SPC Jeremy Hall: Atheist With A Mission

Posted: January 2, 2008 in ACLU, atheism, Celebrating Diversity, Christianity, Military, Politics, Religion, War

This wasn’t really the article with which I planned to start off the New Year, but it would seem that SPC Jeremy Hall himself (about whom I’ve blogged in the past) has been posting some comments to one of those blarticles.   Which, if you must know, I think is pretty dang cool.  A celebrity. Posting.  On MY site. Suhhhweet!

Anyway, he was kind enough to provide a link to the actual lawsuit being filed on his behalf against Maj Freddy Welborn and Secretary of Defense Gates by the “Military Religious Freedom Foundation”  (the name of which becomes a bit of a non-sequitor once you’ve read some of the rhetoric on the site).

Having now read the details of the complaint (which I encourage you to do, as this post will make a lot more sense), I felt obligated to follow up my early posts.  Which, I will freely admit, were heavy on the snark, bile and sarcasm, and rather short on actual thoughtful analysis or objectivity.  For the sake of argument however, I will address this post to SPC Hall, I the hopes that he might respond.

For starters, the complaint breaks down right about para. 13, which states.:

Plaintiffs allege that defendant Welborn’s exercise of authority and conduct in disrupting the above-mentioned meeting and making threats against plaintiff Hall was done under the color of United States law (my emphasis).

Please provide what reference, what regulation, which article of the UCMJ or other official military policy manual requires, endorses, promotes or condones the actions of Maj Welborn in this case?  Your attempts to expand the actions of one grossly misguided individual to a formal military/government litmus test for service is simply ludicrous.  If these charges are true, and since I have no evidence to the contrary I will assume that they are, then Welborn was a loose cannon who had lost perspective and was abusing his authority to promote a personal crusade.   He was not carrying out the wishes or orders of his command, or Sec. Gates, either implicitly or explicitly.  So while his actions as a Commissioned Officer in the military might have legal weight in many contexts, his orders and actions in this case were not lawful.

And I’m not getting the part about “Constitutionally Impermissible.”  Where in the Constitution does it make impermissible most of the items listed in para. 14 of your complaint?  The so-called “establishment clause” of the Constitution prohibits the establishment of ANY LAW “respecting an establishment of religion or (as often gets omitted) prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Notice that is quite clearly does not specify any one religion. No one religious view or dogma is singled out — it applies to all equally.   It certainly does not prohibit (or promote) any activities related to the Christian religion…although this seems to the primary context in which this statement usually gets invoked. 

So let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that the First Amendment DOES forbid the “promotion or endorsement” of religious practices by government organizations.  If the government is forced to prevent the “promotion” of religious views on any public or government-owned property, then wouldn’t your posting of fliers around the FOB have been an impermissible promotion of a private/religious organization?

By your logic, in order to be completely fair, the military would have to restrict or prevent ALL FORMS OF RELIGIOUS EXPRESSION.  So your idea of preserving rights is to deny those rights to everyone? That does seem to be at the heart of a lot of this “diversity” stuff that gets dished out — to make sure no one gets offended, everyone just needs to keep quiet.  Perfect diversity is only achievable if no one commits to anything which might potentially offend.  In other words, no views at all.  Silence – the great equalizer.

Therein lies the fundamental logic error present in so much of this “separation of church and state” kind of rhetoric; that being the distinction between allowing, promoting, requiring and establishing.

Simply allowing religious activities does not equate to endorsing, promoting or requiring those views.  If that were true, then the views and bylaws of every group that was “allowed” to use a public park, a school gymnasium, or a public library conference room could said to be condoned or endorsed by “The State,” right?  Does permitting a Buddhist group to practice Tai Chi in a public park in the mornings mean that the City Council or Department of Public Works is implicitly promoting and condoning everything in which that group believes?  Does letting the local chapter of the GLSEN use the school library after hours mean that the school board is trying to promote homosexuality to its students or is part of some conspiratorial move to require everyone to become a homosexual?  Of course not.  It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? 

