Air Force Addressing Problem of Religious Intolerance
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 22, 2005 Air Forces officials have instituted changes designed to stop instances of religious intolerance.
The changes came as a result of an investigation into allegations of religious disrespect at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The suggestions, developed by a commission headed by personnel chief Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, will be adopted Air Force-wide, said Acting Air Force Secretary Michael L. Dominguez during a Pentagon news conference today.
Brady headed a 16-member group that "took the pulse" of the academy in May. The group met with more than 300 people and participated in 27 focus groups of cadets, instructors and permanent-party personnel.
Brady said the group identified deficiencies, which Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Rosa has already begun to address. The general said he was not at the academy to investigate individual behavior, but he did refer seven specific cases to authorities for follow-up.
Dominguez stressed that Air Force Academy leadership first identified the problem. "They saw the perception by some that there was a religious bias at the academy and began working aggressively to address it," he said.
Brady said the problems fall into three broad areas. First, some academy practices left a perception among some groups that the academy was not addressing their religious needs. This is especially true of smaller religious groups.
Second is "the on-going challenge of dealing with 18 to 22 year olds." Brady said it is imperative that cadets understand Air Force values, in this case respect for the beliefs of others.
Finally, Brady said, there was a lack of awareness on the part of some faculty, staff and cadet leaders as to what constitutes appropriate expressions of faith. This is particularly true when viewed in superior/subordinate relationships in a U.S. government institute.
Specifically, Brady recommended the Air Force beef up operational guidance to commanders addressing what is appropriate religious expression.
He said the service must look at endorsement and advertising on a military base and that the service must make sure that religious groups that come on military bases around the world "understand what our standards are respecting diversity of beliefs."
Commanders everywhere must ensure they comply with accommodations of beliefs. For instance, he said, it would probably be unwise "to start an exercise during Passover."
The Air Force must also work on developing wider cultural awareness. The service must bolster surveys to ensure the service is asking the right questions of airmen and their families. Finally, specifically at the academy, there must be a single point of contact that can handle complaints.
"At the core of our airman ethos is respect," the acting secretary said. "Whether it is based on religion, race or gender, mutual respect is what enables us to do our job defending freedom. Instances of disrespect ... are wrong and incompatible with what we do for this nation."