Thursday, September 8, 2011

Senator Queries Air Force on Closure of Christian Ethics Class

I wrote last month about the US Air Force Education & Training Command shutting down a course on ethics, taught to ICBM missile launch officers for over twenty years.  The ‘Christian Just War Theory’ class was taught as an introduction to those who would have the responsibility of launching nuclear warheads at an enemy if directed by the President.  The purpose of the course was to set out the moral guidance for someone who could be responsible for such potentially massive destruction, in order to understand that “what they are embarking on is very difficult and you have to have a certain amount of ethics about what you are doing to do that job”, in the words of a spokesman.

The AFE&TC immediately shut down the course upon learning that an anti-religious activist group threatened to sue, on behalf of "31 missile launch officers – both instructors and students", due to Christian references within the course, including Bible references.

My posting goes into some detail about the knee-jerk reaction of the command, and seriously questions the next step.  Does the Air Force intend to ignore moral instruction in such a potentially cataclysmic duty, weakening its reliability programme?  Or, how does it intend to address this question while ignoring the only real historical basis – historical Christian philosophy – for the topic?  What other foundation for instruction does it intend to use?

I am glad to find that Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is asking the Secretary of the Air Force for an explanation for the move.  His letter states in part:
Our military services, like our nation, are comprised of people representing all faiths.  However, that fact does not preclude military chaplains from teaching a course on just war theory – a theory that has been a part of moral philosophy and the law of war for centuries – merely because it has historically been predicated on religious texts.
Moreover, suspending a course like this because of references to religious texts misinterprets the First Amendment.  Although our Founding Fathers rightly included language in the Constitution that precludes the Federal government from establishing an official religion, this language does not, as some have argued, protect them from exposure to religious references.  The First Amendment is intended to guarantee an individual’s right to the free exercise of religion according to his or her conscience.  The Air Force personnel who have taken this course for the past 20 years have been free to determine, according to their own consciences, whether they accept or reject the premises of just war theory.
With these concerns in mind, I strongly urge you to ensure that a correct interpretation of the First Amendment is applied in resolving this situation.  Moreover, I ask that you provide me with a detailed report on any actions taken by Air Force officials in response to these complaints.
Like Senator Cornyn, I'll be waiting to see the answer.

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