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Religious Expression or Religious Coercion: Commanders Caught in the Crossfire - Endnotes
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1. Mathis III, 1998, p. 10.  Noteworthy is the book Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State by Tara Ross and Joseph C. Smith Jr. These authors give an extensive review of the question of church and state. When one considers George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention and was the first president of the United States when religious freedom was guaranteed by the First Amendment, his claim to constitutional authority is considerably more impressive than Thomas Jefferson who was not even in the country during the drafting of the Bill of Rights. Washington was careful not to favor any particular sect; however, he considered religion essential for the virtue required for self-governing citizens. Therefore, Washington not only accommodated religion, he encouraged it both to the citizen and the soldier.
2. Its preamble stated, “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
3. Bill of Rights 1791.
4. Religion and the Founding of the American Republic 2007.
5. This paper’s focus is not religious accommodation but religious expression. These two issues are similar but would warrant separate consideration. It is worth noting that DOD Instruction 1300.17, Section 4 does place a limit on Religious Accommodation of those within the military. It states, “The U.S. Constitution proscribes Congress from enacting any law prohibiting the free exercise of religion. The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions. It is DOD policy that requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on mission accomplishment, military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline. (emphasis mine.) (Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services, DOD Directive 1300.17, 2009) Thus, commanders should approve requests for religious accommodation unless there is a good military reason to deny a request. Typically, religious accommodation requests come in the form of being able to wear some form of religious apparel, to eat some type of prepared meals, or to observe some type of religious observance. Granted, some requests for religious accommodation would have a negative impact and should be disapproved. For instance, the wearing of a religious headpiece like a yarmulke or a kippah on the flight line would pose a safety risk of being sucked up in jet engines. This author’s most recent experience in helping commanders decipher religious accommodation issues related to Airmen wearing the sign of the cross placed by the Roman Catholic Priest on Ash Wednesday. Two Airmen were told by their supervisors to remove the dark markings on their forehead while they were in uniform. Unfortunately, these supervisors neither consulted their commander nor chaplain to determine the appropriate response before ordering their Airmen to wash off the ashes. As a result, the two Airmen removed the marking that they would have worn the rest of the day thus denying them their religious expression within their Catholic faith. As Wing Chaplain, the author briefed all the commanders to the issue and the DOD instructions at the next Wing Staff meeting.
6. Department of Defense Directive 1304.19. 4.1 Appointment of Chaplains For the Military Departments 2007. The Armed Forces Chaplains Board is responsible to the Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness on religious, ethical, and moral matters. Additionally, this board coordinates with denominational endorsers to secure personnel fully qualified to serve as military chaplains.
(All notes appear in abbreviated form. For full details, see the appropriate entry in the bibliography.)

7. While the issues discussed in this paper apply to the entire Department of Defense, this author limited this paper’s focus to the United States Air Force commanders and chaplains.
8. One example of the current cultural sensitivity is the tension between “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” This tension exists on Air Force bases as a squadron advertises its family gatherings in December. Jeffrey Dean wrote a delightful article entitled “'Happy Holidays' Vs. 'Merry Christmas': The Breakdown” He indicated that in an effort to embrace multi-culturalism and inclusiveness, Merry Christmas became politically incorrect and out of vogue for many businesses and communities. Instead people used Happy Holidays as a way to be non-discriminatory and religiously neutral. However, he found the new emphasis was not sustainable when one analyzed the word backgrounds. He noted, “Perhaps the answer is to place some of the onus for acceptance of others on listeners as well as on speakers. Anyone can be offended, at any time, if s/he chooses to be so.”  (Dean, Jeffrey, 2009, January 5). "Happy Holidays" Vs. "Merry Christmas": The Breakdown. Retrieved September 19, 2009, from Associated Content Lifestyle:
9. While this paper’s focus is not to dissect legally the First Amendment, it is; however, worth noting the Constitutional complexity. Fitzkee and Letendre indicated that given the simplicity of the First Amendment’s religious clauses wording, in practice these two clauses abound in intricacy. They illustrated that in a ten year period starting in 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court made thirteen civilian case rulings under the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses. In the military, the First Amendment guarantees are even more complicated as the rights of the individual must be balanced against the needs of the military. While the military seeks to honor Airmen’s right to exercise freely their religious faith (e.g. to attend a worship service), a military mission requirement may preclude their right (e.g. to participate while in a combat operation).  See Fitzkee and Letendre 2007, 5. Also see The National Association of Evangelicals Statement on Religious Freedom for Soldiers and Military Chaplains, 7 February 2006 for a comprehensive legal review and guidance.
