GOP lawmakers allege Air Force is ‘hostile toward religion’

A group of 66 Republican lawmakers is accusing the Air Force of creating “a culture that is hostile toward religion.”

The House members wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking him to investigate whether recent indicents at the Air Force are having a "chilling effect" on people of faith. 

The lawmakers outlined several instances where they had problems with Air Force policy, particularly a memo last year from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, which said that “chaplains, not commanders” should notify airmen about chaplains’ religious programs. The lawmakers wrote the memo was “suggesting that the mere mention of these programs is impermissible.”

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They also took issue with the suspension of a briefing that discussed Bible references, the changing of a Latin office motto that included God and removing Bibles from Air Force Inn checklists.

They wrote the policy of “complete separation” between church and state is having a “chilling effect” down the chain of command. 

“The changes lend credence to the notion that the Air Force will remove any reference to God or faith that an outside organization brings to its attention," the lawmakers wrote.

The Air Force said it has received the letter, and a spokeswoman said in a statement that the airmen are “free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals' rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission.”

“We are dedicated to creating an environment in which people can realize their highest potential without any consideration of one's personal religious or other beliefs,” the spokeswoman said.

Three lawmakers spearheaded the letter to Panetta: Reps. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Todd Akin (R-Mo.).