Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats

from the NY Times:

** Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats**

By NEELA BANERJEE
FORT RILEY, Kan. — When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.
But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.

Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.
Last month, Specialist Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Kansas, alleging that Specialist Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment had been violated and that he had faced retaliation for his views. In November, he was sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers.

Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, declined to comment on the case, saying, “The department does not discuss pending litigation.”
Specialist Hall’s lawsuit is the latest incident to raise questions about the military’s religion guidelines. In 2005, the Air Force issued new regulations in response to complaints from cadets at the Air Force Academy that evangelical Christian officers used their positions to proselytize. In general, the armed forces have regulations, Ms. Lainez said, that respect “the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs.”

Interesting if true, as they say. I have heard (from Catholics) that the fundies in the services can get really pushy. Of course, it’s one thing for a fellow enlisted man (person?) to leave tracts on your bunk or invite you to Bible classes – coming from superiors it’s totally inappropriate.

Well, that is very interesting. I’ve heard of several atheist soldiers who allege discrimination in the armed forces. I’m also aware of some aggressive attempts to convert Catholic soldiers to Protestantism. Hopefully, this young soldier’s lawsuit might do something to stop all of that.

I hope he wins his case. Atheism is protected just as any other belief under the Constitution.

I have seen neither discrimination against atheists nor overt proselytizing from Protestants against Catholics. In fact, “proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice” is prohibited for troops deployed to Iraq.

As an aside, though, I’m really curious as to what atheists would discuss in a meeting of freethinkers. Since it is not a religion, it is either the non-belief of any God (weak atheist) or the belief that there is no God (strong atheist). Either way, the meeting would seem like a meeting about nothing–kind of a weird Seinfeld episode. Maybe they talk about NASCAR or video games or football or sex or family or whatever takes the place of God for them.

When I was in the Air Force, there was an incident like that, in which one of the officers in the squadron had targeted a Catholic airman to “save” him.

It is very hard to say “no” to a superior in the service. It’s why the regulations are so strict about fraternization. But there needs to be more protection from people like that officer.

Agreed. Besides, I’ve never heard of anyone being converted to Christianity (or Catholicism, for that matter) after being *berated *about their current beliefs. :frowning: Why not try teaching the truth in love and charity?

Shame on him! That officer is entrusted with a position of leadership, not one of religious domination. Through his words and actions he should be leading others, whether to battle or to the Church. Using rank to push religion is unprofessional. Thankfully, I’ve not seen it in my almost 26 year career.

Using rank to push religion is unprofessional.

The official position of the Air Force (when I was in it) was that such people are “unfit to supervise or command.” But apparently, that isn’t always applied.

Catholics, Jews and Atheists were apparently targeted at the Air Force Academy. Not by official order, but upperclassmen and some instructors.

And there was this:
**Catholic League: Catholic Bashing at Air Force Academy?
4/10/2008

Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights (www.catholicleague.org/)
The Air Force is requiring students and faculty to view notoriously anti-Catholic film in the name of “religious tolerance”.

…But evidently Weinstein has no problem orchestrating a propaganda film that trashes Catholicism — in the name of fighting religious intolerance — all the while insisting that the cadets and faculty be ‘compelled’ to attend.

“The movie is based on the widely discredited book by James Carroll, an embittered ex-priest. The book says the Gospels are inherently anti-Semitic and that unless the New Testament is gutted to the point where the messiahship of Jesus is rejected, Christian anti-Semitism will not end.**
catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=27519

Maybe the Catholic League is more reactionary to this than I would be. The lecture is closed door. Big deal–many are, especially if they involve discussion. What clips are being shown? Not apparent in the article. Will the discussion focus on the intolerance shown by the movie toward Catholicism? Again, the reader is left to wonder. The film may itelf by anti-Catholic, but that very point could be a subject of discussion. Unless somebody reports what was actually discussed, I wouldn’t render judgment just yet. Besides, being “compelled” to do things comes with the territory of being in the military. We follow “orders” not “suggestions.”

