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Rep. Todd Akin (R-2) takes umbrage regularly. Social trends, government, what-have-you, they all get him worked up. And what does he do about it? Often he writes letters. Sometimes his letter-writing zeal makes us laugh. Just consider that, Akin, one of the serious, for-realsies, candidates for the Senate of the United States actually seems to believe that the EPA is flying spy drones across Missouri farmland? According to Rep. Akin, the EPA wants to harass farmers. And, of course, he wrote the EPA a letter expressing his how deeply “disturbed” he was about this silly, totally false, right-wing, boogy-man story.  

Akin’s letters aren’t always so funny, as Michael Bersin’s recent post shows us. Bersin quotes from a letter that Akin, together with two of his House colleagues, wrote to the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta. In the letter the three alleged that the Air Force is promulgating a “culture that is hostile toward religion.”

What prompted this outpouring from Akin – which was signed by 66 of his fellow travelers in the House, including as Bersin pointed out, Missouri’s Vicky Hartzler? Essentially, Akin is attempting to turn back the clock to a time when evangelical Christians enjoyed a privileged status in the Military and officials turned a blind eye to that situation.

Specifically Akin et al. are responding to corrective measures undertaken by the Air Force after numerous complaints from Air Force Academy cadet became public. The cadets accused the the school of discriminating against non-Christians and subjecting them to proselytizing and  “religious harassment.” Just to underline the point, 3,500 cadets responding to a survey indicated that they had heard slurs and jokes at the academy that they considered to be indicative of religious bias during their time at the academy. For the record, similar complaints have also been increasingly surfacing in other branches of the military.

The Air Force, to its credit, investigated the complaints and in 2005 adopted guidelines that stipulate (quote via The New York Times):

Supervisors, commanders and leaders at every level bear a special responsibility to ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed as either official endorsement or disapproval of the decisions of individuals to hold particular religious beliefs or to hold no religious beliefs.

These are the words of a the “culture that is hostile towards religion”?. If you don’t read the text of the letter , Akin’s statement of his goals seem quite compatible:

When our sons and daughters join the military, they are not signing away their First Amendment right to religious liberty. Unfortunately, it seems that some parts of the military are intent on prohibiting religious expression rather than protecting it. I hope that the Secretary of Defense will respond to this strong letter from over sixty Members of Congress by issuing clear protections for the religious liberty of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

To which I say, “Amen.” I expect the Air Force to continue in its efforts to model neutral and professional behavior for its young trainees, one in which Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists and what-have-you, feel free to pursue their religious faith in a way that respects their fellows’ diverse beliefs. And I am emphatically sure that this doesn’t happen when one religion is allowed to engage in triumphalist acts of the sort that Akin wishes the Air Force to permit. I’m glad that this seems to be exactly what the Air Force intends to continue doing:

An Air Force spokeswoman denied that the service is hostile to religion, and said it was dedicated to creating an environment where people of any belief system could prosper.

“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,” Maj. Jennifer Spires said in an email.