Thursday, February 14, 2008

"US military accused of harboring fundamentalism"

I was getting my daily dose of and came across this...

Since his last combat deployment in Iraq, Jeremy Hall has had a rough time, getting shoved and threatened by his fellow soldiers. The trouble started there when he would not pray in the mess hall.
"A senior ranking staff sergeant told me to leave and sit somewhere else because I refused to pray," Hall, a 23-year-old US army specialist, told AFP.

Later, Hall was confronted by a major for holding an authorized meeting of "atheists and freethinkers" on his base. The officer threatened to discipline him and block his re-enlistment.

"He said: 'You guys are being a problem and problems can be removed,'" Hall said. "He was yelling at us and stuff and at the very end he says, 'I really love you guys, I want you to see the light.'"

Now Hall is suing the major and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, accusing them of breaching his constitutional rights. A campaign group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is waiting for the Pentagon to respond to a lawsuit filed in a Kansas federal court on Hall's behalf.

It alleges a "pernicious pattern and practice" of infringement of religious liberties in the military.

The group's founder, former Air Force lawyer Mikey Weinstein, said he has documented 6,800 testimonies by military personnel -- nearly all of them Christians -- of sometimes punitive or humiliating attempts to make them accept a fundamentalist evangelical interpretation of Christianity.

"I am at war with those people who would create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the technologically most lethal organization ever created by our species, which is the United States armed forces," he said.

He plans to add extra charges and possibly other lawsuits this month.

"It violates title seven of the US code for an employer to push their Biblical world view on an employee," he said. "But it's a trillion times worse when that is not just your shift manager at Starbucks but that is your military superior."

He singles out one of the major Christian groups in the military, the Officers Christian Fellowship (OCF).

The group represents 15,000 US military personnel around the world, according to its director, retired Air Force general Bruce Fister.

"It is not the position of OCF to try and coerce people to believe what we believe," Fister told AFP.

OCF's aim, as stated on its website, is to achieve "a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit."

It professes belief in "the eternal blessedness of the saved; and the everlasting, conscious punishment of the lost."

Fister emphasized the group's work to support families of soldiers deployed in the "global war on terror."

"People make mistakes. There's probably been some instances where people have wrongly spoken," he added. "We'd like them not to, but that's life."

"Our checks within our equal opportunity channels identified fewer than 100 formal complaints over a two-year period," said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce told AFP: "The Army places a high value on the rights of its soldiers to observe tenets of their respective religious faiths."

The MRFF's constitutional complaint "is a matter of the courts system to address and resolve," he added.

"The joint standards of conduct for the Armed Forces and military equal opportunity policies address the freedom of religion, avoiding discrimination because of religion."

But Weinstein argued that most personnel are "too terrified" to speak out.

"When you actually fight against them, they make your life hell," said Hall, adding he has been passed over for promotion since launching his lawsuit. "I can't get a leg up no matter what I do."

A former military chaplain of a prestigious US military college reported being prevented from leading worship after disagreeing with the fundamentalist stance of other officials.

"I am not ready to say that if someone does not profess Christ as their savior that they are going to hell ... That got a lot of people angered," the minister told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against a spouse who is a senior officer.

"The leader of the youth group that ministered to the teens (at the academy) said that Catholics were not Christians and that Muslims hated Christians, and that created a lot of tension," the ex-chaplain added.

"As a soldier, many times you want to believe you're fighting on the right side. It's easy to kill someone if you believe that they're going to hell and that they are religiously opposed to you."

Copyright AFP 2008, AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium


Blogger LT Nixon said...

I saw this one. There is a civilian in my shop who we used to play jokes on by putting religious literature on his desk when he went to get coffee. He got really mad until he realized it was me and this other guy (I mean who likes to be unwittingly proselytized). I guess I shouldn't be doing it if someone is actually taking it to court. I have no problem with religion, but I wish people would keep it to themselves, unless in jest of course.

2/14/2008 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger LT Nixon said...

Hmm, not sure if my original comment went through. I will say though I have no problem with religion, as long as people keep it to themselves.

2/14/2008 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Brown said...

You can probably do without a daily dose of Drudge.

If you're really interested in this, you should check out Weinstein's book, With God on Our Side. It details his own experiences at the AFA and the start of his work that culminated in the formation of the MRFF. I'm going to blog about it when I get it back from my bud, who has a few other things on his mind right now.

2/14/2008 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger GI Kate said...

LT Nixon,

how are you? i've seen you over at vetvoice.

I have no problem with religion either. I don’t claim a religion…but I do ask a lot of questions about religion. When people try to push it down my throat, I get a little irritated. When I was deployed the three females I was closest to were really religious...they even conned me into going to church once. However, even at my unit there is this one book (I forget the name)...its like, the divine to live the way God intended or something. The book was next to all the "why you shouldn't smoke marijuana", "don't drink and drive", and “how to deal with PTSD” pamphlets…which we know every Solider is dying to read. Anyways, I read a couple chapters during some briefing. It amazed me though that this was even at my was the only religious book available to Soldiers. Why? Maybe I wanted to read about Buddhism, Judaism, or Islam. I personally think, if you’re going to showcase a single book about a single religion in an environment where not everyone practices the same religion, it isn’t right. So either put ten books on the shelve about ten different religions or don’t put up any at all.

2/14/2008 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger LT Nixon said...

Hi GI Kate, sorry about the double comment, my internet connection was on the fritz. I know the pamphlets you speak of. It's sad that the Army feels compelled to make a pamphlet called "Don't Shake the Baby" showing a complete lack of trust in their soldiers' mental capabilities while off-duty. But yes, some people feel they have to push their religion onto others. I believe they are in the minority, but it's generally the few yahoos who get the most attention.

2/14/2008 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It doesn't surprise me, Kate--everybody says "God's on our side", and it's usually a crock of shit. If I had my way, I'd abolish the military clergy in all lands!! War isn't holy--it epitomizes evil. To paraphrase Edwin Starr--"what's it good for? Absolutelynothin!" Yet the military clergy in all armies/forces for the most part just parrot their Party lines! We in the US live under a fundamentalist Christian Taliban. The trouble is, the fundamentalist Christian Taliban and the Muslim Taliban could really sit down and compare notes. That's the tragedy of it all.

2/17/2008 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Dayngr said...

Damn. That's all I can say to that.

2/27/2008 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger Sholom said...

Yeah, I got a lot of beef from the fundie types when I was in the Army; but as an atheist with a Hassidic Jewish upbringing, I would usually just roll with the punches. Some soldiers tried to proselytize at me, but it didn't really work - I can run theological circles around just about anyone.

It's always funny when someone tries to quote the KJV Bible at you (in that snooty holier-than-thou voice), and you notify them that they're actually quoting from Shakespeare.

3/09/2008 08:18:00 AM  

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