Sunday, September 18, 2011

Religion in the Military?


Recently, the United States Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz sent out a memo to Air Force leaders regarding religion and their jobs. Just over a month ago, the Air Force suspended an ethics course aimed at nuclear missile officers, which possessed references from the bible. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation discovered the Christian based themes in the documents and brought upon a review of the ethics and character building in the air force. This controversial course has been around for nearly two decades and teaches approximately 150 students per year. The training session included direct, “bible passages and a quote from an ex-Nazi SS officer to teach missile officers about the morals and ethics of launching nuclear weapons”. At the end of the ethics training session, the missile officers were then asked to bind to a legal agreement in which they will follow direct orders to launch a nuclear missile without hesitation if necessary. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation found the use of religion in the training to violate the first amendment as it combined church and state.

In response to the report, the Air Force has removed the materials used in the training session that have religion connotations. In order to fix this dilemma, Schwartz crafted the memo stressing the importance of keeping religious favoritism out of the equation when it comes to the military personnel accomplishing their jobs. There have been instances in the past where, “well-meaning commanders and senior noncommissioned officers appeared to advance a particular religious views among their subordinates”. By indirectly or directly imposing a certain religious view, this affects the subordinates as their ethics can be altered. Schwartz believes if a unit is affected by its leader’s religious views it can degrade, “the unit’s morale, good order and discipline”. This in return hurts military personnel’s ability to dictate orders efficiently.

Especially, in the military, there should ideally be a clear-cut line between church and state. Military personnel are expected to follow orders of their commanders. If leaders start to impose their own religious views onto their subordinates, this creates more complications. Their religion can impose on whether or not they follow the commands of their officers, particularly in regards to launching nuclear missiles. Orders need to be followed through despite of the religion of the individual.

In my opinion, removing the religious aspects from the ethics course for new nuclear missile officers will only benefit them in the future. By linking the religious aspect to the military duties of the personnel complicates an already ethically challenging situation. Regardless of their religious beliefs, these individuals need to follow through on their orders. General Schwartz stresses to commanders to refrain from imposing their religious views on their subordinates, as it will only make things easier for everyone. Under the first amendment everyone has the right to freedom of religion. Included in the ethics course are numerous references to the New and Old Testament, which then violates these rights as it imposes certain religious beliefs on these individuals. By removing the religious aspects from the military training, it will be more beneficial for everyone.

10 comments:

PamelaR said...

I agree that the military is probably better off for ethical/practical reasons, but I'm not quite sure if I'm sold on the argument that it was unconstitutional to have it there in the first place. The blog post author, along with many articles on this topic, that having religious references violated the religion clause because it combines church and state. Nonexistent separation of church and state aside, I wonder how much the establishment clause applies to the military-- military chaplains, a common facet of the military, must be endorsed by a specific religion, and if the establishment clause applied, wouldn't this be an unconstitutional position?

Ally R said...

I agree with Marissa when she states "...imposing a certain religious view ... ethics can be altered." In the military, you are trained to respect and not cause conflict with those of a higher ranking than you. By officers favoring or promoting a certain religion I feel that it does, unnecessarily, combine church and state as well as cause feelings of peer pressure and uncomfortableness. I do not see the need for relating the Bible, or any other religious symbol, to nuclear missiles. Nor do I see the need for religion to be a topic of conversation within the military at all, seeing as more important matters should be at hand. If public schools can teach evolution without mentioning God, I'm sure the military can find a way to teach the need for nuclear missiles under the same guidelines.

Harry R. said...

I agree with Marissa that religious sayings should not be included in this training program. They serve no purpose which could not be accomplished with a secular discussion of ethics. This use of religious symbolism also seems to be entirely unnecessary and simply provides an issue of questionable constitutionality with almost no tangible gain. Religion should not be used to compel support in a military where religion is not supposed to be a factor.

Chris R. said...

Putting my individual religious beliefs aside, the use of specifically Christian references in the military would seem to me to most definitively constitute an establishment of religion by the government. I understand that many of these trainees would think it may be of benefit to understand the justification for their actions, but to do so would require the instruction of all religious doctrine, which is simply not feasible.

David P said...

To play devil's advocate, I do not think that this is an imposition of religion on the military personnel, and may actually have been beneficial to do. Although the training had an emphasis on one religion, this training must be aimed at the majority. I do also think other religions should be included as long as there are personnel present of those faiths or views.
I find it important to use religious texts when dealing with war, as many soldiers could have religious qualms with fighting or killing--and as military personnel, most will be directly involved with killing of other human beings. Whether or not that is a conversation best left to a chaplain rather than a public ethics lecture, it could be very beneficial to our troops to have this 'peace of mind.'

Kathryn M. said...

I was disturbed by the fact that officers-in-training who were required to attend this lecture, focused on the concept of a “Christian Just War Theory,” were afterward required to sign a legal document which obligates these officers to not hesitate to launch nuclear weapons if commanded by the President. Arguably, this legal document violated the no religious test mandate of the Constitution which states that “no religious Test shall be required as a Qualification to…public Trust under the United States.” While the US government should present the severity of missile officer-training, the use of Christian texts to provide justification of American war is a clear establishment of religion.

Molly Veelguski said...

I agree with Marissa that the religious aspects of the training program should be eliminated. When a team is under the command of a high authority, they need to not be influenced by their personal religious beliefs. Especially in a military situation that deals with nuclear missile missions. If the high authority imposes their beliefs onto his team, they could make a rash/bad decision in the heat of the moment. It is vital that we have clear-minded people working within these situations. These men/women were chosen for their talents and the higher authority should not restrict their instinctive decisions.

kanderson said...

I think that this question actually comes down to a bigger one. Do ethics and morals have to be religious? I would say no (while I realize that others might say yes).I think that it is good that they remove a "religious" class from their training, but nuclear weapons is obviously a big deal. I would like to know that our people are getting some sort of ethical training on the practice, be it religious or not.

Jon W. said...

I am on the fence with this issue. I agree that religion should not be intertwined into military training. However, someone in the position of launching a nuclear weapon may want more than secular ethical reassurance. Jobs such as these in the Airforce are highly selective and limited. Someone in charge of launching a nuclear weapon that could potentially wipe out an entire cities population, has to be sure of what they are doing and cannot hesitate. Religious justification and an assurance of a heavenly afterlife would make their job much less stressful and more effective.

TNTbo said...

The military is a publicly funded organization, thus should not be mandating the issuing of religious texts to its soldiers. I think that is pretty simple, however, I do not know if I would be as opposed if instead they offered faith support as a constant service to the men and women in the military. I just feel that making it a requirement to distribute religious text is a clear violation of the constitution because one is imposing their religious views and beliefs through their actions.