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Leaders need guidance on religious discussions

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 30, 2005) -- Bluesuiters in leadership positions need more guidance and education about when and where it is appropriate to discuss their faith.

That testimony from Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, came June 28 before the House Armed Service Committee military personnel subcommittee. The general appeared before the committee to discuss recent religious respect issues at the Air Force Academy, Colo.

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"We need to teach people in authority that when they are really expressive about their faith, particularly in areas where faith is not the discussion or issue,” the general said, “they can put people that are subordinate to them in compromising or untenable positions"

The academy recently underwent review by a team sent to investigate allegations of religious intolerance at the school. While the report uncovered no systemic religious intolerance, some cadets reported that some leaders had occasionally discussed their faith at inappropriate times or in inappropriate ways. Other cadets reported more egregious displays of religious intolerance on the part of some cadets.

The issue has sparked much recent debate on Capitol Hill, though General Brady testified that some issues might be less debatable than others.

"About egregious behavior such as slurs or disparaging remarks, nobody will debate that with you," the general said. "But what I can say or not say in terms of an expression of my faith is a more difficult issue. That said, we have to provide better guidance to our commanders and senior supervisors on this subject."

General Brady said it would be difficult for Air Force officials to make a list of "do’s and don’ts" that commanders could use to determine when it is appropriate to discuss faith, or bring it into the workplace.

"Historically, there has been a reluctance to jump into that well and start making lists of ‘this is what you can do,’" he said. "You will always leave something out."

However, the general said commanders can ask themselves questions to determine the appropriateness of religious discussion. Such questions may revolve around what type of relationship people have with those they are talking to. Airmen talking to their peers may have more leeway than those talking to subordinates.

Michael L. Dominguez, acting secretary of the Air Force, recently named Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff the special assistant to the Air Force secretary and chief of staff for values and vision.

Rabbi Resnicoff said his most immediate task will be to advise Mr. Dominguez on how best to implement recommendations made regarding the religious climate at the academy.

Part of his work will be to develop specific guidance about expressions of personal religious beliefs. The forthcoming guidance will emphasize mutual respect and the wingman culture fundamental to all Airmen, officials said.

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