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Air Force withdraws evangelizing policy

Lawsuit alleges officers imposed Christianity

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force has withdrawn from use by its chaplain service a code of ethics that endorsed evangelizing military service members who are not affiliated with a religion.

The move, disclosed by Air Force officials yesterday, followed a lawsuit by a Jewish graduate of the Air Force Academy, Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque. He said senior officers and cadets illegally imposed Christianity on others at the school.

The code of ethics -- issued by the Air Force Chaplain Service in January -- includes the statement: ''I will not actively proselytize from other religious bodies. However, I retain the right to instruct and/or evangelize those who are not affiliated."

Jennifer Stephens, an Air Force spokeswoman, said the code of ethics was withdrawn for further review on Aug. 10. She did not say why, but stressed it was separate from a code of ethics written by the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, a private organization that provides chaplains. Its code also says military chaplains reserve the right to evangelize those who are not affiliated with any religious faith, but Stephens said the Air Force ''has no authority over the statements of that organization."

Last week, Mary L. Walker, the Air Force's top lawyer, wrote in a letter to Weinstein's attorney that an Air Force chaplain service document ''might have been understood to represent such a policy statement" on evangelizing, but the document was withdrawn from use. Stephens said Walker was referring to the Air Force code of ethics statement.

Weinstein filed his suit last week in federal court in New Mexico. Among the evidence he cited was a July 12 New York Times article that quoted Air Force deputy chief of chaplains Brigadier General Cecil R. Richardson as saying, ''We will not proselytize, but we reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched."

In her letter, Walker disputed that statement. ''There is no existing Air Force policy endorsing 'proselytizing' or 'evangelizing' 'the unchurched,' " she wrote.

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