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Join Date: Jan 2004
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US Soldiers Fighting Religious Fascists on Every Front
North Star Writers Group - Syndicated Commentary: Opinion, Humor and Features
U.S. Army medic Dustin Chalker, a decorated Iraq combat veteran and atheist, last week sued the U.S. Department of Defense and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, claiming he was forced to attend military events where fundamentalist Christian prayers violated his constitutional rights.
Chalker’s experience with religious coercion by his chain of command is pervasive in today’s U.S. military under the George W. Bush Administration, according to Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Weinstein says extremist Christians are engaging in a widespread pattern of unconstitutional sectarian activity in all branches of the military, the Coast Guard, and reserves like the National Guard.
As of mid-September, the MRFF had collected more than 9,100 reports about such activities at a rate of 80 to 100 per week. By far most of those complaining – 96 percent – come from other Christian service or reserve members who are being targeted because “they are not Christian enough,” in Weinstein’s words.
In fact, sectarian activities in the military pose a domestic national security threat that the country ignores at its peril, Weinstein warns: “What will it take to get Americans to wake up and see what’s going on?”
The religious extremists involved are known as Christian Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists, among other names. They do not acknowledge any separation of church and state, and aim to remake this country as a Christian theocracy – the Christian counterparts of the Taliban/Al Qaeda nexus. Weinstein says they are active on all 737 U.S. military bases around the world.
“Dominionist Christians want to waterboard everyone into accepting their worldview,” adds Weinstein, a 1977 honors graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Albuquerque, N.M.-based MRFF is a partner in this new lawsuit, as it is in an earlier and similar legal action involving another Iraq war veteran, Spc. Jeremy Hall. The plaintiff in the latest case, Chalker, joined the Army in 2002 and earned the Combat Medic Badge and a Purple Heart in Iraq.
According to the Chalker lawsuit, on May 16, 2008; February 7, 2008; and December 5, 2007; the medic was ordered to attend a barbecue, a change of command ceremony and a formation upon returning from Iraq, respectively, where sectarian Christian prayers were offered. The suit states that Chalker has asked his commanding officers to be relieved from attending such events without success.
Forcing Chalker to attend events where sectarian prayers take place “was and is contrary to clearly established law and has the effect of denying plaintiff Chalker his constitutional right to be free of sectarian religious practices as guaranteed by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” the suit argues. It also asserts that mandatory attendance at sectarian activities amounts to a religious test as a qualification for duty as a soldier and, as such, violates Chalker’s rights under Article 6, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution.
Both the Chalker and Hall cases are being heard in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas. The Hall lawsuit alleges that while the specialist was in Iraq in 2007, an Army Reserve officer prevented Hall from convening a meeting of atheists and other non-Christians – an activity that is protected under military regulations. The lawsuit also claims that the officer, Major Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to take action against Hall, that Hall was denied a promotion after returning to Fort Riley, N.C., and that Hall continues to be harassed simply for being an atheist and for taking part in the MRFF lawsuit. The Department of Defense has filed a motion to dismiss that case.
The MRFF and its co-plaintiffs are not very popular among the targets of their legal actions. Earlier this month, Hall found on his cell phone a message laced with sexual and racial obscenities in which the caller threatens to kill Hall and rape his wife and mother.
Weinstein is only too familiar with the pattern. “I get eight to 12 death threats a week,” he explains. “The tires of my cars have been slashed, the windows of my home have been blown out. I find dead animals on my porch.” His house and family are under constant security protection. “I’m at war right now.”
Although the MRFF has not yet reached the point of proposing remedies, Weinstein says he plans to ask the court to mandate education about the separation of church and state during basic training for all branches of the military and reserves. Then he wants about 400 courts-martial for “the highest ranking officers to the lowest – basically for being fundamentalist Christian predators in uniform.”
Onward Christian soldiers? Not in the U.S. military. Not if Mikey Weinstein wins his war in court.