The Appropriate Role of Religion

  • Published
  • By Lt Col. Kenneth E. Harp
  • 97 Air Mobility Wing Chaplain
The holiday season is a very special time. As an Air Force community we have Airmen celebrating a number of different religious events. Some celebrate the miracle of lights and the rededication of the Jewish temple. The Winter Solstice carries great significance to our Airmen who practice Earth-Based religions. Some Airmen mark the Islamic New Year on the 18th of December; others focus on the six pillars of the family, while still others remember the coming of the Christ Child and God's love for humanity. This is a holy season for many people. How should members of the military celebrate these special times?

What is the appropriate role of religion in the United States Air Force? "Religion" was a hot topic just a few years ago. It headlined major newspapers and newscasts. Should prayer be included in official ceremonies? How public should an Airman be with their personal beliefs? Often religious people felt their freedom of religious expression was being oppressed, while others felt that religion was being forced upon them. Religion became so controversial that many people opted to avoid the topic altogether. This may appear to be a safe approach, but it did not solve the issue for Air Force personnel.

Spirituality has been defined as the wellspring that an individual draws upon during a time of crisis. It may or may not include religion. However, for the vast majority, religious beliefs are the core of who we are as an individual. During times of joy and sorrow, faith often influences how we respond. As Warrior Airmen continue to be deployed, their spiritual beliefs will be critical to their well-being. Bad things often happen in a war zone. During this time of crisis, where does a person draw inner strength? Religion and spirituality are not just tolerated, they are valued. Our Airmen are encouraged to embrace their own core spiritual values.

As part of the government, it would be inappropriate for the Air Force to endorse any particular religion. It would also be equally wrong for the Air Force to discriminate against people of faith. Currently, all of the chaplains stationed at Altus AFB are from Christian traditions. Each chaplain is encouraged to live out the tenants of their faith. However, our mission extends far beyond caring for people from our own faith group. "The Air Force Chaplain Corps provides spiritual care and the opportunity for Air Force members, their families, and other authorized personnel to exercise their Constitutional right to the free exercise of religion." (Air Force Chaplain Corps' Mission Statement)

If one word was used to sum up the Air Force policy concerning religion, it would be "respect." Each member of our Air Force family has the fundamental right to practice or not practice their religious beliefs in an environment of respect. As you observe this special season in your own way, may we all experience an environment of mutual respect and admiration.