Published September 05, 2011
Senator Cornyn's entire letter is posted below:
The Honorable Michael B. Donley
Department of the Air Force
1670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330
Dear Secretary Donley:
I write to express my concern regarding recent reports that the Department of the Air Force has suspended a course entitled “Christian Just War Theory.”
It is my understanding that this course, taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base, was suspended and is currently under review by Air Force officials after complaints were made that the curriculum referenced passages from the Bible.
As you may know, the reports indicate that a spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command has said that the main purpose of the course was to enable missile launch officers to 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.”
Our military services, like our nation, are comprised of people representing all faiths.
However, that fact does not preclude military chaplains from teaching a course on just war theory – a theory that has been a part of moral philosophy and the law of war for centuries – merely because it has historically been predicated on religious texts.
Moreover, suspending a course like this because of references to religious texts misinterprets the First Amendment. Although our Founding Fathers rightly included language in the Constitution that precludes the Federal government from establishing an official religion, this language does not, as some have argued, protect them from exposure to religious references.
The First Amendment is intended to guarantee an individual’s right to the free exercise of religion according to his or her conscience. The Air Force personnel who have taken this course for the past 20 years have been free to determine, according to their own consciences, whether they accept or reject the premises of just war theory.
With these concerns in mind, I strongly urge you to ensure that a correct interpretation of the First Amendment is applied in resolving this situation.
Moreover, I ask that you provide me with a detailed report on any actions taken by Air Force officials in response to these complaints. I appreciate your attention to this request.
Thank you for your service to the men and women of the United States Air Force and our nation.