Religious discrimination in the US Military (specifically Christian preference) is usually a sly, covert, undercurrent-type thing, but it does have blatant episodes – Christian soldiers proselytizing in the Middle-East, rifles with Biblical inscriptions, and numerous reports of non-Christian soldiers being treated revoltingly because of their religious beliefs. Here’s another such story: A group of US Army soldiers in Virginia were offered the choice of attending a Christian concert, but those who refused to attend were then punished in a blindingly discriminatory manner.
Chris Rodda from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) offers some background:
For the past several years, two U.S. Army posts in Virginia, Fort Eustis and Fort Lee, have been putting on a series of what are called Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concerts. As I've written in a number of other posts, "spiritual fitness" is just the military's new term for promoting religion, particularly evangelical Christianity. And this concert series is no different.
On May 13, 2010, about eighty soldiers, stationed at Fort Eustis while attending a training course, were punished for opting out of attending one of these Christian concerts. The headliner at this concert was a Christian rock band called BarlowGirl, a band that describes itself as taking "an aggressive, almost warrior-like stance when it comes to spreading the gospel and serving God."
Secular military, indeed. And, knowing what passes for music in Christian groups, it would seem their taste in music is as decent as their knowledge of the law. Several letters were sent to the MRFF from soldiers who described just what happened to those who weren’t keen on suffering through preachy Christian pop-rock:
"The week prior to the event the [unit name and NCO's name withheld] informed us of a Christian rock event that was about to take place on Thursday the 13th.
"On Thursday 13th at 1730 we were informed that instead of being dismissed for the day, the entire company (about 250 soldiers) would march as a whole to the event. Not only that, but to make sure that everyone is present we were prohibited from going back to the barracks (to eliminate the off chance that some might 'hide' in their rooms and not come back down).
"We were marched as a whole to chow and were instructed to reform outside the dining facility. A number of soldiers were disappointed and restless. Several of us were of different faith or belief. A couple were particularly offended (being of Muslim faith) and started considering to disobey the order.
"From the dining facility we were marched back to the company area. There was a rumor circulating that we may be given a choice later on to fall out or attend. Though it was only a rumor it was also a small hope enough to allow us to follow along a little longer before choosing to become disobedient. We were marched back to the company area. To our dismay there was still no sign of as having a choice.
"We started marching to the theater. At that point two Muslim soldiers fell out of formation on their own. Student leadership tried to convince them to fall back in and that a choice will be presented to us once we reach the theater.
"At the theater we were instructed to split in two groups; those that want to attend versus those that don't. At that point what crossed my mind is the fact that being given an option so late in the game implies that the leadership is attempting to make a point about its intention. The 'body language' was suggesting that 'we marched you here as a group to give you a clue that we really want you to attend (we tilt the table and expect you to roll in our direction), now we give you the choice to either satisfy us or disappoint us.' A number of soldiers seemed to notice these clues and sullenly volunteered for the concert in fear of possible consequences.
"Those of us that chose not to attend (about 80, or a little less that 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 to 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.'
"At that evening, nine of us chose to pursue an EO complaint. I was surprised to find out that a couple of the most offended soldiers were actually Christian themselves (Catholic). One of them was grown as a child in Cuba and this incident enraged him particularly as it brought memories of oppression."
Another account from another soldier who didn’t attend explains that many who did attend the concert only did so because they felt pressured and found it suspicious that they’d be marched back to the barracks when they’d already left for the concert.
But, hey, it’s not like this sort of behavior is running rampant through the US armed forces, right?