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. Iâ€™m here to report to you today that that wall is nothing but smoke and debris. We are facing an absolute fundamentalist Christianizationâ€”a Talibanizationâ€”of the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Iâ€™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 thereâ€™s anything wrong with that. But Iâ€™m a Republican. My family has a very long history of military traditionâ€”a little bit unusual, a little bitâ€”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.