Tuesday, June 28, 2005

We commend Air Force Lt. Gen. Roger Brady for being fair in his inquiry into allegations of religious intolerance and misbehavior at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Gen. Brady is the principal author of a report released last week that gets to the bottom of accusations that the academy promotes evangelical Christianity and is hostile to religious minorities — charges that turn out to be mostly specious.

Gen. Brady is right to come down hard on the few responsible for misconduct at the academy. But he is also right to reject wrong-headed proposals to restrict religious expression. In short, Gen. Brady upholds the best traditions of proper expressions of faith in the military, and does justice to cadets and their needs.

Gen. Brady’s report debunks assertions about the much-discussed 55 complaints of religious misconduct at the academy, finding that just 13 persons lodged complaints over four years. He rejected recommendations by a Yale Divinity School team that chaplains should curtail religious sentiments in voluntary services. The Yale group wanted to tell chaplains in so many words that they should cut the God talk. Gen. Brady rightly avoided that distortion of the chaplaincy, which exists for nothing if not to nurture the religious lives of servicemen.

Gen. Brady criticized the excesses. He and his staff found “a religious climate that does not involve overt religious discrimination, but a failure to fully accommodate all members’ needs and a lack of awareness over where the line is drawn between premissible and impermissible expression of beliefs.” Among the impermissible: the “Team Jesus” banner posted by the football coach in a locker room and religious e-mails sent through official channels from high-ranking officers to subordinates.

American military officers tend to be on average more religious than their civilian peers, a fact well-documented by social scientists and students of military life. This is discussed occasionally on the left and right, each side drawing its desired conclusions. No doubt there are secularists who would prefer that military officers’ beliefs be more forcefully restricted and that the military come to more closely resemble the rest of the federal government in stripping away hints of religion. But American soldiers have a long, honorable and noncontroversial tradition of religious practice that many find vital to their mission. Gen. Brady defends that tradition against those who would restrict legitimate religious expression, and offers a caution to those who abuse it.

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