Saturday, April 26, 2008

More Religious Persecution in the Military

When I first heard the story of the Air Force Academy cadets being harrassed for their non-religious views, it sounded like less of a big deal than the way it was being spun. The bullet points, as I understood them, were that senior cadets had told atheist cadets that they were going to hell. On the one hand, the religious cadets are entitled to believe that we infidels are damned, on the other hand, if you use your seniority to force a junior to listen to your opinion on matters that don't concern the job, you're undermining discipline. So it is a kind of harrassment that should concern the chain of command. But it's a pretty mild offense. The difference in rank is not a big deal. A bigger deal would be a platoon sergeant ordering his soldiers to attend an Amway meeting (or a religious one). That would be a substantial level of rank being abused. From 93 to 97, when I was in the Army, nothing like this ever happened and my first contact with a military chaplain, in the welcome briefing at reception prior to basic training, began with his assurance to all of the recruits that one of his responsibilities was to see that it didn't and that he took this seriously. There was never any doubt in my mind during those four years that this kind of abuse of authority, if it occurred, would be quickly and severely punished.

It looks like that may have changed

Going back to the way it was in 93-97 when I was in. There was one prayer breakfast that we were given the option of attending in stead of doing our morning physical training. I decided to go because, as is often the case in the Infantry, my muscles were all kinds of sore from previous days training. It didn't strike me as a horribly unfair priviledging of religion by the commander because soldiers are let out of garrison duties every now and then for family reasons or other reasons. So, when I heard about the harrassment of AF academy cadets, I didn't take the story too seriously. Being told you're going to hell is not harrassment. Being told you'll suffer professional repercussions if you don't bathe in the blood of the lamb and/or drink it, on the other hand, is a very serious crime against the discipline of the unit. When the Army gives you authority over someone else, it's with the understanding that it's to be used for the Army's purposes, and the Army really only has only one-- that is to defend the US constitution. To use that authority toward some other end, whether it be promoting Amway, Jesus, or Aleister Crowley is.

We had one democrat in my platoon. I don't know of him suffering any repercussions for holding those views and Bill Clinton was hated quite passionately in the Army in those days. Charly company upstairs from us had a Satan Worshipper whose room was decorated with Anton Lavey posters. He went to Ranger school-- a very prestigious thing in the infantry-- and showed no sign of suffering any professional setbacks for his wierdness. I remember hosting a binge-drinking evening in my room one night which consisted of a debate between him and my pagan next door neighbor with Metallica blasting as high as my speakers would go to try and drown them out so the rest of us could concentrate on drinking. We all binge-drank together and understood that our differing views on whether to sacrifice rodents to the earth-mother or to Satan, or whether to instead drink the blood of Jesus were separate from our jobs and that debating these things on duty would be as wrong as drinking on duty.

Oh and we also had a platoon sergeant who was into Amway and who tried to recruit for it, with a little success. He never suggested that people didn't have a right to not take Amway seriously.

Our First Sergeant at one morning formation said "I would like to have one of those 'Impeach Clinton, and her husband too.' bumper stickers, but I don't because that would ...." I can't remember the rest, but the point was we were free to engage in political and religious activity, but not in uniform and we were always required to do so as private citizens. Claiming to speak for the Army on political or religious matters was recognized as a crime.

Stories like this could be a serious problem.

Spc. Hall's approach to it, forming a group for atheists and free-thinkers, has some merit. It's an open sort of "we're here! we're queer!" kind of statement. And the blood-drinkers are constitutionally required to accept atheists and Satan worshippers in the ranks. They are constitutionally required not to persecute pagan goddess worshippers even though their beliefs are by far the dumbest. They should have an in-their-face reminder of that. But is shouldn't come from the troops. It needs to come from the chain of command.

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