The Air Force's new guidelines for religious tolerance will discourage public prayer at official functions and urge commanders to be “sensitive” about personal expressions of religious faith, according to a draft obtained by the AP Monday.
The draft directs chaplains to “respect the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”
The guidelines, which would apply to the entire Air Force, were drawn up after allegations that evangelical Christians wield so much influence at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that anti-Semitism and other forms of religious harassment have become pervasive.
An Air Force task force concluded that some students and staff at the school have the perception that the academy favors evangelical Christians and is intolerant of those who do not share their faith, according to the AP.
The draft was provided to the AP by Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate and persistent critic of the school's handling of religion. Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stevens confirmed the accuracy of the draft and said it was expected to be officially released later Monday.
The draft does not ban public prayer outright and says short, nonsectarian prayers may be included in special ceremonies or events, but only to lend a sense of solemnity and not to promote specific beliefs.
Nor does it bar personal discussions of religion, including discussions between commanders and subordinates. It cautions Air Force members “to be sensitive to the potential that personal expressions may appear to be official expressions.”
The draft states that members of the Air Force “will not officially endorse or establish religion, either one specific religion, or the idea of religion over non-religion.”
It also says that “abuse or disrespect” of Air Force members based on their religious beliefs, or lack of such beliefs, is unacceptable.