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The Air Force issued revised guidelines on religious expression Thursday, reiterating its official neutrality on matters of belief but making subtle changes in language that drew both criticism and praise from disparate groups.

Religious activists gave diverse interpretations of whether and how the guidelines address some of the most controversial issues, such as whether Christian chaplains can evangelize and say public prayers "in Jesus' name," as many are accustomed to doing.

"We will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths," the new document reads.

Reduced from four pages to one, the latest "interim" guidelines were released after the Air Force received feedback on a previous version issued in August. Air Force officials said they heard from religious groups, members of Congress and others and interviewed 500 Air Force personnel.

Jennifer Stephens, an Air Force spokeswoman, said it is likely that Air Force officials will make the latest guidelines the permanent ones, but she said the service branch "will need experience with how the guidelines work in practice before deciding on the finalization date."

Immediate reaction to the guidelines was unusual in that some groups were in agreement with organizations they normally oppose. Critics of the latest version range from the head of an evangelical organization that endorses chaplains to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. On the other hand, Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, and a more liberal Reform Jewish organization praised the changes.

"It is subtle language and it does not ...

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February 2006

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