October 2011 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz has issued a new memorandum on religious activities, reminding officers that they are not to use their positions to promote their personal religious beliefs or advance one religion over others.The memo, issued Sept. 1, reminds commanders to “avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion. Commanders or supervisors who engage in such behavior may cause members to doubt their impartiality and objectivity. The potential result is a degradation of the unit’s morale, good order and discipline.”The memo goes on to note that members of the Air Force are free to engage in activities like religious studies, faith sharing and prayer meetings but reminds officers that such events must be sponsored by chaplains and that commanders “must refrain from appearing to officially endorse religion generally or any particular religion.”Schwartz adds, “Therefore, I expect chaplains, not commanders, to notify Airmen of Chaplain Corp programs.”Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said the memo is an important clarification of the rights of service members to be free from unwanted proselytization.“The primary purpose and effect of this memorandum is the specific injunction against command notifications about religious and chaplain events,” Torpy wrote. “This provides an important protection against official, command-endorsed religious activities like prayer breakfasts, concerts, religious holidays, and worship services.”