Evidence supports widespread violations of religious freedom in US military, soldier says

TOPEKA, Kansas: A foundation that has sued the U.S. military alleging widespread violations of religious freedom said it has evidence showing that soldiers are pressured to adopt fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

The photos and videos of religious materials and activities are part of a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, an atheist, against Maj. Freddy J. Welborn and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The material was gathered from Fort Riley in Kansas, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Examples at Fort Riley, where Hall is stationed, included a display outside his military police battalion’s office with a quote from conservative writer Ann Coulter saying, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book “A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” for sale at the post exchange.

“These astonishing and saddening evidence which our foundation is making public today only further buttress our lawsuit,” said Mike Weinstein, an attorney and president of the foundation, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1977.

Fort Riley spokesman Maj. Nathan Bond said the matter was being referred to post commanders for investigation. He said it is the Army’s policy to accommodate all religious beliefs to the extent that they do not conflict with military missions.

“We do take this seriously,” he said. If they are true, he added, they “do not seem in line with the Army values of respect.”

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kansas, in September alleges that Welborn threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his re-enlistment for trying to hold a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.

Hall is with the 97th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Riley. He was serving his second tour in Iraq and has since returned to the U.S.

Weinstein said materials for a Bible studies course from Military Ministry, part of Campus Crusade for Christ International, teach soldiers that the U.S. military and government are instruments to spread the word of God. The material was found at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he said.

A spokeswoman for Campus Crusade for Christ said ministry officials had not had a chance to review the evidence and declined to comment.

The lawsuit also alleges that Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and allows a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations.

It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.

The Pentagon has said that the military values and respects religious freedoms but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.

Weinstein has previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on its students at the academy. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in 2006.

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