Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Military and Atheism


According to CNN, Army Specialist Jeremy Hall is suing the U.S. for religious discrimination, naming Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the lawsuit. CNN states that "The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall's allegations."

Hall's case is currently being aided by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. According to the foundation:

All branches of the United States military are afforded the same rights to religious freedom as are American civilians. However, members of the Armed Forces willingly surrender on a temporary basis certain free exercise rights when it impinges on military discipline and the successful completion of a military objective. This guarantee of religious freedom is codified for the Armed Forces in Title 10, United States Code (USC), sections 3073, 3547, 5142, and 8067. Free exercise of religious freedom for military personnel is further detailed in Department of Defense Directive (DODD) 1300.17, “Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services,” which describes the commander’s responsibility to provide for religious accommodation.


I think the gray area in this case is a soldiers "willingly surrender on a temporary basis certain free exercise rights when it impinges on military discipline and the successful completion of a military objective." In other words: military first, religion second.

2 comments:

Steve Gimbel said...

I think the gray area in this case is a soldiers "willingly surrender on a temporary basis certain free exercise rights when it impinges on military discipline and the successful completion of a military objective."

I'm wondering where is the "impinging on military discipline" in talking about not believing in a magical invisible man in the sky?

jfinnell said...

Good question. The only two defenses I can see the military using are: 1.) the discipline clause or 2.) that atheism is not a religion.

In case of discipline, they would have to show that Hall was somehow being insubordinate to his superior officer and that his atheism group was an extension of this behavior. I have a feeling that this is the defense they will mount.

In the harder case, they would have to make a statement about atheism not being a religion. A rather bold defense since The Supreme Court has said a religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being. In the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the court described Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, and Secular Humanism as a religion.