Lawsuit on alleged religious bias in U.S military widened
A lawsuit alleging religious bias, including mandatory participation in Christian prayers, against the U.S. Department of Defense was expanded this week, the latest twist in a story that probably won’t go away in 2009.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF) expanded lawsuit said the U.S. military was sanctioning Christian missionary activity with Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan — a highly sensitive issue in two predominantly Muslim countries where the United States is waging war.
We’ve blogged on this before — in September the MRFF said 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 was the second such case up by the MRFF.
In a statement this week the group said it was expanding its lawsuit “to include two additions regarding unsuccessful attempts by service members to resolve their complaints (about religious bias) through military channels.”
It further stated that it had added: “five new categories of examples showing the ‘pattern and practice”‘of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religion by the military.”
These included: “military-sanctioned missionary proselytizing of Iraqi and Afghan citizens, an official USAF sponsored evangelical motocross team ministry … and the unbridled Christian supremacy espoused in a U.S. Army suicide prevention program.”
Prayer and military events often coincide in the United States: for example prayers are often said at homecoming ceremonies when soldiers return from overseas tours.
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 Iraq and Afghanistan.
Department of Defense spokesperson Eileen Lainez said the department did not comment on pending lawsuits.
But the department says the following: “The Department of Defense does not endorse any one religion or religious organization, and provides free access of religion for all members of the military services … There are systems in place to provide a means to address and resolve any perceived unfair treatment on the basis of race, national origin, color, gender, and/or religious affiliation, or sexual harassment.”
With President George W. Bush, conservative U.S. evangelicals have had a friend and ally in the White House for almost eight years. It will be interesting to see how the administration of president-elect Barack Obama handles these kinds of issues after he assumes office in January.
(Photo credit: U.S. soldiers pause for a short prayer during a Christmas ceremony in Baghdad’s Sadr City December 25, 2008. REUTERS/Erik de Castro (IRAQ)P