10. The Army Chaplaincy’s statutory authority is Title10 U.S.C., section 3037. The Navy and Air Force Chaplain Programs also have statutory authority, Title 10 U.S.C., section 5142 and 8067(h) respectively.
11. 755 F.2d 223, 234; 2nd Cir.1985.  Major Michael J. Benjamin gives a good summary of the Court’s opinion. His article can be downloaded at,  (Benjamin 1998)
12. Department of Defense Directive 1304.19. 4.1 2007.
13. The Enlisted Force Structure (AFI 36-2618; section, 2009, p. 10.
14. Air Force Policy Directive (AFPD 52-1 section1), 2006, p. 1.
15. It is important to make the distinction between proselytize and evangelize. Proselytize is defined as “to convert or attempt to convert as a proselyte; recruit.” (Proselytizing. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 13, 2009).    
Evangelize is defined as “to preach the gospel to or to convert to Christianity.” /         (Evangelize. Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. (accessed: September 13, 2009).
While these two definitions appear very similar, the intent of the actions is significantly different for chaplains. Proselytizing carries a sense of reaping the benefits of another’s effort as though stealing from his or her garden. For instance, if an Airman, who had one particular faith group expression, was having questions and concerns about his religion, chaplains would be proselytizing by taking advantage of his questions to manipulate him away to another faith group. In other words, it would be the chaplain’s intention and efforts to change him from an “X” to a “Y.” Thus, the focus of proselytizing would be for a chaplain’s denominational group to gain a convert at another group’s loss.
Evangelizing, in contrast, has an entirely different focus. The intent is for the person to gain or benefit. Thus, to evangelize is to share to another for that person’s gain. It must carry no form of coercion or manipulation as it is more about a dialogue. Many in the evangelical faith groups believe evangelization is an act of spiritual obedience (of Christ’s command to make disciples) and is like offering of “a cup of water to a person dying of thirst.”
The critical issue is when one’s felt responsibility to offer “a cup of water” becomes an affront to another. After reading many passionate blogs, it is amazing the intensity any discussion of religion creates. To some, at least, the issue is no longer about the “cup of water” but the fact that one would even offer the cup in the first place. In the days of anything goes under the protection of free speech, what is it about religious speech that generates such hostility? Is our society so changing that anything can be said as long as it is not about Jesus Christ specifically? In our increasingly tolerate society, it appears our society is becoming increasingly intolerant with Christianity.
16. More information can be found at each of these groups web sites: The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) ( Americans United for Separation of Church and State ( and Americans Civil Liberties Union (
17. Defining what evangelical Christianity is depends on many factors. One can define evangelical Christianity with either narrow or board terms. The definition also depends on context, especially if one is comparing evangelicals with another group like fundamentals.  Broadly speaking, an evangelical Christian believes in the major faith tenets of the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone and believes Christ commissioned each believer to share the Gospel or the “Good News” throughout the world. The media often portrays the evangelical Christian as a right wing, fundamentalist who has political aspirations. offers a quick but good overview.  B. L. Shelby offers in the Dictionary of Christianity in America a description of evangelicals from a denominational perspective. "Within a broad unity based on commitment to the Bible as its religious authority and on the gospel of Christ’s saving work as the church’s central message, we can identify at least seven evangelical traditions of faith:
- Evangelicals in the Reformation tradition, primarily Lutheran and Reformed Christians.
- Wesleyan evangelicals, such as the Church of the Nazarene
- Pentecostal and charismatic evangelicals, such as the Assemblies of God
- Black evangelicals, with their own distinctive witness to the gospel
- The countercultural churches (sometimes called Peace Churches), such as the evangelical Quakers and Mennonites
- Several traditionally white Southern denominations, led by the Southern Baptists
- The spiritual heirs of fundamentalism found in independent churches and many parachurch agencies" Shelley 1990, p. 416.
18. Matthew 28:16-20 “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples (emphasis mine showing the imperative of the original Greek language) of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
19. MRFF’s website is (accessed 12 September 2009). Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says in part, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the U.S. and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
See for the whole Article. (accessed 2 November 2009).
