The Air Force has told its top commands worldwide to make sure officers don't use their positions to advance religious beliefs, following criticism of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy (search).
An Air Force task force spent several days at the academy two weeks ago looking into allegations that Jews and others were harassed by evangelical Christians. A new values statement was sent to all major commands on Tuesday.
"From an Air Force perspective, one of the reasons we did that is because we are taking what is happening at the Air Force Academy seriously," Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said Thursday from the Pentagon.
The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, said that "climate surveys at our Air Force Academy have pointed out instances where respect may be lacking or where declaring one's religious beliefs may be perceived as imposing on others."
"Commanders must be alert to the issue of religious respect throughout our Air Force," the statement added.
Capt. MeLinda Morton (search), an Air Force Academy chaplain who says she was fired for criticizing the power of evangelicals at the academy, said the statement "speaks for the fact that they are beginning to recognize that they have a problem, and that it isn't just at the academy and there needs to be some clarity."
The report by the task force, under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Roger Brady (search), will be released later. In the meantime, the Air Force asked the Defense Department's inspector general to look into whether Morton was demoted as executive officer in the chaplaincy and ordered transferred to Okinawa for her viewpoints.
The new statement updates a Jan. 1, 1997, statement in a document known as "The Little Blue Book" that said in part: "Military professionals must remember that religious choice is a matter of individual conscience."
The new document notes: "Senior leaders, commanders, and supervisor at every level must be particularly sensitive to the fact that subordinates can consider your public expressions of belief systems coercive. Using your place at the podium as a platform for your personal beliefs can be perceived as misuse of office."