You may have read a number of stories about Jeremy Hall, a military atheist who filed a lawsuit that was unsuccessful. He spoke about his experiences at last year’s Freedom From Religion Foundation convention — the speech is now available online:
… The first time [my atheism] ever became an issue was Thanksgiving 2006. I was with a bunch of soldiers, and there were non-commissioned officers at that table. I had been invited to this table and had accepted their invite, sat down with them, had my tray in front of me, a little Mountain Dew, turkey and trimmings — all freeze-dried, I’m sure. Then one of the soldiers offered a prayer. Well, coming from a religious family, I knew the etiquette. I waited until they were done. That was my intention.
When I didn’t hold hands to the left and right of me, I was asked “Why?” by the senior non-commissioned officer sitting with us. I replied, “I’m an atheist, Sergeant.” He wanted to know what that was. I elaborated and said, “Well, it means, in a nutshell, I don’t believe in God, and it means I don’t pray.”
This really offended him. He said, and I quote, “Well, you can just sit somewhere else, then.”
I still stumble on that, because I have never experienced discrimination. I’m a white guy from the South — come on! So, I really did not know how to handle it. Actually, it was a Mormon soldier that took up for me. And I respect her for that, because she herself had gotten lots of flak for her non-mainstream religion in the military.
It only got worse when Hall tried to have a meeting for other atheists in the military:
I had my atheist meeting. I had it all set up… I had permission from the Chaplaincy, and the Garrison commander. Okay, I’m good, right?
No. No, not good. Major Freddy Welborne saw one of my flyers on a bus stop. So he comes by. At first, I’m pretty excited to see a field-grade officer at my meeting. I think this is pretty cool. I’m like, wow, neat. Okay, I’m not alone. There’s someone up in rank, too. So I felt comfortable.
Well, that didn’t last long. The first words out of his mouth, more or less, were: “In the dictionary, atheist is defined as ‘someone who does not believe in God, but also has no morals.’” Now, I don’t know what dictionary he’s talking about, but I called BS on him, which in turn tee’ed him off. But I was respectful, you know, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” position of attention, parade rest, all that.
Well, some soldiers went out to go smoke, and they came back, and we had to move out of the area we were in originally because the karaoke was starting. So we moved to the library, and Welborne starts going off about how we’re wrong. And okay, I can have a difference of opinion, I can have a debate. But when you use your military rank to hold me at the position of attention, and to “at ease” my mouth, and you’re telling me that Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 134, to be specific, can be used against me because I’m having a meeting of atheists and freethinkers, that I am disgracing all those who fought and died for the Constitution by holding a meeting such as this?
How upsetting that anyone fighting for our country has to deal with this shit. Thanks to Jeremy for bringing his experiences to our attention.
You can read the rest of his story in Freethought Today.