October 4, 2008

Military Continues to Violate Soldiers' Religious Freedom

English: ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 7, 2010) Secret...
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (April 7, 2010) Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, front left, walks to King Hall to have lunch with the midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. (DOD photo by Cherie Cullen/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Long-time readers will undoubtedly remember the plight of Spc. Jeremy Hall, the atheist soldier who filed suit against the Department of Defense and various military personnel for systematic violations of his religious freedom. Now another brave atheist soldier from the same base in Fort Riley, KS, is suing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and making eerily similar allegations.

According to the Associated Press (update: link no longer active), Spc. Dustin Chalker has filed suit alleging violations of religious freedom, including forced participation in public prayer sessions.

The Army and Fort Riley claim that they do not condone religious discrimination, and yet, this seems to be precisely what is happening in these cases. Hall was allegedly threatened by his fellow soldiers and denied a promotion. Chalker has provided 18 examples, including military-sponsored programs, of the military forcing Christian extremist views on personnel.
Chalker’s lawsuit also cites a “spiritual handbook” for soldiers carrying the endorsement of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. The lawsuit alleges the book promotes Christianity and denigrates nonbelievers.
The AP report outlines the following allegations from Chalker's suit:
  • A “spiritual fitness” program for hundreds of personnel at an Air Force base in England, in which suicide prevention efforts were based on Christian teachings and, the lawsuit alleged, creationism was promoted.
  • A weekly “Free Day Away” for soldiers in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., since 1971. Weinstein’s group and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have questioned the program, but it has been described as voluntary and has since been modified to make clear it’s sponsored by a Baptist Church.
  • A once-suspended practice of dipping the American flag before the altar at the chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
  • Participation by a major general in uniform in a Fourth of July television special for the Christian singer Carmen.
It is hard to see how this does not constitute a pattern of violating soldiers' religious freedom by pushing fundamentalist Christianity.

Just as they helped Spc. Hall, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has joined Chalker as a plaintiff. Once again, I call your attention to this important group and commend them for their tireless efforts to protect our young men and women in uniform.

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