Celebrating religious diversity at Shaw AFB

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- You are different than me, but I don't find that upsetting. Matter of fact, one of the many benefits of military life is meeting people who don't share the same political perspective, world-view, or even religious belief as I do.

Our military realizes that diversity increases value. A keystone to diversity must be respect. The Constitution of the United States guarantees its citizens the free exercise of religion, while avoiding government establishing religion, which puzzles many of our military members and civilian populations alike. These two entities are of the upmost concern to the success of our mission and our leadership, as the wing commander to the commander in chief, must ensure they remain intact while also balancing with one other. 

Air Force Instruction 1-1, Air Force Standards (updated Nov. 12, 2014) echoes the importance of religious diversity by stating, "Every Airman is free to practice the religion of their choice or subscribe to no religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from your own. Every Airman also has the right to individual expression 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."

This December Shaw AFB has the privilege of providing an opportunity to appreciate our religious diversity. On Dec. 4, the 2014 Christmas Tree/Religious Display Lighting and Interfaith Ceremony was held at the Friendship Chapel grounds at 5:30 p.m.

This event, like our leadership, encourages faiths to come together to celebrate as our diverse community. Many religious holidays occur during the months of December and January, some include: Bodhi Day (Buddhist,) Hanukkah (Jewish,) Winter Solstice (Pagan/Wiccan,) Christmas (Western Christian Church,) Christmas (Eastern Christian Church,) and Guru Gobindh Singh Birthday (Sikh.)

After the event, from Dec. 4 on, the religious displays provided by our community will be lit every night until Jan. 8, 2015.

You may notice the Menorah not fully lit when you drive past. This is because Hanukkah (meaning "dedication") occurs Dec. 16-24. Also, you might be wondering why "Christmas" is listed twice. In Christianity the "Western Churches" (Roman Catholic and most protestant churches) celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. The "Eastern Church" (Orthodox Church) celebrates Christmas later. This year the Orthodox Christmas falls on Jan. 7.

As we embark in this season of religious holidays, I encourage you to practice your faith with sincere devotion while respecting persons of other faiths, including those who may not profess to any religious belief.

Please join me in appreciating the privilege of living in a country that celebrates religious diversity, as each of us are able to honor the principles of our faith tenets in peace and good will. May God bless our Team Shaw!