Bow! Bow before my particular god!

That’s what the military told one of its soldiers. He said no:

The 20-year old private first class, a proclaimed atheist, is graduating from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina on Thursday.

The soldier, who requested that CNN not give a name and gender for fear of repercussions, called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation on Wednesday after taking part in a rehearsal for the graduation.

The soldier told the watchdog group that during the rehearsal, officials ordered the soldiers to bow their heads and clasp their hands during the chaplain’s benediction. As an atheist, the soldier refused to do so.

The military then threatened to prevent the soldier from graduating. They backed down when they found out he had contacted an outside group for protection of his rights, but who knows how far things would have gone otherwise.

This isn’t a big story because it appears to have been resolved relatively quickly (plus the solider is remaining anonymous), but I wonder how Christians in general would react to this. I imagine a good number would support the solider in principle, but I think a significant portion would be against his actions.

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One Response

  1. I was in the military for quite a while and I never saw any soldiers intimidated or punished for failing to participate in a religious custom of any kind.

    I have to admit, I figured this was going to be about the girl who isn’t being permitted to wear her head covering in uniform (JROTC).

    You have to understand the military mindset a little bit to get where they were coming from on this. I mean it’s just my assumption but I think I’m on track here.

    Basic training is a unique environment. After 11 weeks at relaxin’ Jackson, the drill instructors and other training staff are used to everything and everyone being completely uniform at all times. To have one soldier stick out like that was just asking for trouble. This wouldn’t be as likely to happen in a post basic training environment.

    People are people. Things like this will always happen and not just with religion. If the soldier was actually being forced to pray as opposed to mimicking the group for appearances sake, than I’d have bigger issues with it. If simply for conformity… eh.

    Going back to the girl with the head covering, the military tends to go out of its way to accommodate religious needs. From employing clergy to accompany soldiers on deployments and into the field to having vegetarian, halal and kosher meals available in the field in the form of rations.

    The girls headdress could not be covered by her issue headgear so it will not be allowed. Skull caps and necklaces are allowed so long as the uniform covers them.

    I’m just trying to make the point that while this may be a case of religious discrimination, I would guess it’s more likely to be a case of over zealous requirements to have many (there are usually around 150-225 in a training company) be as one. It makes sense in a lot of areas, I’m not sure that during prayers is a time where this needs to be 100% though.

    The soldier also makes the claim that the prayer itself is unconstitutional… eh. I doubt it. The military will always be a special case when it comes to church and state, you can’t simply say “you’re in the army now son, there will be time for praying when you get out”, they have to bring the soldiers churches with them, to do otherwise would risk a serious moral issue. The military doesn’t censor chaplains and chaplains have no command authority and thus they do their best to separate them.

    I don’t know if that’s all coherent, so I’ll summarize.

    The “officials” shouldn’t have threatened not to graduate him, but doubting, as I do, that the motivation was a religious one, he should have left it and complained later or he should have sought to take it up the chain of command.

    It’s also against military regulations to coerce someone to participate in religious customs like this. If you find anymore to the story let me know, I’d like to hear the other side of this as well and I’m sure the DoD will make a statement at some point.

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