The Wall Street Journal Covers Religious Bias at West Point

A few days ago, Jason Torpy wrote about a “strength of character” survey for the incoming class at the United States Military Academy. In attempting to determine the “personal strengths” of the cadets, West Point asked them to respond to statements as being on a scale from “like them” to “unlike them.” Most of the survey was what you’d expect — about creativity and resourcefulness and other important characteristics of leaders. Four of the questions, however, were about the depth and practice of religion and spirituality.

Now, the Wall Street Journal has picked up on the issue:

A watchdog group on Friday demanded that the U.S. Military Academy withdraw an online survey of cadets that asks about religion, claiming it violates their constitutional protections.

One cadet complained in an email to the [Military Religious Freedom Foundation] that there are “many others here at West Point who are being regularly and systematically degraded and marginalized by academy leadership for our lack of ‘chain of command-endorsed’ religious beliefs.” [MRFF president Mikey] Weinstein withheld the cadet’s name to protect his or her identity.

West Point’s director of public affairs, Lt. Col. Webster M. Wright III, said Friday the U.S. Military Academy was looking into the statements made in Weinstein’s letter.

And so is the Army Times:

The cadet told Army Times that officers and others routinely equate resiliency and leadership ability with religious devotion. As an avowedly secular person, he said he feels marginalized.

“I am not religious, but this does not mean I lack resilience or character,” the cadet said in a letter to Weinstein.

It’s great to see this sort of attention on the issue. After all, West Point just officially recognized the Secular Student Alliance as a club and acceptance for the non-theists in the military is growing — they need to continue to be pushed in the right direction.

About Kate Donovan

Kate is a junior studying psychology and human development at Northwestern University. She is the president of Northwestern's Secular Student Alliance and a writer at Teen Skepchick, Heresy Club, and various other places around the internet. Sometimes she sleeps.

  • cipher

    I hope you’re right. Frankly, I think all that will happen will be that their careers will be inexplicable derailed.

  • Stev84

    What they’re leaving out is that this isn’t just about those questions being asked, but that the description of that section of the questionnaire explicitly links religious belief to being a good leader by saying that they are “strengths” and something people find “desirable”.

  • rich h

    So, you’re in the middle of a firefight, and you look to your platoon leader for leadership, and rather than keeping his head, directing fire and generally acting like a leader…. he gets on his knees and prays for god to deliver them.

    THIS is what West Point wants in its leaders?

  • NewDawn2006

    Of course religion is something the military looks for in officers. Who better to follow without question?

  • Anonymous Atheist

    There are several great comments from Renee L. Ten Eyck on the Army Times article:

    ” not everyone is Christian, or religious. People who have different beliefs should not have yours forced on them. That freedom is what this country was founded on-freedom from persecution (remember the first settlers, who left Britain to escape religious persecution?). In addition, the Army is a federal institution, which is mandated to uphold the Constitution, including the FIRST Amendment (must be first because it was pretty important to the founding fathers) which is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Trust me, you don’t want the Army transforming into a dictatorial authority and telling you how to worship, like England did in those previous centuries by implementing a state religion and telling everyone what and how to worship. Christianity has so many denominations and variations in practice in belief, whose would you choose to be the state religion? Personally, when I was in the Army, I preferred to keep my spiritual beliefs personal, and to not be disrespected by dominant commanders (mostly Christian) who think that their way is the ONLY right way to belief and practice. ”

    ”  Furthermore, as a retired soldier and the wife of a soldier who has over 22 years, I attest to the blatant discrimination in the Army. And, as Lowell S. stated, these “optional” or voluntary things are not actually, in practice, optional. Commanders and other leaders have for decades ‘influenced’ soldiers to take quizzes, surveys, attend religious events, and even donate blood against their will. In addition, even institutional events like retirements and promotions and graduations always include a religious, almost always Christian, invocation, which is a blatant disregard for those present who may not be Christian. Personal prayers would be fine at these events, say, if, rather than an invocation they simply offered a moment of silence, or offered an “invocation” that was general and focused perhaps on gratitude rather than gods, but this is not the case ever, in my experience. It is also my experience that welfare activities that are often offered by the chaplains and other counselors, such as a couple’s or a family retreat, are not genuine and freely offered for the family. There is always an unstated religious agenda. I’ve told my husband that I will no longer participate in these free “family” events because the event is not actually “free;” the cost to non-Christians is that they are alienated and disrespected. ”

    ” as is stated in the WSJ article on this matter: “One cadet complained in an email to the foundation that there are “many others here at West Point who are being regularly and systematically degraded and marginalized by academy leadership for our lack of ‘chain of command-endorsed’ religious beliefs.” Weinstein withheld the cadet’s name to protect his or her identity.”  This means that, similar to the AFA [Air Force Academy], West Point is fostering an environment that is hostile to those whose beliefs differ from the command’s beliefs. Is this truly what you want tomorrow’s military leaders to experience while they’re in training to become leaders? That they can’t be who they are, that they are not truly training to uphold the First Amendment, or that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to them too? “