Lawmakers slam current Air Force religious expression rules

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and other lawmakers are pressuring the Air Force to modify its rules limiting top officials' expression of their religious beliefs.

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In a Tuesday letter to Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James, Jones and 22 other lawmakers said current rules that direct individuals in leadership positions to avoid the "actual or apparent use of their position" to indicate support for particular religious beliefs run contradictory to the Constitution.

The regulation's "limits on free speech and religion of those in leadership are both unnecessary and unconstitutional," the lawmakers wrote.

They also argued that "apparent use" of a leadership position is too ambiguous of a standard to uphold as a military regulation.

"The First Amendment makes it very clear that the free exercise of religion is not to be prohibited under any circumstances," Jones said in a statement on Wednesday. "We must ensure that our service members are not prevented from enjoying the same freedoms that they have committed to defend and protect."

James was also asked about the rules at a hearing on the Air Force budget last month, following controversy over a cadet who had to erase a religious quote he had written on a board in his Air Force dormitory.