The Air Force has suspended a course that was taught by chaplains for more than 20 years because the material included Bible passages.
The course, called “Christian Just War Theory” was taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and used Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments to show missile launch officers that it can be moral to go to war.
But the watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the course violated the constitutional separation of church and state and filed a complaint last Wednesday on behalf of 31 missile launch officers – both instructors and students.
David Smith, the spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, said the main purpose of the class was to help missile launch officers understand that “what they are embarking on is very difficult and you have to have a certain amount of ethics about what you are doing to do that job.”
He said the class was suspended the same day the complaint was filed.
The class is currently under review by Air Force officials who will determine whether or not to revise the material or end the class.
“In an effort to serve all faiths, we try to introduce none in our briefings and our lectures,” Smith told Fox News Radio. “Once we heard there were concerns, we looked at the course and said we could do better.”
Smith said the inclusion of the Bible verses was an “inappropriate approach” in a “pluralistic society.”
“The use of Bible passage and other elements was just inappropriate,” he said. Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, hailed the military’s decision to suspend the course. “We’re very pleased that the Air Force did it,” Weinstein told Fox News Radio. “Had they not done that, we would have filed an immediate class-action lawsuit in federal court to force their hand.”
Weinstein said the officers who complained are Protestant and Roman Catholics, noting the class was simply “unconstitutional training.”
“The United States Air Force was promoting a particular brand of right-wing fundamentalist Christianity,” he said. “The main essence was that war is a natural part of the human experience and it’s something that is favored by this particular perspective of the New Testament.
Weinstein said he was particularly concerned about a passage of Scripture that was taught from the New Testament book of Revelations. The passage, chapter 19, verse 11, describes Jesus as a mighty warrior, Weinstein said.
But David French, senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, said there is no violation of the Constitution. “Just-War theory has been a vital part of American military history for the last several hundred years,” French said, dismissing the complaints as what he called “another attempt to cleanse American history of its religious realities.”
“It’s about cleansing religion from the public square and building a completely secular society and military, said French. Commander Daniel McKay, a retired U.S. Navy Chaplain, agreed, telling Fox News Radio he was deeply concerned by the military’s decision.
“Why is it inappropriate to give our people guidelines that have withstood the test of time – to give us moral guidance,” McKay asked. “I think there are certain segments within our society who are making concerted efforts to take us away from our Judeo-Christian values, principles and morals,” he said.
“History will prove that if you stay true to God’s wisdom, it will serve us well and it has served us well.” McKay said it’s possible that parts of the military are trying to play “all sides of the fence – trying to take a middle-of-the-road approach.”
That, he said, is a mistake. “If you stay in the middle of the road, you become road kill,” McKay said, urging the military to stay true to what the Founders established.
“You need to take a stand.” The Air Force and Weinstein denied that political correctness had anything to do with the suspension of the class. “Everyone in the military takes an oath to support and defend, protect and preserve this United States Constitution, which absolutely separates church and state,” Weinstein said.
“The military is made up of people from all walks of life, all faiths,” Smith said. “It’s most appropriate to let folks practice their faith on their own and not try to introduce something else to them.”
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary and the author of "Dispatches from Bitter America: A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories."