Lawsuit alleges mandatory Christianity in US military

By Sunfell

Pentagon Sued Over Mandatory Christianity reads the Truth Out headline.

A military watchdog organization filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and a US Army major, on behalf of an Army soldier stationed in Iraq. The suit charges the Pentagon with widespread constitutional violations by allegedly trying to force the soldier to embrace evangelical Christianity and then retaliating against him when he refused.

The complaint, filed in US District Court in Kansas City, by the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), on behalf of Jeremy Hall, an Army specialist currently on active duty in Speicher, Iraq, alleges that Hall’s First Amendment rights were violated beginning last Thanksgiving when, because of his atheist beliefs, he declined to participate in a Christian prayer ceremony commemorating the holiday.

“Immediately after plaintiff made it known he would decline to join hands and pray, he was confronted, in the presence of other military personnel, by the senior ranking … staff sergeant who asked plaintiff why he did not want to pray, whereupon plaintiff explained because he is an atheist,” says the lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to Truthout. “The staff sergeant asked plaintiff what an atheist is and plaintiff responded it meant that he (plaintiff) did not believe in God. This response caused the staff sergeant to tell plaintiff that he would have to sit elsewhere for the Thanksgiving dinner. Nonetheless, plaintiff sat at the table in silence and finished his meal.”

If you think the accusation of ‘mandatory Christianity’ in the US Armed Forces sounds far fetched, it really isn’t. Long-time readers of both my blog and Dark Christianity know that I’ve been observing and writing about the hard-line evangelical Christian takeover of the US armed forces for years now. Other writers here at Scholars & Rogues have also reported about this growing problem as well. And while serving in the USAF, I experienced some of their harassment and sabotage first hand. It eventually cost me my military career. Hard-line Dominionist Christians have been slowly filtering into the chaplain corps, edging out the moderate and liberal and inclusive chaplains, and permitting outside churches- particularly facets of the Assemblies of God and other highly coercive Christian organizations free access to our troops- from the lowliest recruit to the highest officers.

Mikey Weinstein, a former USAF JAG officer and USAF Academy graduate, has seen and heard many of the tales of religious coercion, and has had enough. His book, “With God On Our Side: One Man’s War Against the Evangelical Coup in America’s Military” chronicles the struggles of cadets and staff in the USAF Academy against the evangelicals who have taken it over. He started the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to continue this battle. Here’s an excerpt from Weinstein’s interview with Tikkun magazine:

Michael Weinstein: We are facing a national security threat in this country that is every bit as significant in magnitude, width and breadth internally as that presented externally by the now-resurgent Taliban and Al Qaeda. And it is the destruction of the U.S. constitutionally mandated wall separating church and state, in the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind, which is our honorable and noble military. I’m here to report to you today that that wall is nothing but smoke and debris. We are facing an absolute fundamentalist Christianization—a Talibanization—of the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force.

I’m aware of how it sounds. I know that the religious right would love it if I was a Northern California, Chardonnay sipping, tree hugging, bleeding heart Democrat, a Sierra Club Democrat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I’m a Republican. My family has a very long history of military tradition—a little bit unusual, a little bit—for a Jewish American family. We have three consecutive generations of military academy graduates. My youngest son graduated a month ago from the Air Force Academy.

The lawsuit against the Pentagon is only the beginning. The bullying and intimidation of an atheist soldier by a Christian chaplain is the first case to be brought against the government- the solider’s First Amendment rights were clearly and repeatedly violated.

What is the danger of having hard line evangelicals running the military? The danger is losing the country to a militantly religious, ‘end-times’- addled fighting force that is the greatest in the world. Imagine its weapons turned against the non-believing population. Even if you are a Christian, you might not be the ‘right’ sort in their eyes. Imagine weaponized evangelism. Think it’s far fetched? It isn’t. These people are deadly serious. They were when I was in, and they are even more so now, because their numbers have grown greatly since I got out. I recall talking to a religious colleague who told me flat out that she was not in the USAF to serve the country, she was in it to serve God, and to go overseas to evangelize. To her, and many others, the military was merely a ‘mission platform’ that got them into places where they could convert the ‘lost’. Our ‘volunteer’ military is self-selecting gung-ho True Believersâ„¢ and is busily winnowing out non believers- up to and including ‘fragging’ them. Was Pat Tillman’s death an accident? Nope. His pronounced dislike of religious nonsense made him a target, in spite of his actual military skills. One can’t be a freethinker in today’s military. Or a Pagan, atheist, Jew, mainliner, or Catholic.

“Troutfishing” at Daily Kos goes into more detail about this whole scary mess. One of the things he wants to do is hear from military members- former or present- who have been intimidated or harassed by aggressively religious military leaders, chaplains, or colleagues. Members who are active duty are generally prohibited from speaking with the press without explicit permission, but that does not apply to spouses or former members. It’s the elephant in the barracks- literally and figuratively. This needs to get out, and exposed, and discussed and dealt with. If we don’t do something about it now, we might not get a chance to do something later.

43 replies »

  1. Thanks for this illuminating post, Lorie. Groups like Operation Straight Up and Christian Embassy are clearly only the tip of the iceberg in what is clearly a methodical attempt to hijack the military into a dominionist force that one can only compare to something like – well, the Taliban.

    Although maybe a more apt comparison might be something like Cromwell’s Ironsides – Puritan religious fanatics who served as Cromwell’s personal troops during the English Civil War. They were absolutely convinced that only their way was the proper way for England – and they tried to establish the New Jerusalem. They failed.

    We can only hope that the dominionists meet the same fate….

  2. Me too. When people who are true believers truly believe that ‘god is on their side’, that’s a recipe for losing right there, because they get blinded by religious hubris.

    Sometimes hubris is a good thing.

    But this bunch has access to nukes and high powered weapons. We might need to counter with a stronger batch of hubris. Or good old fashioned civil law…

  3. I’m reminded of one important fact – the U.S. military isn’t big enough to properly hold Iraq without a draft, so there’s precious little chance that they’d be able to hold the U.S. under martial law without one. Even Blackwater USA isn’t big enough, and won’t be for quite some time.

    And most police I’ve met over the years wouldn’t stand for the military deploying for anything short of a true, honest-to-goodness national emergency (and no, a terrorist strike on one city, even three or six cities, isn’t the kind of emergency that would keep the police occupied for more than a few days). Also thankfully.

    Although I must admit that Blackwater is trying really hard to pull the cyberpunk standby of extraterritoriality corporations. The day that Blackwater USA gets a law enforcement contract is the day I sit down with my wife and talk seriously about buying firearms. Considering I have small kids and have multiple serious issues with firearm ownership, I’m going to work really, really hard to never see that day.

  4. What’s the problem? Let the Christians get their heads blown off over there. Then I don’t have to shoo them off my doorstep or out of our science classes over here.

  5. “And while serving in the USAF, I experienced some of their harassment and sabotage first hand. It eventually cost me my military career.”

    Are you able to elaborate on this – and is it documented?

  6. Bartleby’s post should be quoted for truth.

    The problem is that there are just as many of these guys there as here. More even. They’ve infested the government and military at every level, and worse, thanks to the never-ending revolving door of government contracting, they’re breaking out into the private sector as well.

    I’m much more afraid of these people than I could ever be of al-Qaeda or any other Islamic terrorist front. The enemy within is always more dangerous than the enemy without.

  7. What’s new? At Yuma County Air Port in 1953, a bible thumping, chaplain took over the only air conditioned building on the base, for a week in the blazing heat of Augus, when tents were the staple housing. This was one officer I refused to salute. ( I moved faster than the porker)

  8. Elaine-

    Here’s an essay I wrote 7 years ago about the experience:

    It does not go into deep detail- like the roomie who burned some of my books- including a rare Franz Bardon book- because they were ‘satanic’, or my finding religious tracts in my underwear drawer, or my personal property missing or destroyed, or being brushed off after an assault because I was a ‘fallen’ woman and needed to ‘come to Jesus in humility’.

    This was during the 80s and early 90s. Yes, being a advocate for a minority faith made me (and my friends) juicy targets for these people. But that does not mean we needed to be so ill treated. Sadly, it isn’t much different for minority faiths today- they still get harassed and targeted.

  9. Yeah, when I got issued my first set of dogtags and was asked protestant or catholic for my religious preference, I replied none. They wouldn’t issue me the tags until I said protestant. So, then I had to go down to one of those civilian stores operating off base to get some made saying none. ‘Cause even there, they didn’t want to make ’em saying Athiest.

  10. As a wife of a former Chaplain’s Assistant this article scares me to death. I’m a catholic and live in a small southern town where there is only on catholic church in town. I come from a military family. Both my dad and father-in-law fought in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. My husband spent 21 yrs on active duty. We noticed that alot of today’s soldiers don’t think for themselves. MyS military members of our family were all democrats. They hated war. Today’s soldiers seem to want to follow this administration. I wish more soldiers would speak up. I know a lot are afraid to speakup. I wrote a letter to the editor one time. Boy did that make a lot of higher ups mad. But I would do it again. We must speak up. Some of these people on the right are to extreme and want us to be in lock step.

  11. Oh for God’s sake. (pun intended.)

    In the military, Christianity -is- everywhere. I’m not saying that some of this crap didn’t happen, but … in my time as an officer in the Navy, plus my time as a cadet in a military college … I never -once- saw any sort of conduct that was intended to push any specific faith over any other, or to put down atheism.

    I mean, some of the guys I served with didn’t understand why I was an atheist, but nobody ever pushed their faith on me, or on anyone else.

  12. Oh – and as for the dog tag thing, I had no problem getting them on base that said atheist, and I had no problem getting it entered properly in my service record either.

  13. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that some services seem to be more tolerant of religious diversity than others. With all the AFA issues of late (note – I live in CO, so I see this more than I would issues with Annapolis or West Point) and the recent Christian Embassy DVD scandals, the problems seemed to run more in the Air Force than in other services.

    Would any of you folk who have served say that my impressions are accurate, or not?

  14. When I was applying to get into the Air Force Academy back in the late 80s, I had to go through the usual interview process all applicants have to go through. Unfortunately for me, my interviewer was some sort of clergy (I can’t remember which flavor of christian he was). I remember squirming through the whole thing wondering what the heck I was talking to him for. Between my smirk when I saw the cross on his uniform and our argument about race (supposedly, I have some small fraction of Native American blood in me and he kept pushing that idea. I kept saying, “I don’t wanna get in because of some quota you have to meet. I want to get in because of what’ I’ve done!” Of course, that’s another issue for another day), I was almost surprised that he didn’t just kick me right out of his office.

    Ultimately, I ended up being a 5th or 6th alternate and never got in. And I’ve always wondered how much of it had to do with that interview.

  15. As a Christian preacher I have followed this and other stories of this nature VERY closly, especially on the Military forums. Abuses of this kind by superiors of subordinates is unconscienable and MUST be stopped. The damage that overzealous evangelists can do to faith in this country is incalculable as it breeds resentment and alienation between people. The absolute opposite of what any Christian SHOULD want.
    Rev. Bruce……………Tawodi
    The People of Abraham

  16. What nonsense. Mikey Weinstein has been in a fever dream for quite some time. The service academies have become so PC of late that it’s a wonder they still allow chaplains.

  17. This is really a scary proposition. Thanks for bringing it up. Hopefully, a new president in office can do something about this. It is a shame and a misery for our brave troops to go through this. And filling the military with Evangelical Christians really is the beginnings of a new Crusader mentality against the Infidels In Iraq and the Muslim World. I wonder how much George Bush is responsible for this, given his backround and need of the Religious right vote. It is a travesty that can really blow up in our faces.

  18. As a honorably discharged, and former Marine, I have to say the from my experiences the major problem is not their beliefs or values. It seems it is more the relentless conviction that others have to be on fire for the “cause”.

    A military member may not be able to be as assertive as necessary to resolve this form of perceived harassment due to the confines of the military. You can not insult, or politely ask them to leave, or stop in some cases, because these individuals are your established coworkers for an definite amount of time. Not only that but most of the extremist would break out into orgasm and get more aggressive in their evangelizing because of the taking one for Team God. I am glad to hear someone s trying to at least do something about this form of harassment.

  19. There’s the key: military members are literally a captive audience. They can’t just walk out, or tell someone who is their superior where to stick it. If they are perceived not to be a ‘team player’, they catch hell. And if they’re not fighting for ‘team Jesus’, they catch hell. An enlisted member can be punished for all sorts of things- including being late for a mandatory gathering. There’s even a nasty little rule about malingering- if someone plays sick to miss a formation, they can get into trouble for doing that. When a person swears that oath of enlistment, they lose a whole bunch of rights that outsiders take for granted. Their ass belongs to Uncle Sam- before, during, and sometimes long after their term of active duty is done.

    What we have brewing is the perfect storm: an all-volunteer military being ‘shepherded’ by fundamentalist chaplains who have swarmed in, and led by an equally fundamentalist command structure who does not hesitate to encourage apocalyptic thinking.

    People like me who have watched this thing build and grow sometimes feel like we’re shouting down a well. Nobody is listening, or we’re told that we are foil-hatters, or have the ‘vapors’. I wish that were the truth. But we can see a pattern building, and our prognostication is not good if it keeps going the way it is. These people have been poisoned by heretical religious teachings- the ‘rapture’ and all of that is a false, and fairly recent creation that has no basis in any Biblical context.

    And here’s the most important thing: this isn’t some little fringe church that is infested with this ‘end times’ fever. If that were the case, I’d grab a chair and pop some popcorn and watch them eventually implode. No, this is our armed forces, the people who have sworn an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the US, against all enemies foreign and domestic.’ What people forget is that this oath continues with ‘and obey lawful orders of my superiors’. If a superior gives a ‘lawful order’ to start Armageddon, who is the actual enemy?

    Satan? Us?

  20. Scary stuff – thanks for sharing this information. These are folks in the highest positions of power – now that ought to scare a thinking person. Yikes.

    “Onward Christian Soldiers …………… marching off to war…..

    What year is this?

  21. The thing that is scary is that people would actually believe some chaplains and a few Christians pose a threat to life as we know it. Once again, Mikey Weinstein’s fever dream raises its ugly head…

  22. The problem is, the terms “theocracy” and “fundamentalist nutjob” are tossed around so loosely in the American Left these days, it’s hard to tell when I should really be worried. Most of the time, when people warn me that America is threatened by theocratic authoritarians, they’re crying wolf. Now, when the threat is real, I have trouble knowing whether people are just using these terms rhetorically or if there really is a problem. I wish I could hear more Evangelical Christians talking about this problem, so I could trust that this isn’t just about people who have such high standards of secularism in public life than any breach is labelled “theocracy.”

  23. Welcome to the Wide World of Make Believe. i don’t doubt that there are chaplains who are overly aggressive, and I don’t doubt that sometimes people (Christians too, and yes, even evangelical Christians) are mistreated because of their religious beliefs. I’m sorry if you’ve experienced that; it’s not right.

    To equate this with the Taliban, however, to say it’s just as dangerous as al-Qaida terrorism, to suggest Tilman was killed for this, and then to raise the prospect of a fundamentalist millenarian military turning against all non-Christians is absurd and paranoid. This is what’s called demonization, and it’s an excellent illustration of how demonization is the enemy of rational thought. You have ascribed such horrible motives and character to a group you dislike that now you believe they’re capable of anything.

    What’s your evidence that evangelicals in the military are going to enforce evangelicalism in the US and purge the rest. This is it, this is all you have: someone said, and you suspect this of others too, that they believe their commitment to God outweighs their commitment to country, and that they are interested in sharing the gospel along the way. Yeah, man, really scary stuff.

    When you find yourself thinking things like this, you need to get outside of the echo chamber. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to intellectual integrity, to try harder to understand different points of view. Make sure you’re not getting all your news from one “side” or the other. Find the best opposing argument you can find to your own; don’t deal in paper tigers.

  24. friendsofjustice,
    You’re right. Any mention of Christianity in society is automatically dubbed evidence of theocracy. Fever dreams of the left, is all.

  25. Yeah, and again, I don’t dispute that evangelicals can be overly aggressive. And I don’t even dispute that there is a dangerous brew, in some (but only some) strands (and they are not more than strands) of evangelical Christendom (especially in the south), of Christianity and nationalism.

    But let’s have a reasonable conversation about what differentiates a healthy patriotism from unhealthy nationalism, rather than these absurd allusions to the “Talibanization” of the military and the “fragging” of Pat Tillman.

    And if you’re going to claim that yours is the side that sees the ambiguities and subtleties in the world, then you can start by recognizing the differences between fundamentalist and evangelical, and then the differences between left, right, and centrist evangelical, and then the differences even within conservative evangelicalism. The world is far too complicated a place, and human nature far too fractious, for any group so large to be painted with a single brush.

  26. Yeah, Steve, you’re right. Every mention of Christianity indicates Leftist paranoia. That’s why Christians are in such danger of being of being completely stamped out. I mean, Jesus (if you’ll forgive the expression), there are so few Christians left. Really, all you have are:

    – the president
    – the vice president
    – most of the Supreme Court
    – a vast majority of both houses on Congress
    – a vast majority of the governors and legislators in the 50 states
    – all the major presidential candidates in both parties
    – a significant majority of the population of the nation

    Thankfully, we have bright-eyed thinkers like you noting that you just can’t mention Jesus in public anymore…

  27. I actually do know the difference between left, right, center, moderate, evangelical, fundamentalist, mainlaine, dominionist, and all the others. I know that religious belief has degrees. I also know that evangelical or fundamentalist does not automatically mean theocratic. Heck, if you had a few hours or days to spare, I could tell you the exact theological differences, sect by sect.

    But you’re probably not interested in that. Or interested in mainline churches being ‘steeplejacked’ and their congregations taken apart by hard-right Christians. Or the huge schism that creedalized the Southern Baptist Convention and turned it into an element of the hard right. Or the deliberate and systematic takeover of low power community FM radio licenses by large hard-right religious broascasters- a trend that was so bad that the FCC finally had to halt processing of licenses in that area.

    I’ve been studying and tracking this trend in religion for years. I have been watching religious people get swept away by politics, and watched people play the ‘faith card’ to get into the pockets and the trust of the faithful, who are constantly filled with fear, uncertainty and doubt to keep that money flowing.

    It isn’t religion I am worried about, it’s a political takeover using religion as the Trojan Horse. In my studies and travels, I have run into people of faith who are as baffled and horrified with what is happening as I am. Genuine Christians are an endangered species. They are being overrun and silenced by fanatics using them as a means to get into power.

  28. Really, all you have are:

    – the president
    – the vice president
    – most of the Supreme Court
    – a vast majority of both houses on Congress
    – a vast majority of the governors and legislators in the 50 states
    – all the major presidential candidates in both parties
    – a significant majority of the population of the nation

    Gee, maybe it’s a Christian nation, after all. Surprise, surprise. So why hasn’t the fever dream of an American theocracy comes to pass in the last 250 years? After all, there was certainly a greater percentage of the population that professed and practiced the faith in the past. Why the sudden paranoia? Abraham Lincoln was actually more vocal about his faith than George Bush ever was.

    I think it comes down to a new class of folks who feel they have a right to be offended, and that somebody better do something about it, by God. A handful of Christians in positions of authority transmogrifies into a dominationist conspiracy. Help me, Obi Wan, you’re my only hope.

  29. No, Steve, you’re really, REALLY not getting it.

    1: Yes, it has always been a “Christian nation,” statistically if not Constitutionally. I think we all get this.

    2: Why are we not a theocracy? Well, I think you need to ask yourself what you’d call a system where all legislation must run the gauntlet of the situation I describe in my previous comment. What is it called when you can’t be elected president unless you active pronounce your commitment to a particular faith. What do you call a society where scores of activities are outlawed because they contravene the laws of a particular faith?

    3: What’s changed? No, Steve, we have not evolved a new class of folks. What’s happened since the mid- to late-70s is that Christianity has been politicized. As Sunfell’s comment notes, we have have the religion hijacked by powermongering political interests.

