Stop requiring service members to attend mandatory religious ceremonies.
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“You’ll never be a good leader until you
fill the hole in your heart”
Lieutenant Colonel X, statement made in a private counseling session with a CDT.
Went on to describe how finding religion improved his life. 2011
“Why would a Humanist need to have a support
group? It just doesn’t make sense and you
(paraphrased) 2nd Class Cadet X, dissuading a new
cadet from attending Non-Theist Chaplain’s Time
during Cadet Basic Training 2012
“How can you have any morals without
believing in God?”
Major X, in a formal developmental
meeting with a Cadet, 2011
“Of course the United States is
a Christian Nation.”
Major X, statement made while instructing an International
Relations class, 2012
“Because it’s what will be expected of you as an officer.”
Sergeant First Class X, explaining to cadets why they should include prayers at a mandatory event, even to the objection of several cadets being required to attend, 2012
The United States military has a deeply blemished record with regards to respecting the religious liberties of its members. The number of instances in which uniformed officers have overstepped the bounds of their commission is so great that citing a comprehensive list, even by sort, is hardly worth the minutes it would take to compile. Here are a few instances just to get started:
Trijicon ACOGs (http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/us-military-weapons-inscribed-secret-jesus-bible-codes/story?id=9575794), marked with Bible verses used in combat and distributed to Muslim allies
Distribution of Bibles (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2009/05/200953201315854832.html) by deployed soldiers during combat operations
Spiritual Fitness Training requires remediation for soldiers that are not spiritual enough (http://militaryatheists.org/advocacy/spirituality/)
President Bush describes our conflicts overseas as a crusade and uses Bible verses on cover pages of security updates (http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0919/p12s2-woeu.html)(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-soltz/its-official-bush-admin-s_b_204745.html)
LTG Boykin expresses his belief that we are in a religious war against Islam (http://www.commondreams.org/headlines03/1016-01.htm)
Cross at Camp Pendleton used as site for mandatory pilgrimage and prayer (http://militaryatheists.org/news/2011/11/camp-pendleton-cross-privileges-christianity-marginalizes-non-christians/)
For more visit MAAF’s website at http://militaryatheists.org/advocacy/
This list hardly begins to encompass the full extent of Christian and religious privilege in the US military. The greatest perversion of this cultural phenomenon is that those who are committing these crimes against the US Constitution are those who have sworn an oath to defend the same. The commissioning oath of office contains the explicit directive to defend the Constitution against domestic enemies. So what happens when a domestic threat to the Constitution is identified? Do those who have sworn to defend the ideological foundations of this country step up, whole-heartedly, and fulfill their obligation? The simple answer is no, not usually. In truth there is considerable opposition to the defense of the establishment clause and most policies related to it.
It is common practice to require service members to take part in mandatory ceremonies which include religious exercises. By including religious exercises in these ceremonies, military leadership is effectively forcing personnel to advocate religiosity. Although these usually take the form of non-sectarian prayers, the Chief of Chaplains has actually approved requiring people to take part in sectarian prayer (http://militaryatheists.org/news/2012/04/army-chief-of-chaplains-approves-sectarian-prayer-at-mandatory-events/). Many service members object to such requirements. The majority of objectors do not speak up out of fear of reprisal and social repercussions, but there have been a brave few to take a stand. These objections have been treated very lightly, at times mockingly. Recently a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point requested religious accommodation in advance of one such ceremony. This is his request:
“I’d like to make a request for religious accommodation for this week’s Thayer Award Dinner. This dinner will certainly be opened by an invocation and concluded with [a benediction]. The function of the invocation is to appeal to a god to preside over the duration of the event, and a benediction is intended to remind those in attendance to maintain their god in their thoughts as they go about their lives after the event. I am not a patriarchal monotheist, and each of these ceremonies [is] explicitly monotheistic, usually invoking “our heavenly father,” in the form they are delivered at USMA. I fundamentally disagree with participating in religious ceremonies because of my personally held beliefs, and therefore would like to be excused from taking part in this event. Please review the attached DOD instruction on the topic, and pass this up the chain of command if necessary.”
His request was denied. He was required to attend the ceremony. These videos were recorded on 18 October 2012, at West Point, NY:
The question here is not whether being forced to attend religious ceremonies makes people uncomfortable, or is unnecessarily divisive, or even if it is disrespectful. It is certainly (http://militaryatheists.org/about/faqs/can-i-as-a-service-member-be-ordered-to-pray/) all of those things. The question is whether or not it is legal.
In the case of Engel v. Vitale, 1962 (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=370&invol=421) the Supreme Court of the United States decided that state sponsorship of prayer in public schools was not a practice which could be legally defended while respecting the US Constitution. The purpose of this case was to determine whether the reading of a non-denominational invocation, specifically the Regent’s Prayer, was passable in a public institution. The specific prayer read as follows: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.” The similarities between this prayer and the ones delivered above are substantive. What is the difference between “Almighty God” and “our creator divine…master of all”? The state endorsed supplication of a higher power, regardless of its name, remains an imposition of theology over other ideologies. In 1962 the SCOTUS determined that even though the Regent’s Prayer (or prayers like it) did not recognize a specific god, religion, or sect of any religion that it remained a religious act sponsored by the state. There is no room for an honest misinterpretation of the outcome of that case, at least not by a rationally coherent and literate adult. Unfortunately, the clarity of the outcome of this case remains beyond the grasp of many, whether by blameless or intentional ignorance. 50 years after it was determined to be unconstitutional, mandatory prayer continues to thrive in the ranks of our military.
If this were a standalone act, it would be of little consequence. Unfortunately it does not stand alone. It is a cultural artifact which continues the tradition of religious privilege which causes unnecessary conflict in the lives of many service members today. Why is it acceptable for an officer, in the execution of their formal duties, to give an order to a cadet or soldier to see a chaplain, while Humanist chaplains are not allowed in the military and it is the common practice of chaplains to use these opportunities to evangelize? It is not, but it happens. Why is it acceptable for the cadre of basic training units to punish those who do not wish to attend religious services with tedious manual labor and approbation? Why can they openly admonish those who do not believe, calling them “heathens” while ordering them to separate formations? It is not, but it happens. Why is it acceptable for our military to deny service members the freedom to self-identify as “Humanist” on their dog tags (http://www.kxxv.com/story/16773546/soldiers-want-to-add-humanist-to-religious-preference)? It is not.
By removing mandatory religious ceremony from the military, it may be possible to make one more step in moving the practices of this nascent, experimental government towards the ideals espoused in its Constitution. This is not a theocracy; it is a Republic of free citizens. Help keep it that way. As a nontheist cadet, I am forced to attend prayer, and sit quietly, alone in a crowd, treated like a second-class citizen. The command presents me, the atheist, to stand silently in formation as senior officers declare as clearly as possible that my Army is subordinate to someone else's God and therefore that my beliefs are not equal. It is hard to feel like part of the team and hard to be a leader when I am shown in so many ways that religiosity is what is expected, and at times demanded, of me. It is even more difficult when I see that they are putting aside the Constitution and legal precedent and putting their personal preferences first. That is not the ideal of service and sacrifice that inspires me. I am not an officer of a theocracy. I signed up to defend the Constitution and a free republic of citizens, equal with their beliefs.
***Cadet Blake Page is not speaking in his official capacity as a cadet, service member, member of the SSA or member of the MRFF***
Much thanks to Jason Torpy for help with revising this petition
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