Saperstein: “The military’s policy of religious neutrality exists to respect the diversity of religious beliefs and protect the religious liberty of both those who serve and those who are protected by our great armed forces.”
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WASHINGTON, D.C., March 17, 2009 — In response to news reports that Air Force Col. Kimberly Toney, Commander of the 501st Combat Support Wing in Europe, encouraged thousands of Air Force personnel to view a video on a Catholic web site that contained proselytizing content, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
We commend the Third Air Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Phillip Breedlove, for opening an investigation into Col. Kimberly Toney dissemination of a video housed on a website with both religious content and offensive equations of President Obama to Adolf Hitler and “the Antichrist.” By encouraging personnel to view the video, Col. Toney’s action appears to be an endorsement of a particular faith and a potential violation of the right of individual service members to abide by their own faith traditions. The military’s policy of religious neutrality exists to respect the diversity of religious beliefs and protect the religious liberty of both those who serve and those who are protected by our great armed forces.
As Jews and as Americans, we understand the importance of the separation of church and state that protects the liberty of Americans of all faith and of no faith alike. The ability of our armed forces to provide for the security of this country should not be contingent upon the real or perceived need to pass a religious test.
While we appreciate Col. Toney’s subsequent email of apology for her action, we welcome the Air Force’s attention to this troubling incident. We look forward to a full and thorough investigation that will yield greater awareness and protection of the military’s policy of religious neutrality.
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 1,800 Reform rabbis.