Should atheists be allowed to command troops?

Nothing like the combination of religion and weapons to make you worry, is there? Seems to be pretty common in the US lately. Just about every week, I read something about Christians in the US military using their rank to intimidate people under their command. This is not just illegal, it’s a disgusting misuse of power. But some unbelievers are fighting back–and in Kansas of all places!

This story has been on MSNBC:

TOPEKA, Kan. – A soldier claimed Wednesday that his promotion was blocked because he had claimed in a lawsuit that the Army was violating his right to be an atheist.
Attorneys for Spc. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation refiled the federal lawsuit Wednesday in Kansas City, Kan., and added a complaint alleging that the blocked promotion was in response to the legal action.

Don’t miss the comments.

Believe it or not, Fox News is reporting on this too:

The lawsuit also alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and in which activities by Christian organizations are sanctioned.

It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious statements.

Hat tip to Janie (NSFW). Hemant has more info.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. This story has been floating around the blogosphere quite a bit this week. The part that really caught my eye: according to Hall’s lawsuit, a commanding officer told him that he would not be promoted because he would be “unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with
    his troops and would have trouble bonding with them if promoted to a leadership

    Well, of course the platoon sergeant couldn’t expect Hall to put aside personal convictions – he’s clearly unable to do so himself.

  2. Yes, I saw that quote and noted the irony of it, too. It's a stark example of the way religionists project their own faults onto others. It's astounding and quite common.

  3. No gays, no atheists, how does one party in the military anymore? Hetereosexual intercourse in the missionary position? PAH!

    On a more serious note, I have an atheist friend who serves in the army, and pretends to be Christian, as it's easier to get along with the other men in his unit. He says that it seems to him that they all try to share as much in common as possible, partly just not to stand out, but also for that feeling of camaraderie . Interesting schtuff, military psychology.

  4. I feel the need to defend the military in these situations.

    I was an atheist while I was in the Navy and was never pressured to be or say otherwise. I served with pagans, christians, mormons, jews and even gays. Mostly we only cared that you did your job and weren't and asshole.

    Yes, minorities were harrassed but so were the white boys. Folks were harrassed for what ever stood out, kinda like high school.

  5. Well, 13 years (and counting) in the military I think allows me to say that I CAN see where someone were discriminated against for their belief in non-believing. Of all of the people that I have had to deal with, there are few that would care enough to stop a promotion for such a thing, and indeed most would find it repugnant to do so upon the grounds that the person in question were atheist. However, I have met people in positions of power who could affect such things, that I wouldn't hesitate to think that they would stoop to such a level. Here's the thing, people in the military? Brace yourselves – they are people. They do what their personal code tells them to do, and some peoples codes could conceivably tell them that promoting an atheist = bad. This of course flies in the face of the old "do unto others…" and "Let those without sin cast the first stone" stuff, but that isn't the first (or last) time that hypocrisy will rear it's ugly head.

  6. I didn't catch much flak about it when I was in the Army, but that was pre-9/11, so it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to find that things had swung hard towards the pro-Christian side of the fence since then.

  7. In the enlistment oath, one is required to swear to uphold the US Constitution. The US Constitution says explicitly "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

    By inserting their own religious test for promotion, they are breaking the oath that they swore to uphold the US Constitution. The oath usually is ended by the phrase “so help me God”.

    To me, breaking an oath that one has sworn is a lot more serious a transgression than allowing an otherwise competent atheist to be promoted.

    It is the old "render to Caesar that which is Caesars" bit. No big deal, you are supposed to follow what ever the civil law is. In this case it is the US Constitution which says you can't impose your religious beliefs on anyone else.

  8. I was a Christian when I was in the Army (1976-79) and I found that no one talked about it and that it was odder to be a Christian(born again) then not. I assumed that every one was agnostic about religion. Now this is from a Christan point of view. I might think different now that I am an atheist. I also think that "OneHandClapping" is right. We are all just people and we impose what we feel is important into our decision making proses right or wrong. It also makes a big difference on who is in your unit. If you have a bunch of fundies in your unit it might be a problem but if you have a bunch of guy's that just don't think about it then it's no big deal.

  9. I worked as a civilian contractor at TOPGUN when it was at NAS Miramar in San Diego in the 1990s and I can't imagine that anyone there was Christian. It was a bunch of party animals stoked on the chance to blow up some rag-heads (ok, that's a whole nother issue)…. the people I worked with were mostly liberal sex fiends, out for a good time and drinking and gambling when they weren't working out or flying. OK, I only knew the contractors and the instructors at TOPGUN. But that's how it seemed to me. I can hardly imagine any of these macho guys — yes they were just like the characters in the Tom Cruise movie — preaching about Christ to anyone else, never mind convincing anyone that they were devout in any way whatsoever. The Marine Corp guys I knew at TOPGUN and personally were about the same.

    As I understand it, the Air Force is very different, especially here at the acadamy in Colorado Springs, and they've been having issues with this for years (at least since GWB got appointed.) Here's a headline from 2004: "Air Force cracks down on Christian 'coercion' Academy tells cadets not to use Bible quotes, sharing faith may be intolerant." It's from <a href = "; rel="nofollow">World-nut daily (oy), but it does show that this was being talked about then. And <a href = "; rel="nofollow">here's a NY Times article from 2005 and <a href = "; rel="nofollow">another from 2008. So this has not been resolved.

    I know pretty much nothing about the Army.

  10. Thank you for the link love, Writer DD.

    Forgive the delay, I was called out of town due to a sudden death in the family, got snowed in up a Kentucky holler with crappy dial-up that sort of worked sometimes, and am just now getting back up to speed.

    Kisses, and thank you for posting this. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

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