WHEN atheist Blake Page walked out of the West Point Military Academy in New York in November, he said in his letter of resignation:
I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same.
Page, 24, who was President of West Point’s Secular Student Alliance, was referring to the oppressive religious ethos of West Point where, he said:
Countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution . . . through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation.
Page served as an enlisted soldier in Korea for two years before his commanding officer recommended him for West Point. His story shines a spotlight into a military culture that, despite repeated exposes and lawsuits, continues to suffer from the evangelical zeal that ran amok under devout officers like General David Petraeus and fundamentalist chaplains like Gordon Klingenschmitt (who attempted exorcism on a lesbian service member who requested his help after being raped).
Now, according to this report, West Point has been told by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State that it must purge religion completely. In a letter to West Point, the Washington-based group “that works to separate God from government” is demanding that West Point ends all prayers that are traditionally held during official school events.
The organisation wrote:
We have received several complaints about the United States Military Academy at West Point’s pattern of presenting prayers held throughout the four-year program of instruction. West Point’s inclusion of government-sponsored prayers at these events creates a pervasive atmosphere of religiosity and cannot be reconciled with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Cadets are uniformly told that attendance at these events are required. Being forced to attend an event that includes a prayer is at the heart of the kind of religious coercion that the Constitution prohibits … The government does not have to physically force someone to utter a prayer or to genuflect before God in order to run afoul of that prohibition.
It then asked that the academy respond within 30 days.
Americans United Director Barry Lynn said:
West Point cadets should be able to train for service in our nation’s military without having religion forced upon them. Academy officials must respect the religious liberty rights of all cadets, who should be free to make their own decisions about prayer without government coercion.
However, others support the prayers at the academy and state that Lynn’s organization is wrong in attempting to remove God from West Point.
Former Navy chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt is outraged:
Barry Lynn’s objective is to destroy Christianity in America. It has nothing to do with wanting to support the First Amendment under his understanding of it.
The crazy Klingenschmitt earlier this month told members of his Pray In Jesus Name Project that the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” had led to the “persecution” of Christians in the military.
Christian troops endure open homosexual harassment. Sexual harrassment [sic] is banned in the military, unless you’re a homosexual abusing a Christian, then it’s openly encouraged.
Klingenschmitt also argued that soldiers should be able to refuse to share a bunk with an openly gay soldier because otherwise they will be groped:
Imagine the horror of being ‘chosen’ as a bunkmate, and then being forced to endure ogling or groping without complaining.
Retired Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin, who now serves as vice-president of Family Research Council, is also outraged by Lynn’s letter:
Prayer at West Point is a tradition. Because it is a tradition that derives from Christianity, Barry and others want to destroy that tradition because they are anti-Christian and want to erase any remnant of the influence of Christianity on our society.
West Point has confirmed that it has received Lynn’s letter, and states that prayers during academy events are completely voluntary.