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An effort to combat interim guidelines for chaplains in the Air Force is growing in Congress and among grass-roots activists who decry the fact that the regulations prevent Christian clergy from praying in Jesus’ name.
The interim guidelines on religious expression released in August allow only a “brief nonsectarian prayer” during official ceremonies and events. The guidelines were developed in the wake of complaints from non-Christians at the Air Force Academy who believed Christians, both cadets and staff, were being too heavy-handed about their faith on campus. Also included in the directive is the regulation of proselytizing.
The American Center for Law and Justice is sponsoring an online petition drive that urges President Bush to restore the right of Christian chaplains to pray “according to their faith” – for example, using Jesus’ name in a prayer.
Saying the new policy amounts to censorship, ACLJ warns of dire consequences if the interim guidelines are made permanent, fearing that similar restrictions could be applied throughout the U.S. military.
“This is an outrage that we cannot allow!” says a statement on the group’s website. “Already, it is documented that chaplains are ‘feeling the heat’ to restrict their prayers and mask their faith.”
Continues the statement: “To censor Christian chaplains is a disservice to the thousands of Christian soldiers in the military who look to their chaplains for comfort, inspiration, and support … just as military soldiers of other faiths look to their chaplains.”
ACLJ has established a special legal team to battle the restrictions.
Last month, 75 members of Congress, led by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., wrote to the president urging him to sign an executive order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray according to their religious traditions.
“If you are a Christian, people know your faith, that Jesus Christ is your savior,” Jones, a Catholic, told the Denver Post. “That is part of your tradition, part of your faith. Why in the world should you have to deny your faith?”
Tom Minnery, a Focus on the Family vice president, told the paper the new policy “is just totally unworkable in an arena in which you are asking people to give the ultimate sacrifice. If the military hires chaplains, the military endorses religion.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is urging that the final regulations go further than the interim guidelines, suggesting proselytizing by chaplains be expressly forbidden.
Air Force officials are continuing to receive comments about the interim guidelines and do not have a specific timetable for finalizing them.
Said ACLJ: “In our Armed Forces, all faiths must be respected. Christian chaplains must be permitted to pray in the name of Jesus.”
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