20. About The Foundation 2009.
21. M. Weinstein, The Fight for Freedom at Home 2006.
22. Ibid.
23. Weinstein and Seay 2006, p. 27.
24. Sharlet 2009, p. 1.
25. Ibid.
26. (accessed: 26 October 2009).
27. Sharlet 2009, p. 1.
28. Motion to Intervene of the National Association of Evangelicals and Its Chaplains Commission, p. 11.
29. The author had the opportunity to dialogue with several senior officers either by e-mail or in person. Additionally, being at Air War College enabled numerous interactions with Lieutenant Colonels and Colonels with command experience. An additional study should do a scientific survey with commanders to validate this growing anecdotal evidence.
30. Coercion. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law. Merriam-Webster, Inc. (accessed 6 October 2009).
31. Undue Influence. Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 32. influence (accessed 6 October 2009).
32. (accessed 2 November 2009).  “Since its founding in 2005, the MRFF has become the undisputed national and international leader in the civil rights movement to restore the severely fractured wall between church and state in the U.S. military and to stop the ill effects of noxious religious discrimination both domestically and abroad. The growing organization currently has over 15,000 constituent clients from today’s American active duty military, amazingly most of them practicing Christians. MRFF has also fought aggressively for the Constitutional rights of United States service members who are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics and other religious minorities, and to stop the unbridled proselytizing of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and other foreign nationals by the U.S. military…. The MRFF has tenaciously taken on the U.S. military with a bold, brave approach to stopping the systemic and embedded discrimination against those who are not fundamentalist Christians in today’s armed forces, as well as against the citizens of the Islamic countries where our military is presently engaged in combat operations. Such egregious acts of bigotry and prejudice include violence and threats against U.S. sailors, soldiers, marines, airmen, cadets and midshipmen who will no longer accept the unconstitutional abuse of forced religious oppression from their military chains of command.”
33. Ibid.
34. MRFF Nobel Prize Nomination Letter 2009. The redacted 2010 Nobel Peace Prize nomination letter, dated October 15, 2009 nominating MRFF can be found at (accessed 2 November 2009).
35. Ibid.
36. Michael L. Weinstein and Davin Seay wrote a book related to the USAF Academy entitled, “With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military.” (Weinstein and Seay 2006, 122).
37. (Goodstein 2005).
38. In an Air Force Times interview, Ch. Richardson responded to his statement on “we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.” Ch. Richardson referenced a Chaplain’s Code of Ethics published by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces that was given to all new chaplains but later pulled in light of Weinstein’s litigation. Interview Question: “You’ve been scrutinized for condoning “evangelizing the unchurched.”
Answer: “Nobody ever asked me if I ever said that. The young lady who quoted me on that, she didn’t have a pen with her. She’s from The New York Times. We were at Colorado Springs at our “Spiritual Fitness” conference. The person doing the program was ... a Christian Scientist, the music was done by a Roman Catholic and the sound system was [run by] a Baptist guy. The whole front row was Orthodox Jews. She was just blown away. “How do you get along? Aren’t you going after each other’s people?” I said, “Oh no, we never do that. If you want to do that, you wouldn’t be a chaplain. Besides, we have a code of ethics.” Most chaplains have the thing memorized. It’s not an Air Force or [Defense Department] code of ethics. It’s a code of ethics for chaplains, for those who endorse us [the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, a private association]. One of the parts of the code says we will not proselytize, but we reserve the right to “evangelize the unaffiliated.” I thought nobody would pay attention to that. Well, goodness! Bless her heart, though. She wasn’t being antagonistic.” (Winn 2008).
39. U.S. Seeks Dismissal of Academy-Religion Suit 2006
40. Rodda 2009.
42. A sidebar issue is invocations given by chaplains at staff meetings, enlisted promotions, special events, and other military gatherings. Is any invocation given by a chaplain in a military setting, regardless of being a mandatory formation or not, abusive or coercive?  More and more atheists are complaining about being forced to attend military formations where Christian prayers are given. (See Air Force Times, 30 Dec 2008, Lawsuit on religion in military expanded.) Is it coercive for someone to be exposed to a prayer at a military gathering? Is a thirty second prayer a chaplain might pray an object that creates terror in the hearer who objects? Is the prayer causing real or perceived consequences if the person ignores the prayer? Or, is the chaplain’s prayer a simple recognition of the spiritual fitness encouraged by the military in recognition of both America’s history and the challenges placed upon its members. Is offering a sectarian prayer a coercive act or simply an act supported by longstanding military tradition? Some argue the military is a secular organization and therefore has no need for invocations of any kind at its gatherings. Congress too is secular and yet it opens its proceedings with a prayer. The real issue is the increasing secularization by our society and the offense raised against these long standing traditions.
