Religious Freedom in the Military

Much of this post started as a comment to the post below about Major General Chambers. I’ve left the comment and reposted it here since I realized that it might do better standing on its own.

I was in the U.S. Army for a good part of two decades, and for much of that time, I really didn’t give religion much thought. It wasn’t until near the end of my military career that I began to think of myself as an atheist or consider what that truly meant. But I always carried “NO REL PREF” on my dogtags, signifying that I didn’t have a religious preference. Thats about as honest as I could have been and, looking back, I would probably have considered myself atheist had anyone really bothered to have that discussion with me about god, belief, faith, etc.

I made a comment in the previous post that indicated that Major General Chambers might not have been “promoted” in his recent change of duty assignment. Just a point of clarificaition: while I could be wrong about why the General was reassigned, it does seem fishy that he would leave a command where he had much responsibility and many subordinate commanders to one that is a directorship on a base that isn’t even of the Army. It just screams “quiet firing.”

I was in the Army the better part of two decades and I distinctly remember my training days where we would get a choice of “church services” on Wednesday evenings or normal duty in the barracks. This was basic training and the Chaplain’s office would “tempt” us with a movie, popcorn, and soda -sometimes pizza- in exchange for a short prayer and offer to attend church services on Sunday. I only ever went for the movie (watched Bill Murray’s “Stripes” and “Private Benjamin” during these movie nights and met some girls!).

I hadn’t begun thinking of myself as an “atheist” back then. I honestly never gave religion much thought at that point in my life. The payoff for me (movies, food, chicks) was worth a few minutes of prayer and sermon -which really was just a few minutes.

But the situations that these soldiers found themselves in was entirely different. They were forced-marched to the concert, made to feel they should participate or be thought of as different and unacceptable. They were ultimately treated differently and punished for their choice. Even in training environments like this (garrison training), soldiers have a certain quality of life and moral expectation.

Had the concert not occurred, the evening would have been business as usual. Most likely, some soldiers had their own cleaning assignments and responsibilities. They would likely have personal time between evening meals and lights out to do this, answer emails, talk with family and friends on the phone, visit the PX, get hair cuts, perhaps even attend a movie.

Also, it’s the chaplain’s office that’s responsible for organizing “spiritual” activities, not the commander’s office. The installation commander’s place, according to AR 600-20, is to ensure Equal Opportunity policies are being upheld. That soldiers are being treated fairly with regard to race, religion, etc; that soldiers are not being hazed or initiated unwillingly or willingly, into any in-groups, be they official or unofficial groups.

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