MRFF and the Center for Inquiry Send Joint Demand Letter to the Pentagon
In response to the recent incident at Fort Eustis in Virginia where soldiers were punished for not attending an Evangelical Christian concert, the MRFF wrote the following letter in defense of their Constitutional rights:
Dr. Robert M. Gates, Secretary
United States Department of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1400
Dear Secretary Gates,
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the Center for Inquiry (CFI)
write to express their serious concern regarding the Army’s apparent punishment of
soldiers at Fort Eustis, Virginia for declining to attend a recent Christian rock concert.
Several dozen soldiers at Fort Eustis allege that they were punished for declining to
attend an evangelical Christian rally at which the Christian rock band “BarlowGirl”
performed. The soldiers allege that the concert was part of their “Commanding General’s
Spiritual Fitness Concert Series,” a project organized by Maj. Gen. James E. Chambers.
To our knowledge, although the concert series has been billed as encompassing a broad
variety of religious perspectives, only evangelical Christian entertainers have participated
in the project to date.
The soldiers allege that they were ordered to return to their barracks and conduct
maintenance activities because they declined to attend the concert. One soldier told
MRFF that the dissenting soldiers included Catholics, Muslims and others who object to
the U.S. Military pressuring military personnel to engage in religious activities. The
soldier recounted the events as follows:
Those of us that chose not to attend (about 80, or a little less than half)
were marched back to the company area. At that point the NCO issued
us a punishment. We were to be on lock-down in the company (not
released from duty), could not go anywhere on post (no PX, no library,
etc). We were to go strictly to the barracks and contact maintenance. If
we were caught sitting in our rooms, in our beds, or having/handling
electronics (cell phones, laptops, games) and doing anything other than
maintenance, we would further have our weekend passes revoked and
continue barracks maintenance for the entirety of the weekend. At that
point the implied message was clear in my mind “we gave you a choice
to either satisfy us or disappoint us. Since you chose to disappoint us
you will now have your freedoms suspended and contact chores while
the rest of your buddies are enjoying a concert.”
If these allegations are true, the Army’s actions represent a clear violation of the soldiers’
religious liberty rights. Moreover, the fact that the religious concert series is organized at
the behest of military commanders raises serious concerns. It is legally impermissible for
the military command to organize a Christian concert, rally, or any other religious event.
Like the civilians they courageously protect, our military personnel hold a wide diversity
of religious beliefs. Military commanders have an obligation to defend the Constitution.
In part, this entails guaranteeing soldiers’ right to worship (or not worship) as they
choose, as well as ensuring that military commanders do not abuse their rank by
impermissibly imposing religion or their religious views on the troops they command.
We urge you to bring the military’s investigation of these incidents to a swift and just
resolution. Any military commanders involved in sponsoring or promoting religious
events, or in punishing soldiers for declining to attend them, should be disciplined sternly
and severely. We hope and expect that you will give the aggrieved soldiers’ serious
allegations the close attention they deserve.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to receiving your response.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein
President and Founder
Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Ronald A. Lindsay
President and CEO
Center for Inquiry
cc: President Barack Obama
Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Army Chief of Staff
Hon. John McHugh, Secretary of the Army
FOR BACKGROUND, SEE ALSO:
Attend Christian Concert or Else, Alan Kurtz http://www.seattlepi.com/pop/425710_142279-blogcritics.org.html
Fort Eustis concert sparks debate over mix of military, religion, Hugh Lessig http://articles.dailypress.com/2010-08-26/news/dp-nws-eustis-concert-20100826_1_fort-eustis-concert-soldiers
Go See the BarlowGirl Concert. Or Else . . . , Mark Moring http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctentertainment/2010/08/go-see-the-barlowgirl-concert-1.html
Obama administration: asleep on issue of religious coercion in the military?, James Besser http://www.thejewishweek.com/blogs/political_insider/obama_administration_asleep_issue_religious_coercion_military
Soldiers punished for not attending Christian concerts, Susan Campbell http://blogs.courant.com/susan_campbell/2010/08/soldiers-punished-for-not-atte.html