The Constitution requires that I allow, that I permit these activities, whether or not I like them, agree with them, or want them to exist.  I cannot deny them that right.  In the interests of fairness, I am required to provide an environment wherein they may freely assemble.

So then why does permitting religious organizations to use military facilities have to equate to a government endorsement of that religion’s views?  Does providing facilitation for the practice of religious beliefs have to, by-definition, equate to promoting those beliefs?  Does spending taxpayer dollars to train and pay for military chaplains to minister to the spiritual needs of the men and women in service really, to any reasonable viewpoint, mean that the military as a whole makes a profession of such beliefs a prerequisite for enlistment or advancement?  Not even close.

The military does require that you list your religious preference on your dog tags. However, you can —  without fear of retribution — put “no preference” or “none.”  They’ve even gone so far as to break it down to denominations within the faiths. Why?  Part of it (I’m sure) is just plain demographic survey info, but part of it is also so that they can provide for specific religious needs/desires with respect to funerary rights, etc.  The military has gone out of its way in so many areas to ensure that the spiritual needs of its members are addressed and respected.

My next question is this, SPC Hall:  Where did you hold your meeting?  In what facility?  Who financed and built that facility?  Did not the military chaplain actively facilitate and enable you to hold the meeting?  If so, did those actions not equate to a comparable promotion or “endorsement” of YOUR religious views by the very military establishment you now seek to censure? 

You cannot invoke the establishment clause and then in turn insist that it doesn’t apply to you because your group isn’t “religious.”  Unitarian Universalists, Wiccans, and other groups qualify as religious groups for legal purposes, despite that fact that they don’t invoke a specific deity.  Therefore, by extension your group of atheists, anti-theists, free-thinkers, secular humanists or whatever should be placed in the same legal category as other faith-based groups for purposes of the First Amendment.  Which means that (if successful) this lawsuit would also abrogate YOUR ability to meet freely or to use “government” facilities for your club, right?  I believe that’s what we call a “self-inflicted wound.”

By making this complaint in the context which you’ve chosen, you are making the actions of the Chaplain who helped you equally as impermissible as the actions of Freddy Welborn.  By supporting/permitting (and by your logic, therefore condoning) your activities, the chaplain engaged in a “Constitutionally impermissible” promotion of a religious view.  It may not have been a traditional theist view, but your group’s “views with respect to religion” would probably still place them in the same category in a court of law, wouldn’t it?

Given what I’ve read, and based on the views I’ve presented here,  I would say that yes, SPC Jeremy Hall, you WERE quite clearly and obviously denied your rights, were subject to undue command influence, and have solid cause for redress.  However, these rights were denied by Maj Welborn, not by Sec. Gates or the US Military; and as such, he should be the sole defendant in your complaint.  The fact that he is not, that you’ve chosen to roll it all up into a larger “Michael Newdow-ish” sort of issue makes it hard to believe that this lawsuit is not so much about ensuring equality, as it is about gaining retribution, plain and simple.

One more question:  Did you first try to file charges for discrimination or harrassment against Maj Welborn via the military legal system?  

  1. no thanx says:

    Pretty much from what I could stomach of your tripe, you are just a frustrated individual who has no understanding of the military culture.

    Providing a meeting place does not constitute endorsement of a religion/belief. Military chapels are open to ALL faiths and are frequently used for meetings based on availability/seating.

    An individual, in this case Maj Welborne, does NOT have the right to force their point of religious view on anyone.

    Get a life.

  2. Steve B says:

    Cleary, you didn’t actually read the post, because in it, I agree with everything you said.

    No understanding of the military culture? Try almost 20 years of service, both active and reserve, to include three overseas deployments, one of them combat.

    And you?

  3. Yea, I ran into people like this in the Army, I am interested in his MOS. Clearly this man (possible retread). should not have honor of wearing the uniform, I agree that he should have stuck with pursuing this through the military, and by not, showing that he is a pawn to a larger cause.

    So sayeth the Impaler!

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