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Reform Jewish Leader Welcomes New Air Force Guidelines on Religion; Cites Rumsfeld Support for Other Branches to Adopt Guidelines
In response to today’s publication by the Secretary of the Air Force of new guidelines concerning the free exercise of religion, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement noting, "Members of our military services, who are committed to defending our nation, its people, and ideals, must be able to worship without restrictions and be free from religious harassment and coercion, and we welcome the Air Force’s efforts to achieve those goals."

Saperstein: Members of our military services, who are committed to defending our nation, its people, and ideals, must be able to worship without restrictions and be free from religious harassment and coercion, and we welcome the Air Force’s efforts to achieve those goals.

Contact: Alexis Rice and Barbara Weinstein: 202.387.2800

Washington, August 29, 2005 – In response to today’s publication by the Secretary of the Air Force of new guidelines concerning the free exercise of religion, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

The new guidelines released today, which correctly recognize the right of all Air Force service people to freely exercise their religion (within the limitations of military necessity) as well as their right not to practice a particular faith tradition, are a welcome and necessary step toward addressing the recent and troubling reports of anti-Semitism and religious discrimination within the corps.  Significantly, the new guidelines recognize the inappropriateness of both explicit and implicit endorsements of religion by those in positions of authority.  

Members of the military, who are committed to defending our nation, its people, and ideals, must be able to worship without restrictions and be free from harassment and coercion, and we welcome the Air Force’s efforts to achieve those goals. At the same time, the protected worship cannot be confined to any specific faith tradition.  The diversity of religious faiths that sustains the members of our armed forces must be respected.  

The reports of inappropriate behavior at the Air Force Academy and in its Chaplain Corps are very serious, and we commend the Force’s Senior Leadership – including Acting Air Force Secretary Pete Geren, Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper, and Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff, Special Assistant for Values and Vision to the Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff of the Air Force – for taking the important step of issuing these guidelines.  We are confident that they would be among the first to acknowledge that these guidelines, however important, are only the first step in a process.  Their true value will not be realized until they are fully implemented.

Finally, we urge all branches of the military to adopt similar guidelines and join the Air Force in ensuring the religious freedom of all our men and women serving in our armed forces.  I am pleased that in a meeting last week with a small delegation of religious leaders, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told me that he would ask the other branches of the military to take similar actions.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.
 



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