Saturday, April 5, 2008

Religious persecution in the military

This headline: US military accused of harboring fundamentalism, bothers me for reasons I'll get into in a minute, but first, the article below that headline deserves everyone's attention.

The first thing that came to my mind on reading it was that I never saw or heard of anything like that in my four years in the Army. But, eleven years have passed since I got out and a lot can change in that time. I remember the series of welcome briefings at Ft. Benning reception. Near the beginning of the post chaplain's briefing were these words " of my responsibilities is to ensure that all your participation in religious activity is voluntary." The article paints a very different picture than the one I remember and if it's widespread, it's a serious problem. Even if it's not widespread and was just a problem in that one unit, it's serious.
The trouble started there when he would not pray in the mess hall.
"A senior ranking staff sergeant told me to leave and sit somewhere else because I refused to pray," Hall, a 23-year-old US army specialist, told AFP. Later, Hall was confronted by a major for holding an authorized meeting of "atheists and freethinkers" on his base. The officer threatened to discipline him and block his re-enlistment. "He said: 'You guys are being a problem and problems can be removed,'" Hall said. "He was yelling at us and stuff and at the very end he says, 'I really love you guys, I want you to see the light.'"
Another part of the article that everybody has quoted bears repeating again
"I am at war with those people who would create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the technologically most lethal organization ever created by our species, which is the United States armed forces," he said.
If the incidents actually were as described in the article, I say a-fuckin-men to that.

But aside from the court case, and the importance of it to the future of this country, the headline: US military accused of harboring fundamentalism is nearly as shocking as the incidents it reports on. It implies that fundamentalism is some kind of crime. In fact, the first ammendment to the US constitution harbors fundamentalism no less than it harbors atheism. If the Army didn't harbor fundamentalism, islam, paganism as well as atheism it would be in breach of its most fundamental obligation. The purpose of the US Army is to protect your right to believe in the worst and most destructive ideas as well as the good ones at your own risk and expense. There's just so much wrong with that headline, I don't know where to start. It's probably just a reporter rushing to meet a deadline and not thinking about what the words mean. But, on the other hand, I know there are college graduates out there who see no difference between tolerating fundamentalism and persecuting atheists.

My advice to service members offered special treatment in return for attending a religious event, or illegally threatened with punishment for not attending is to go, and to blog it. The more we know about our enemies, the better.

Currently Reading: The Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Listening: Psycho! by The Sonics

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