42. For an example of blogger’s comments on a commander, see (Air Force Colonel Sends Crazy Right-wing Email 2009)
43. While numerous examples exist, one illustrative example was a Colonel’s email effort to encourage her Airmen at the 501st Combat Support Wing headquartered at RAF Alconbury. According to Stars and Stripes, she imposed her far-right Catholicism on her Airmen thru a video link she shared in an email to the 501st Combat Support Wi/ng. The video featured Nick Vujicic, a 25-year-old born of no arms or legs. (The video can be viewed at or  The website states, “It is a great privilege to welcome you to the LifeWithout website. My name is Nick Vujicic and I'm 26 years old. I was born without arms or legs and given no medical reason for this condition. Faced with countless challenges and obstacles, God has given me the strength to surmount what others might call impossible. Along with that, the Lord has placed within me an unquenchable passion to share this same hope and genuine love that I've personally experienced with more than two million people all over the globe.”  (The Official Nick Vujicic Website n.d.)(Accessed 27 November 2009). In response, a solitary 501st member filed a formal complaint against her saying she inappropriately advanced her faith in an official capacity. The Master Sergeant felt she “compelled us to witness an exercise in religious-specific faith that I felt was in conflict with DOD neutrality on religion” and “violated USAF regulations regarding religious proselytizing.” (Ziezulewicz 2009)
This author, after 20 years of active duty, has yet to see any regulation that would support she violated Air Force regulations regarding religious proselytizing. The Wing Commander apologized for her e-mail and said she did not realize the Web site contained inappropriate content (referring to comments about President Obama). “I sincerely apologize for this oversight, especially to those individuals who may have been offended, and want to ensure all are aware that my intent was solely to provide a tool that might offer beneficial insight toward overcoming adversity.” What was meant to be an encouraging video to persevere, at least one interpreted her actions as being religious coercive. Was she really pushing a faith agenda? Or was someone simply offended by the message? Apparently the investigation cleared her of any willful and intention act of Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines as the Third USAF Commander “took appropriate action” and closed the case. (
44. Interview of senior officer, 15 October 2009.
45. American Religious Identification Survey 2008,  2009, p. 3. The ARIS 2008 survey indicates America is in fact becoming more secular. “The 2008 findings confirm the conclusions we came to in our earlier studies that Americans are slowly becoming less Christian and that in recent decades the challenge to Christianity in American society does not come from other world religions or new religious movements (NRMs) but rather from a rejection of all organized religions. To illustrate the point, Table 1 shows that the non-theist and No Religion groups collectively known as “Nones” have gained almost 20 million adults since 1990 and risen from 8.2 to 15.0 percent of the total population. If we include those Americans who either don’t know their religious identification (0.9 percent) or refuse to answer our key question (4.1 percent), and who tend to somewhat resemble “Nones” in their social profile and beliefs, we can observe that in 2008 one in five adults does not identify with a religion of any kind compared with one in ten in 1990.”
46. The author recommends this topic for an ACSC or AWC professional paper.
47. Catton to the author, personal e-mail.
49. 5 USCode Sec. 3331 (01/24/94) Oath of Office (Title 5, Part III, Subpart B, Chapter 33, Subchapter II, Sec. 3331) Sec. 3331. - Oath of office - An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: ''I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.'' This section does not affect other oaths required by law.
50. The US Army crafted an interesting approach for West Point. See the book, Forging the Warrior's Character: Moral Precepts from the Cadet Prayer by Don Snider.
51. Any non-revisionist read of George Washington and the early Constitutional fathers will quickly affirm their perspective in being able to share their Christian faith.
52. These suggestions grew out of dialogue with several senior level commanders. Given the hostile nature currently in the Air Force toward religious expression, these commanders asked to remain anonymous.
53. Matthew 22:15-22
54. See The National Association of Evangelicals Statement on Religious Freedom for Soldiers and Military Chaplains, 7 February 2006 for an excellent discussion of the historical and constitutional nature of ceremonial prayer.


Last Updated on Monday, 11 July 2011 11:30