Peterson AFB launches commander investigation into religious display 

Bible study

click to enlarge Open Bible at a Peterson workstation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • Open Bible at a Peterson workstation.

An open Bible placed at a Peterson Air Force Base major's workstation has drawn demands for its removal from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

In response, Peterson officials removed the Bible and now are conducting a review of whether allowing it was a reasonable accommodation of the officer's religious beliefs or whether it violates the separation of church and state.

"The basic premise of the Air Force instruction [on religious freedom], grounded in Department of Defense policy, grounded in law is, people have an inherent right to free exercise of religion within boundaries," Col. Damon Feltman, 310th Space Wing commander, says in an interview. "At the same time, people have freedom to be left alone. It's finding that right balance. The challenge of the commander is to be sure both people are treated fairly."

After the MRFF wrote to Feltman, he initiated the review and says it will be conducted quickly.

At issue is placing the Bible in front of a computer keyboard for years at Peterson's Reserve National Security Space Institute located in the Space Education and Training Center Building, says MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein.

"It certainly gives the appearance of favoritism toward one religion," says a Peterson military member who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution. "I'm a Christian myself, and it's concerning. I don't think people should be promoted or given opportunities based on whatever [religion] they are. It should be about your performance."

The source tells the Independent the Bible, with various passages highlighted, sits in a common work area and is construed as a message that the command's favored religion is Christianity. Dozens of military members contacted MRFF to report the ongoing display after it was noted in a survey last year but wasn't removed.

An Air Force instruction states that every airman "has the right to individual expressions of sincerely held beliefs, to include conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, unless those expressions would have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, good order, discipline, health and safety, or mission accomplishment."

Members may seek religious accommodation, the instruction says, but leaders "must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief."

Feltman says when the issue was first raised, the display seemed in compliance. But after the MRFF complaint, he says, "We're going to go back and look at that to see if we're in compliance and if not, we're going to take corrective action."

Feltman adds, "If a person has a Koran display or book of Satan, they're free to have that on display and read it as long as they're not proselytizing, trying to entice someone to their particular viewpoint."

As for not addressing the complaint amid the climate survey, Feltman says, "The survey is anonymous, so there's no way the commander could find the member who was aggrieved." He notes that members can file complaints through the chain of command, the Inspector General's Office, an equal opportunity employment office or Congress, and that retaliation for filing a complaint is "patently illegal under the Department of Defense, Air Force and federal law."

Asked if the major who placed the Bible on his desk sought religious accommodation through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Feltman says he doesn't know.

Weinstein says he's satisfied that Feltman takes the issue seriously and notes Feltman told him the base would be open and transparent about the investigation.

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