We follow “orders” not “suggestions.”

In my time, we swore to follow “lawful orders”, not “orders.”

If the Air Force was doing this, then it was not lawful to require attendance.

BTW, I had an airman once spend a lot of time trying to convert me to whatever evangelical faith he was into.

It was kind of interesting, because he’d get started on something, and I’d try to find a difficult question for him to answer. He’d then stop, and come back the next day with an answer for me.

Apparently, he was being coached by someone else; I never did figure out who that was, but it certainly was interesting to listen to him. Occasionally, he’d tell me one thing one day, and the next come back to correct himself.

Eventually, he figured I was a lost cause and ceased to come around. I imagine it was something like a spiritual multi-level marketing.

I’m not surprised that someone is actually sueing. We get the American Legion magazine and last year there was an article in it discussing this type of thing. I remember it because it did make the comment that the Evanglicals were being really pushy about trying to get people to convert to their faith. In fact the article had a quote from a Catholic priest who, among others, was complaining about this. That was what jumped out at me and made it stick in my mind.

True, the orders have to be both legal and moral for us to be required to obey. However, required attendance at a religious intolerance lecture with discussion isn’t illegal or immoral. Neither would an attendance at a class in Muslim Sensitivities, which is required for deploying units. What would not be OK would be forced attendance at a lecture whose goal is to proselytize or condemn a particular faith–not one that has poorly chosen film clips.

I think we don’t know enough about the lecture to pass judgment. When I attended the Army’s Command and General Staff College, we had a class where we watched parts of Braveheart and discussed them. Now, without any more information than that, I guess the administration could have been branded anti-English, since Braveheart doesn’t paint the English in a very good light. However, the discussion centered around leadership. Maybe the Academy’s lecture will focus on religious tolerance, and maybe some good Catholics in the class might point out the errors in the film clips.

Many fundamentalists and evangelicals can be like that. But, it takes two to tango. You have to tell them, charitably, that you aren’t interested in what they are selling. Enlisted to enlisted and officer to officer, that’s pretty easy to do. When the contact is enlisted to officer (or vice versa), it still should be handled professionally. If a junior enlisted member is being “harassed” by an officer in this matter, he should speak with his unit’s senior enlisted advisor for a start. The matter should be resolved at that level. There are IG hotline numbers when working through the chain of command doesn’t work.

As I am a Chaplain Assistant in the US Army for the last 18 years and have been assigned to Fort Riley recently, I feel uniquely qualified to comment on this issue.

First and foremost, the actions of MAJ Wellborn are ALLEGED actions. One thing to remember is that in the US Military you do NOT have the same rights to free speech as in the civilian world. One is not allowed to just organize a meeting of fellow Soldiers, especially if it involves a redress of grievances. Such meetings, especially on military property, must be sanctioned. So, if “threats” were made they might have been directed because this was, potentially, an unauthorized meeting.
These issues STARTED at Fort Riley for Specialist Hall. One of his complaints was/is that because the Post Exchange sold and displayed books on religion it was “unconstitutionally promoting religion.”

Hall initially made allegations that an officer interupted his meeting at Fort Riley, except the named officer didn’t exist, so he’s had some issues.

I’ve been associated with the United States Chaplaincy for 18 plus years…I’ve NEVER seen overt pressure to convert. I’ve worked for Mormon, Baptist, Jewish, Presbyterian, and Muslim and Catholic Chaplains…the Catholic guys are amongst the hardes to work for due to several factors. I’ve seen a myriad of Chaplain programs, and been associated with the religious institutions found off-post at the Installations where I’ve served and I can honestly say I’ve never seen pressure applied to ANYONE to adopt a particular view or religion.

Many (not all) Chaplains have begun praying in generic manners during public invocations…which is sad in my opinion (and I know the Chaplain who was primarily responsible for the Air Force trying to make Chaplains pray generic prayers…long story).

Don’t be so quick to jump on MAJ Wellborn until facts are REALLY known.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.