When a soldier enlists in the Army, he or she takes an oath:
"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
For SPC Jeremy Hall, a soldier currently stationed in Iraq, defending the Constitution involves more than his Army service. It also involves protecting his own Constitutional rights from people who don't think someone should be allowed to talk about being an atheist anywhere near a foxhole. Some of those deployed with him, including an officer, have responded to his decision to not be religious with threats and intimidation. It didn't work. Hall wants his rights, and he's not backing down. On Tuesday, he filed a federal lawsuit against the United States Department of Defense, the Secretary of Defense, and the officer who tried to intimidate him.
I mentioned SPC Hall's situation back in August, but I didn't have a lot of information at the time, so the post was a bit vague. There's quite a bit more information available now, including the complaint itself. The allegations raised in the complaint are absolutely outrageous, clearly unconstitutional, and, based on what I saw over the course of six years living on base, totally believable.
From the complaint:
On August 7, 2007, plaintiff Hall attempted to conduct and participate in a meeting of individuals who consider themselves atheists, freethinkers, or adherents to non-Christian religions. With permission from an army chaplain, plaintiff Hall posted flyers around COB Speicher [an Army base located near Tikrit, Iraq] announcing the meeting. The meeting attendees included plaintiff Hall, other military personnel and nonmilitary personnel.
During the course of the meeting, defendant Welborne confronted the attendees, disrupted the meeting and interfered with the plaintiff Hall's and the other attendees' rights to discuss topics of their interests. During the confrontation, and because of plaintiff's actions in organizing the meeting, defendant Welborne threatened plaintiff Hall with an action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and further threatened to prevent plaintiff Hall's reenlistment in the United States Army.
As insane as it sounds, there's nothing about this episode that strikes me as unbelievable. There are a lot of Evangelical officers in the Army, and many of them are very, very vocal about their faith - and equally vocal about their opposition to anything outside their faith. They are determined, as some very senior officers admitted during a video that they participated in for a Christian group, to spread their version of Christianity through the military. Those in power have done nothing to stop them - no surprise, really, since the Secretary of the Army participated in that same Christian video.
That's changing, and you can help. SPC Hall is joined in his lawsuit by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. This group, founded by Mikey Weinstein, has been working hard to fight to keep religious freedom alive in the military. It hasn't been an easy battle, and it's not likely to get easier any time soon. If you think that it's good that there are people fighting to keep America a secular state, please think about making a contribution to help them do just that.
ps: For those of you who might be wondering which law firm has taken the lead on this case, it turns out that it's someone those of you who follow the creation-evolution issue have probably heard of. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and SPC Hall are being represented by the law firm of Pedro Irigonegaray. Pedro was the lawyer who did such a great job of cross-examinating creationists during the infamous Kansas Kangaroo Kourt of 2005.