Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Atheist Soldier Threatened -a Veteran's Opinion

VJack [Atheist Revolution] has a post up on the recent plight of Jeremy Hall, a Specialist in the U.S. Army stationed in Iraq, and a true hero. Not only is he serving his country in a combat zone, but he’s also standing up for the United States Constitution and the very Freedoms that he swore to uphold when he joined the military. SPC Hall, I salute you.

Hall’s plight is one that involved his attempt to organize a group of atheists and non-Christians for a social meeting approved by an Army chaplain. One of the attendees turned out to be a Christian and an officer that had nothing good to offer to the group. Indeed, he ordered the group to discontinue the meeting and threatened his junior with non-judicial punishment. These are acts of cowardice such as this on the part of Major Welborne, the Christian who allowed his religious delusion to override his rationality and duty as an officer in the US Army. Duty, honor, country are buzzwords I’m sure this disgrace to the uniform I once wore likes to drop at cocktail parties at the Officer’s Club, but I doubt Welborne truly understands their meaning. It would appear, instead, that he fits them into his own religious delusion, preferring that Christianity be imposed upon all soldiers, regardless of their own beliefs. Ironically, this is the very nature of the enemy Welborne is tasked to combat: the Muslim extremists who think that anyone who chooses to leave Islam should be put to death and those that aren’t yet Muslims should be converted or killed.

Does that make Welborne a terrorist? With the constantly moving goalposts of that definition in our current administration, who can really say? But there’s no doubt that, for his patriotism, Hall is being terrorized. After being named a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and after he refused to join hands in a cult prayer at an earlier time, Hall has had his life threatened on various blogs and directly threatened by members of his unit. When your faith requires that you threaten others who question it, is it really all that good of a faith?

Its clear that religious nutters within the military have an opinion on how religion should be treated and presented, but what does the official word say?

Army Regulation 165-1, Chaplain Activities in the United States Army, includes the following:

Even though the chaplain is an ecclesiastically endorsed representative of his or her faith group, the chaplain has the responsibility to confront the command when the religious rights of any soldier are affected (AR 165-1, 1-4, b).
“Religious rights” also includes the right not to have a particular religious cult imposed upon a soldier that doesn’t believe in the cult’s doctrines. Indeed, this regulation is contrary to the coerced participation in cult activities and prayers that Hall was subjected to. If anyone should be subjected to UCMJ action, it is the officers in charge of these events.
The Army recognizes that religion is constitutionally protected and does not favor one form of religious expression over another (AR 165-1, 3-3, a).
Expression of one’s lack of religion or one’s opinion of religion is also a form of religious expression.
Distinctive faith group leaders may provide ministry on an exception to policy basis when military chaplains are not available to meet the faith group coverage requirements of soldiers and their families.
Distinctive faith group leaders—
(1) Are normally volunteers.
(2) Do not function as military chaplains.
(3) Must be sponsored and supervised by an assigned chaplain.
(4) May receive offerings at services they conduct with the funds being handled IAW chapter 14 of this regulation.
(5) Will receive no payment for their services, travel, or other expenses from APF (unless under contract). Military members will not be paid. However, if these leaders are nonmilitary full-time ordained clergy, they may be contracted. Pay rates will not exceed the contract prices for civilian clergy contracted with APF.
(6) Will not perform collective Protestant services (AR 165-1, 5-5, a, b)
Hall’s meeting adhered to these requirements.

Army Regulation 1-211, Attendance of Military and Civilian Personnel at Private Organization Meetings, includes the following:
Attendance at meetings at Government expense will be authorized only when information gained will substantially benefit the approving authority’s mission (AR 1-211, 4).
Hall’s meeting of atheists and non-Christians did, indeed, benefit the unit, the approving authority of which the chaplain represented. Soldiers who find themselves in the midst of so many religious nutters, who are forcing their religious doctrines upon non-believers, and coercing non-believers to participate in cult activities like prayers, will likely feel alienated and alone. By allowing them to meet socially and discuss their worldviews, the non-believers in the unit would find support and human fellowship with likeminded individuals, having a positive increase in their esprit de corps as they continued with their daily mission for the unit. Any commander that wouldn’t allow these individuals to meet on their own time has another agenda that overrides his or her military mission.

Department of Defense Directive 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services, includes:
3.1. A basic principle of our nation is free exercise of religion. The Department of Defense places a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of their respective religions. It is DoD policy that requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards, or discipline.
While the language of both of this directive is geared toward individual religious cults like Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Hindis, etc., it doesn't take much effort to infer from it the intent, which is to allow soldiers who have a diversity of religious opinions and beliefs to feel comfortable and secure and to express these opinions and beliefs where appropriate as well as included to foster a sense of esprit de corps.

As a 12-year veteran of the US Army (1984-1996), I understand the necessity of esprit de corps and having strong morale while taking part in extended combat operations.
4.3. When requests for accommodation are not in the best interest of the unit and continued tension between the unit's requirements and the individual's religious beliefs is apparent, administrative actions should be considered. These actions may include, but are not limited to, assignment, reassignment, reclassification, or separation. Nothing in this Directive precludes action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (reference (d)) in appropriate circumstances.
This part of the DoD directive is interesting. For the unit commander with a head on his or her shoulders, for a commander that has his or her unit’s mission as primary goal, recognizing that not all the soldiers in his or her command is a Christian and may actually have other, or even no, religious beliefs would be something that commander should be aware of and be willing to address. And the best way of addressing such an issue would be to allow alternatives for these soldiers to express themselves or to associate with each other without the influence of Christianity; and certainly without Christian believers coercing them. The result would be that these soldiers would feel included and a part of a team that has diversity. Such esprit de corps creates the sense that one belongs to something greater than a religion or a religious opinion; and as a former military leader, I know of nothing greater to belong to than a unit that respects its members and where its members respect each other –regardless of internal disagreement or shortcomings.

Stand your ground, Jeremy Hall. You’re a hero.

Related Links

  • Army Violates Religious Freedom [Atheist Revolution]

  • Urgent Issues [Military Religious Freedom]

  • God Fearing Christian Soldiers Threaten Atheist Soldier for Expecting Equality


    pauzhaan said...

    Jeremy Hall IS a hero, the kind of man and soldier to make the founding fathers proud!

    Upon investigation, the Major's name has turned out to be actually Freddy Welborn. His personal, public myspace page is located here: www.myspace.com/freddywelborn

    Read it and weep!

    vjack said...

    Thanks for the link. I think this is an important issue, and you've certainly done it justice here.