    Of course, I guess none of this is particularly disturbing – maybe not even noticeable – to those who are a part of the fundie takeover machine….

  30. Ah, you must be right. Beware my wrath – I am Fundy. Fear me… It’s times like this that remind of the old Air Force Academy motto: When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.

    Christianity can’t be mandated or legislated.

  31. Steve: No, it can’t, except that … it is. You’ve wandered in here with plenty of attitude on the subject, but best I can tell you haven’t addressed a single point as set forth by Sunfell.

    Maybe she just imagined all those things that happened to her firsthand?

  32. Are there Christians who present their faith (and Christ) badly? Sure, a handful. Hardly a theocratic conspiracy. There are also a lot more Muslims that give their religion a bad name. Again, what’s your point, and how does it add up to conspiracy? It just doesn’t.

    I served graduated from the Air Force Academy (a few years after Mikey Weinstein’s time there) and served for 24 years. In all that time I never witnessed any of the scattered abuses that you, Sunfell, or Weinstein claim. They may have happened, but if you were in a court of law, your evidence of a Grand Theocratic Conspiracy would be circumstantial at best.

    Again, the American military is driven more by political correctness and opportunism than religion. This is a free country – if you or Sunfell or Weinstein are offended by religion, stick your fingers in your ears and walk away. Stop making up conspiracy theories that don’t exist.

  33. I am not offended by religion, Steve- I am offended by people who use religion and its believers as a tool to advance a political agenda. I don’t care if you believe in Jesus, or the Blue Star Dog or nothing at all- that is not the point.

    The point is that there are people who are callously using folks like you as tools and a source of funds to destroy our country. You’re just a walking wallet to them. Religion is just a tool for them. You’re being used to advance a political agenda, not your faith.

    I cannot make myself any clearer than that. Go ahead and lump me in with the firebrands if you must- but there’s a pattern here that is not a good one for the future of this country. We are NOT coup-proof. We are not immune to corruption or collapse from within, no matter what people believe about God’s blessings on this nation.

    If your builder told you that you had a rotting floor in your home, would you dismiss him? Probably not. You’d get it fixed. Our country is rotting right out from under us, and these faith-based phonies are accelerating the process. I don’t think anyone- believer or not- will want to live in such a place. And even if you are a Christian, you will probably not be the ‘correct’ sort.

    But you have the right to see things as you wish- all I am trying to do is open eyes. You can choose to keep them closed.

  34. Sunfell,
    I take your point – politicians use ideology. They use Christianity just as they used Free Silver, slavery/anti-slavery rhetoric, and many other hot button topics throughout history. That’s the business of politics, I suppose. I would not condone the politicization (?) of faith, but neither would I restrict people of faith from engaging in the political process.

    There’s a difference here, though, and that is the apparent counter-reaction against Christians. There’s a very real desire here to marginalize Christians.

  35. Steve:

    1: You never saw it, so it must not exist. I’ve never seen Old Faithful – what do we conclude?

    2: This isn’t about concocting a “conspiracy theory” – nice try with rhetorical marginalization device, though. All people here are doing is quoting facts and eyewitness accounts. You have conveniently pretended that my post above never happened, but let’s review anyway. Depending on the survey, over 70% of Americans are some variety of Christian. I’ve seen a number of surveys, and nothing shows Christians comprising less than a supermajority. Nearly all of Congress professes to Christianity. And for the heck of it, can you point to the last president or major party presidential candidate who wasn’t an avowed Christian? I don’t think it’s happened in my lifetime, and I was born a few days after Kennedy took office.

    I do love your last line: “There

  36. Man, is it hot in here, or is it the fever dream talking? You still haven’t made a case that religious faith equals threat of theocratic conspiracy. The Christian Right, if there is such a thing, has been an increasingly small part of the political process in the past few election cycles. Maybe that’s why the Dems have taken control of Congress.

    You obviously feel threatenend by faith, and I’m sorry for that. You don’t have to be.

  37. It would help if you’d listen to what I’m actually saying and respond to it instead of sidestepping, tapdancing and building strawmen.

    You still haven