U.S. soldier sues over mandatory Christian prayers
A non-religious Kansas soldier is suing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to attend military events where “fundamentalist Christian prayers” were recited.
Specialist Dustin Chalker’s cause has been taken up by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is joining him in the suit.
The MRFF said in a statement that Chalker, a decorated Iraq war veteran stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, “was forced to attend three events in late 2007 and in 2008 at which the battalion chaplain … delivered sectarian Christian prayers”.
“Being nonreligious, Chalker objected … and asked to be excused from the events. The requests to be excused were denied. After the denials, Chalker was forced to attend other events with sectarian Christian prayers.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Kansas last week, seeks an injunction to prevent such sectarian prayers from being delivered at mandatory military events.
It is the second such suit filed by MRFF and the other is still pending in a federal court. A spokesman at the Department of Justice, which is expected to defend the Department of Defence, said it had not been served with the papers yet.
Prayer and military events often coincide in the United States. Prayers are often evoked at homecoming ceremonies when soldiers return from overseas tours; off base, civilian events such as rodeos often feature marching soldiers and prayers.
Some activist groups such as the MRFF say evangelical Christianity is being promoted in the U.S. military through peer pressure, calls to prayer and other means.
Critics say this violates the separation of Church and state and creates a potential diplomatic minefield with U.S. forces waging wars in two Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Department of Defense’s watchdog has in the past taken action on the issue, for example when it chastised a U.S. army general a few years ago for making speeches in which he described the “war on terror” as a Christian battle against Satan.