6:47 PM EDT

Cliff Stearns, R-FL 6th

Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I have this amendment, and it took quite a bit of expertise on myself and staff to get this so it would be germane, and I sort of feel that that is one of my accomplishments. I intend to offer this, but then I am going to ask unanimous consent to withdraw it out of great deference to the chairman.

The second is to bring it on the House floor and to discuss it so we can put it in the RECORD so that the Armed Forces, particularly the Air Force, when they talk about the revised interim guidelines concerning free exercise of religion in the Air Force, have an understanding what we in the House believe is appropriate.

The amendment is basically saying that none of the funds made available in this act may be used to interpret voluntary religious discussion as official, because within this interim guidelines concerning free exercise of religion the word ``official'' is in the paragraph where we are talking about voluntary worship. Let me read this portion to you:

``Voluntary participation in worship, prayer, study, and discussion is integral to the free exercise of religion.''

Now, that we all agree upon. And then they go on to talk about this voluntary discussion of religion. But then there is a sentence in this that goes on to say: ``Voluntary discussions of religion or the exercise of free speech where it is reasonably clear that the discussions are personal and not official.''

So even within the paragraph talking about voluntary, talking about voluntary discussion of people coming together, there is still an interpretation by the Air Force that it is reasonably clear it is not official. Well, obviously if these people come together voluntarily to talk about their faith, to pray, to study, and have this discussion, it is voluntary and should the word ``official'' not even be in this paragraph. But it still gives the Air Force the ability to go in and say, well, you

know, we can reasonably say that it is not clear that the discussion that you men and women have had while you are worshipping, you are praying, you are studying is an integral part of this free speech. It appears that there might be some official overtone. So it is official overtone. Then at that point they can step in and say, okay, you cannot have this discussion.

So my amendment is basically saying that, no, the Air Force could not step in anytime there is voluntary participation in worship, prayer, study, and discussion. And it is simple on that respect.

Some of the revised interim guidelines that the military put together is worded in such a way that it makes many of us feel a little uncomfortable. It seems like it is a little bit over the line, and I felt personally, and I say to the chairman, my colleague from Florida (Mr. Young), that when you add voluntary, I think that should be enough. And the word official and reasonably clear and some of these extraneous words that would imply intimidation to the people who are trying to worship

and pray should not be a part of this interim guideline.

So I wanted to go on record to say I as one Member don't agree, and I hope perhaps there are other Members who would take this amendment to heart. And so if we find that the Air Force somehow intimidates these people during voluntary participation in prayer, worship, and study, that they would remember my amendment.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I am going to ask unanimous consent to withdraw out of deference and understanding the lateness of the hour and also the understanding that you have just been through one donnybrook and perhaps this one might be another one, but I still feel and I might at a later date bring this forward now that I finally figured out a way to make it germane.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to withdraw the amendment.