Precinct 333

Friday, April 01, 2005

Religious Speech Less Free Than The Rest At Air Force Academy

I agree with and applaud efforts by officials at the Air Force Academy to prevent religious harrassment. But I am a bit uncomfortable with one aspect of the training program, called Respecting the Spiritual Values of All People, or RSVP.

RSVP begins first with educating faculty and staff on Air Force policy and directives that proselytizing and religious jokes and slurs are forbidden.

"Once we've gotten that across ... then we can say, 'Now, let's dialogue,"' said Col. Michael Whittington, senior chaplain at the academy. "Let's have this very healthy discussion, even argue - that's OK. Let's go ahead and find out: 'How can we show respect without believing that somehow I'm condoning what you believe?"'

The problem is the relegation of religious speech to a second-class status. A prohibition on all proselytizing speech? It seems to me that by placing such a restriction, you violate the very respect for religious beliefs that the program is about preserving. What the ban says is that such speech (and, implicitly, the belief system associated with it) is not respected, and is in fact officially disapproved. That strikes me as a rather extreme restriction on the civil liberties of individuals training to protect our civil liberties.

Now I recognize that good order and discipline may require restrictions on the exercise of those civil liberties, but this one goes too far. Does the good of the service really require the restriction of freedom of speech and freedom of religion to such a degree?


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