The full story here: http://www.au.org/site/News2?abbr=pr&page=NewsArticle&id=9965&JServSessionIdr009=yjpre6wuw2.app13a
In short, soldiers at Fort Leonard Wood are being pressured to attend Baptist religious services, under the guise of it being an Army directed event / off day. Anyone not submitting to the proselytizing “field day” is restricted to base and made to train.
It’s not an isolated occurrence. The military is rife with Christian fanatics throughout the chain of command. Recent stories in the news about the Air Force Academy’s anti-Semitic activity and Christian proselytizing caused a major investigation. An atheist soldier in Iraq is suing the Army for discriminating against his non-belief.
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. I was personally on the receiving end of this kind of un-American, fanatical Christian mentality when I joined the Army in 1968.
And I paid a price.
I’ll skip over the details of what prompted a reasonably intelligent, suburban New Yorker from an upper middle-class family to leave college and set himself up to go to Vietnam. But, the bottom line is I volunteered for the draft in the spring of ’67 and by September I was in basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
The initial introduction and indoctrination into the military is disorienting to say the least. You’re perpetually being yelled at, verbally punished, and physically pushed to the limit. You don’t know shit, and they make sure you’re told that hourly. By the end of the first week the thought of having a day of rest was very appealing.
In formation outside the barracks that Saturday after the first week of basic, the drill sergeant, a Southern white trash “lifer” (career soldier) with the IQ of a sandbag, announced to the platoon that he expected “100% attendance at church” the next morning. The directive was roundly answered with a loud “YES SERGEANT!” by my fellow trainees. My non-responsiveness caught his eye. Charging over to me, he pushed his skinny pock marked sweating face as close as he could to mine. The exchange went something like this:
SGT. Cracker: “What’s your PROBLEM, Trainee?”
Me: “No problem Sergeant. I just won’t be attending church tomorrow.”
SGT. Cracker: “What the fuck you talking about, BOY?”
Me: “Well, Sergeant, I don’t believe in God. It would be against my “beliefs” to go to religious services.”
SGT. Cracker: “You a fuckin ATHEIST, BOY?” (The ‘F’ anointing my face with his spit)
Me: “Yes, Sergeant, I guess I am.”
SGT. Cracker: “Well, ain’t that something special!? Tell ya what, if I don’t have 100% attendance at church tomorrow, including your Godless New York shit ass, then the whole platoon will be confined to barracks for the day. Is that clear, PRIVATE?”
Me: “Sergeant, I thought one of the things we are fighting for is to preserve our freedoms. Don’t I have the right, the freedom, not to go to church without penalizing everyone else?”
SGT. Cracker: “Right???!! Maybe your fellow soldiers can help convince you of what your RIGHTS are. IS THAT CLEAR TRAINEES?”
In unison the platoon shouted back “YES SERGEANT!”, and we were dismissed.
The dehumanization of the trainee experience tends to make fellow sufferers closer ... it's part of the whole point of the process … oneness. So, I thought I had made some new and close comrades. I felt they would understand my position, even back me up against a bully and this injustice.
Over the next hour I was subjected to some serious peer pressure, verbal abuse, and threats. I understood their frustration, but it seems my perspective was totally lost on them. Finally, two guys jumped me and a fist fight ensued. One of them was my “buddy”.
The fight lasted about three minutes, a veritable eternity to me. After it was done, with fat lips, and a bloody noses all around, things calmed down. I reiterated my unchanged position. Everyone was resigned to our communal fate. I didn't sleep that night.
The next morning the platoon went to church, I went to KP, and everyone but me had the rest of the day off base. The bluff of the threat was called, the Sergeant opted not to pursue it further, or again. I went onto AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) at Ft. Polk, Louisiana; eventually ended up in Nam in April ‘68, as expected; and was assigned as a replacement to the 82nd Airborne as a rifleman “11Bravo”, where I was an “atheist in a foxhole”.
Three things I learned from that early experience:
1) The military expects everyone to be Christian; to be other is to be less.
2) Standing up to the injustice of religious coercion makes you feel more like an American.
3) Christians are hypocrites to whom protecting Freedom and Rights means their Freedom and their Rights, not everyone’s.
And so it continues.
Support The Military Religious Freedom Foundation. http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/