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New Air Force Religion Guidelines
Associated Press  |  February 10, 2006
DENVER - The Air Force released new guidelines for religious expression Thursday that no longer caution top officers about promoting their personal religious views.

The revisions were welcomed by conservative Christians, who said the previous rules was too strict and lobbied the White House to change them.

Critics called the revisions a step backward and said they do nothing to protect the rights of most airmen.

The original guidelines were created after allegations that evangelical Christians at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs were imposing their views on others. Some Christian chaplains were accused of telling cadets to warn nonbelievers they would go to hell if they were not born-again Christians.

The guidelines were described as interim, with no date set for their ratification. They were endorsed by The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, which represents 200 groups.

The revised guidelines say nothing should be understood to limit the substance of voluntary discussions of religion where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal, not official, and can be reasonably free of potential coercion.

They also omit a statement in the earlier version that chaplains "should respect the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs."

The new guidelines were applauded by Tom Minnery, vice president for government and policy for Focus on the Family, a conservative ministry in Colorado Springs.

"The guidelines appropriately caution superiors against making comments that could appear to subordinates to be official policy," he said. "With that in mind, they properly state that 'superiors enjoy the same free exercise rights as all other airmen.'"

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, called the new direction "very, very disturbing."

"It seems that everything related to the kind of misconduct we saw at the Air Force Academy has been removed," he said.

Mikey Weinstein, an academy graduate, has sued the Air Force, claiming evangelicals are allowed to push their faith on others at the academy. The case is in federal court in Albuquerque, N.M., where Weinstein lives.

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