and subordinates, creating a unique potential for undue pressure on an individual to conform in order not to jeopardize his or her military career. Governmental institutions, like USAFA and the Naval Academy, bear a special responsibility to avoid religious coercion and to respect the rights of religious minorities guaranteed by the Constitution.

The League’s concerns led to a series of meetings with Air Force leadership – both at USAFA and at the Pentagon. ADL representatives, under the leadership of the ADL Mountain States Regional Director Bruce DeBoskey in Denver, began to work closely with Air Force personnel to prepare and implement follow-up training and educational training programs designed to define the rights, responsibilities, and remedies under the guidelines. In August, 2005, ADL welcomed the new Air Force guidelines designed to protect against religious intolerance and discrimination as a significant step forward in safeguarding religious freedom and respecting the diversity of faiths represented at the Air Force Academy and the Air Force as a whole. That initial set of guidelines struck the appropriate balance between the constitutional guarantee of religious free exercise rights and the prohibition against governmental endorsement of religion. We believe the February, 2006 revisions to the Air Force guidelines were much less satisfactory, less detailed and less protective of religious minority concerns.

Even these more limited guidelines came under fire from some Members of Congress, who opposed any limitations on organized religious activity in the services branches. Yielding to the very persistent efforts of these Members at the end of the last session, Congress directed the Secretary of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Navy to rescind their existing guidelines on religious activity as part of the FY 2007 Department of Defense Authorization bill:
The conferees direct the Secretary of the Air Force to rescind the policy and revised interim guidelines concerning the exercise of religion in the Air Force issued on February 9, 2006, and direct the Secretary of the Air Force to reinstate the policy
that was set forth in the Air Force Directive 52-1 dated July 1, 1999. The conferees further direct the Secretary of the Navy to rescind the Secretary of the Navy Instruction 1730.7C dated February 21, 2006, titled “Religious Ministry within the Department of the Navy,” and direct the Secretary of the Navy to reinstate the policy that was set forth in the Secretary of the Navy Instruction 1730.7B dated October 12, 2000.
In recent weeks, a disturbing promotional video produced by the Washington-based evangelical organization Christian Embassy has come to light. The video, the subject of the attached January 6, 2007 Washington Post editorial, featured effusive endorsements of the evangelizing work of the Christian Embassy by a number of high-ranking military officials who appeared on camera in their uniforms – some apparently in their Pentagon offices. Whether intentional or not, this promotional video gives the appearance of government endorsement of these evangelical Christian views and suggests, at least, Pentagon acquiescence in Christian Embassy evangelizing work.

With this background, we urge the Committee to hold oversight hearings on religious activity in the military and to establish a mechanism to redraft appropriate guidelines defining the constitutional and policy limits on this activity in the military. As you know, for over 90 years, the Anti-Defamation League has been an ardent advocate for religious freedom for all Americans. The League has also been a leading national organization promoting interfaith cooperation and intergroup understanding. Through its A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute, the League provides diversity and anti-bias training and resources for the community, schools and law enforcement officials. We very much hope to be able to have input in the redrafting of these guidelines – and hope, again, to use our expertise to assist Pentagon officials in preparing education and training materials on this issue.

Sincerely,

Glen S. Lewy
National Chair

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director

cc: 
The Honorable John McCain, Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee
The Honorable Ike Skelton, Chairman, House Armed Services Committee
The Honorable Duncan Hunter, Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee

 



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ADL Urges Senate and House Armed Services Committees to Hold Hearings On Religious Coercion In Military


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