- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2006

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Air Force submitted new guidelines on religion as part of its fight against a lawsuit by an Air Force Academy graduate who purports that the school’s officers and cadets illegally impose Christianity on others.

The Justice Department has asked a U.S. District judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the Air Force has no official policy of proselytizing.

But attorney Sam Bregman, who sued the Air Force on behalf of Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, said yesterday that dismissing the lawsuit would be “ridiculous in light of what the new guidelines say.”

“They completely, thoroughly violate the Constitution of the United States,” he said.

The guidelines, filed with the court Monday, drop a requirement for chaplains to respect others’ rights to their own beliefs and no longer caution officers about promoting their personal religious views.

Conservative Christians, who said previous guidelines were too restrictive, welcomed the revisions. Critics called them a step backward.

The guidelines, labeled as interim, say superiors must be sensitive to the potential that personal expressions of faith might appear to be official or have undue influence on subordinates.

But what an evangelical officer may feel is a reasonably sensitive discussion, an enlisted atheist may feel is completely unreasonable, Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Bregman contend.

The guidelines also say the Air Force respects “the right of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths” by not requiring them to participate in religious activities, including prayer, inconsistent with their faith.

Mr. Weinstein said that “gigantic exception” would, for example, allow evangelical Christians to pray in the name of Jesus Christ at mandatory formations and other official events.

Mr. Weinstein, who is Jewish, has asked the Air Force to treat religion — or a lack of religion — equally and to protect people from being “evangelized” against their will on duty.

He contends academy officers and cadets have illegally imposed evangelical Christianity on others, often bullying lower-ranking cadets. He also believes the problem is systemic — which is why he sued the Air Force, not the academy.

Mr. Bregman plans to file a response to the Air Force’s filing next week.

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