Congress Urges U.S. Air Force to Revise Regulations to Protect Religious Freedom

WASHINGTON — Bipartisan members of Congress have submitted a letter to U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James regarding concerns over the need to revise current Air Force regulations that may hinder religious freedom.

“We are concerned that the Air Force has not updated its regulations on religious freedom and appears to have the most restrictive policy of any military service,” the letter begins. “Air Force regulations which govern religious freedom and expression are inconsistent with Congressional intent and current law.”

Congress then asserts that AFI 1-1, a regulation that requires military superiors to avoid the “actual or apparent use of their position” on religious matters is vague and places “unnecessary and unconstitutional” limits on free speech. It also takes issue that military restrictions separate the actual expression of one’s religious beliefs from their exercise and practice.

“[T]he Air Force’s interpretation and application of these regulations is even more problematic than the regulations themselves,” the letter continued. “In both public and private, Air Force officials have interpreted AFI 1-1 in a manner where … government neutrality on religion trumps … the individual free exercise of religion.”

“This interpretation and practice is inconsistent with federal law and the Constitution, and the Air Force must correct this immediately,” Congress declared.

It asked that the regulations be revised to bring clarity on the matter of religious freedom and that officials ensure that they are implemented properly.

The letter was signed by Trent Franks (R-AZ), Joe Pitts (R-PA), John Fleming (R-LA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and others.

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The Liberty Institute, a Christian legal organization based in Plano, Texas, issued a news release this week, applauding the Congressmen for their stand.

“We are grateful that our elected officials responded so quickly and decisively to this issue,” stated Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry. “They are rightfully concerned that the Air Force is not acting in accordance with Department of Defense policy.”

“History demonstrates that religious freedom is vital to a strong military,” he continued. “With this letter, Congress is asking the Air Force to protect religious freedom in accordance with the Constitution and Department of Defense policy, which will ensure that we continue to have a strong military.”

As previously reported, members of Congress similarly submitted a letter to the United States Defense Department in 2012 to express concerns that the nation’s Air Force was displaying a pattern of hostility toward Christianity. The letter, which was spearheaded by Republican representatives Randy Forbes of Virginia, Todd Akin of Missouri and Diane Black of Tennessee, was signed by 63 other members of Congress.

“When our sons and daughters join the military, they are not signing away their First Amendment right to religious liberty,” it stated. “Unfortunately, it seems that some parts of the military are intent on prohibiting religious expressions rather than protecting it.”

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