The Air Force has suspended a training course for nuclear missile launch officers that used Bible passages and religious imagery to teach them about the ethics of war.
The course had apparently been taught by chaplains at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California for more than 20 years, but officials pulled the plug after an article from the liberal Web site Truthout.org appeared online last week.
The group obtained a PowerPoint presentation used in the course that referenced religious figures including Abraham, John the Baptist and Saint Augustine. The presentation also said that there are “many examples of believers engaged in wars in the Old Testament” and “no pacifistic sentiment in mainstream Jewish history.”
David Smith, a spokesman for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command, said that the program had initially been designed to “help folks understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. In the missile launch industry, it takes a certain mindset to be able to walk in the door and say, yes, I can do that.”
But he added: “Senior leadership looked at [the material for the course] and said, no, we could do better than this.”
The reversal marks a victory for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that provided the documents to Truthout and that has waged a series of battles, legal and otherwise, to preserve the separation of church and state in the services.
Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the foundation, said his group was approached late last month by about 30 officers, most of them Protestant or Roman Catholic, who said they objected to the presentation. He said he saw the PowerPoint and was astonished by documents that appeared to be using a religious justification for missile launches.
“This isn’t about attacking someone’s faith,” he said. “What it’s about is remembering that in this country … we separate church and state. They don’t do that in other countries. We do that here.”
One of Weinstein’s clients, Damon Bosetti, who served as an Air Force captain and attended missile officer training in 2006, told Truthout that he and his colleagues used to call the religious section of the ethics training the “Jesus loves nukes speech.”
Asked why it might have taken more than 20 years for someone to raise objections to the training course, Weinstein said he suspected airmen were simply scared to speak up.
The Air Force said a new course was to be developed.