New evidence in military religious freedom case
This is from the Associated Press today:By JOHN MILBURN Associated Press Writer TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – A religious freedom foundation has uncovered evidence it says bolsters its federal lawsuit claiming that the military is permitting widespread violations of religious freedom at installations across the country, including Fort Riley.The evidence is part of a lawsuit filed by Army Spc. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation against Maj. Freddy J. Welborne and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.The evidence disclosed Tuesday includes several photos and videos of religious materials and activities at Fort Riley, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fort Jackson, S.C.Examples at Fort Riley, where Hall is stationed, included a display outside his military police battalion’s office with a quote from conservative columnist Ann Coulter saying, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Another photo from Fort Riley shows the book “A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” for sale at the post exchange.”These astonishing and saddening evidence which our foundation is making public today only further buttress our lawsuit filed in federal district court,” said Mike Weinstein, an attorney in Albuquerque, N.M., and president of the foundation who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1977.”The theme of that lawsuit, which we will show the federal judiciary, is a pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of massive constitutional violations by the U.S. military command structure of the most basic constitutional religious freedoms guaranteed to our honorable and noble sailors, soldiers, Marines and airmen,” Weinstein said.Fort Riley spokesman Maj. Nathan Bond said the matter was being referred to post commanders for investigation. He said it is the Army’s policy to accommodate all religious beliefs to the extent they don’t conflict with military missions.”We do take this seriously,” Bond said. “The things you have mentioned to me, if they are true, do not seem in line with the Army values of respect, and we will look into it.”The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., in September, alleges that Welborne threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his reenlistment for trying to hold a meeting of atheists and non-Christians in Iraq.Hall was serving his second tour in Iraq and has since returned to the United States. He is with the 97th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Riley.The suit also alleges Gates permits a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs. It also alleges Gates allows a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations, including providing personnel and equipment.It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.The Pentagon has said that the military values and respects religious freedoms but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.Evidence Weinstein made public Tuesday included a video, reportedly from Campus Crusade for Christ International, that shows Air Force cadets participating in religious gatherings at the Colorado installation. In interviews, cadets are interviewed say the ministry allows them to network and combat the isolation that they feel once the arrive as freshmen.Weinstein also said that Military Ministry, part of Campus Crusade for Christ International, was active at Fort Jackson with an effort called “God’s Basic Training.” Included in the evidence were photographs of soldiers posing with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other.Weinstein said the materials for the ministry’s Bible studies teach soldiers that the U.S. military and government are instruments to spread the word of God.A spokeswoman for Campus Crusade for Christ International said officials with the ministry hadn’t had a chance to review the evidence and declined to comment.Weinstein has previously sued the Air Force for acts he said illegally imposed Christianity on its students at the academy. A federal judge threw out that lawsuit in 2006.