By Diana Hsieh
An active-duty soldier has sued the Department of Defense, alleging discrimination by the U.S. Army on the basis of his atheism. Specialist Jeremy Hall claims that, for example, he was ostracized by Christian soldiers when he refused to hold hands around the table and join in a Christian prayer at Thanksgiving. His federal lawsuit asserts he was also kicked off the promotion track for lacking religious faith.For a stunning example of rule by scripture in the military, consider the following example. In October 1997, then-outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff clarified his view of gays in the military to the Senate by asserting that any homosexual with a sex life should be banned from the military because homosexual activity is contrary to God's law. You'll find the details (and quotes) in this NoodleFood post.
"This lawsuit highlights one aspect of the insidious process by which the religious right's 'faith-based' agenda is corrupting American institutions," said Thomas Bowden, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute. "In the faith-friendly atmosphere of the Bush administration, religionists are taking big swings at the wall of separation between church and state. The allegations in this suit are consistent with recent controversies over evangelical proselytizing at the Air Force Academy and mealtime prayers at the Naval Academy.
"The military is duty-bound to actively shield its soldiers from ostracism and persecution such as that alleged in Specialist Hall's suit. Servicemen, like all Americans, are legally and morally entitled to exercise freedom of thought, which includes the freedom to accept or reject religion according to their own best judgment.
"In their interactions, soldiers should be required to cooperate based on their common values--a patriotic commitment to America's self-defense and to carrying out the specific tasks that goal requires. Religious dogma only undermines such rational cooperation, as centuries of faith-based warfare and persecution demonstrate.
"The religious right must be put in its place before it irreparably damages the wall between church and state. Americans are entitled to expect that the military, the courts, and the President will unite in protecting the First Amendment rights of all citizens. That means opposing, not promoting, attempts to inject religion into American institutions such as the armed forces."
Happily, an organization devoted to promoting religious freedom in the military does exist: Military Religious Freedom Foundation. (You can read their mission statement here.)