I pointed out that under the Constitution, federal law, and military regulations, cadets have the right to religious exercise. I was shocked when [Air Force Colonel Barzler] responded that Air Force policy, from the Pentagon, is that the term “religious exercise” does not include written or verbal speech. [emphasis added]
Berry then reminded the colonel regarding the specific legal protections service members have, from the Constitution itself, to Acts of Congress, to military regulations. He says of the colonel’s response:
He went on to state that the Air Force interprets [Department of Defense] Instruction 1300.07 to only apply to religious grooming and apparel matters, but not writing a [Bible] verse on a white board or even verbally sharing a verse. This means that, under Air Force policy, cadets and airmen are not free to express their religious beliefs through words or writing. This policy appears to come from a March 2013 Air Force JAG memo that interpreted federal law in that way.
Last week, on Mar. 14, 2014, the Air Force Academy issued a press release regarding this situation. It says, “While we swear an oath to Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States, Airmen are also bound by [military policy].” It references Air Force Instruction 1-1, which was adopted several years ago once President Obama took office and is frequently used to suppress religious speech, especially by Christians. The press release then adds that “sometimes we must put the good of the entire unit before the good of any single individual.”
This press release only makes the situation more alarming to a legal analyst. An Air Force policy instruction carries some force of law, but it is trumped by a Defense Department regulation. Those regulations, in turn, are subordinate to federal statutes adopted by Congress, which for over three months now has expressly provided that religious expression is a protected right. All of those must follow the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land, where the First Amendment makes both free speech and free exercise of religion fundamental rights for all Americans.