Separation of church and Army?

Few Clues To Motive Remain In Apartment Of Alleged Ft. Hood Gunman

I have a friend who is an Army doctor. Turns out he knew Major Nidal Hasan back when they started school together. I asked him if he was surprised to find his former classmate accused of killing 13 Fort Hood soldiers. He told me that while he was completely shocked — as were all the other colleagues who knew him years ago — the ones who had continued their studies with him or who had worked with him more recently were in no way shocked. Apparently they felt that he’d become completely radicalized.

The Boston Globe got a look at previously undisclosed reports that says Hasan transformed from a “bright prospect in the Army’s medical corps to a loner with increasingly extremist views.” And the Army was aware of Hasan’s extreme views but overlooked them because of diversity goals:

Army superiors were warned about the radicalization of Major Nidal Malik Hasan years before he allegedly massacred 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, but did not act in part because they valued the rare diversity of having a Muslim psychiatrist, military investigators wrote in previously undisclosed reports.

An obvious “problem child” spouting extremist views, Hasan made numerous statements that were not protected by the First Amendment and were grounds for discharge by violating his military oath, investigators found.

This isn’t a completely new story — there have been other reports that Hasan had defended suicide bombings, tried to convert his patients and believed that Islamic law took priority over the Constitution. The picture above, incidentally, is the prayer rug Hasan left behind in his Texas apartment.

This story adds a few more details, supporting the idea that the Army was completely aware that Hasan was deficient as an officer but overlooked the problems because of political considerations. What’s more, apparently, his supervisors felt that Hasan was valuable for informing the Army about Islamic culture as it relates to current conflicts.

In one flagged situation, Hasan gave a presentation on the Islamic perspective on the War on Terrorism:

But the presentation was “shut down” by the instructor because Hasan appeared to be defending terrorism. Witnesses told investigators that Hasan became visibly upset as a result.

“The students reported his statements to superior officers, who took no action on the basis that Major Hasan’s statements were protected by the First Amendment,” the investigation found. “They did not counsel Hasan and consider administrative action, even though not all protected speech is compatible with continued military service.”

It added: “Soldiers have rights under the First Amendment, but they are not the same rights as civilians. . . . [T]hese statements violated the Army . . . standard to hold a security clearance.”

Okay, so this is the second time in the story that we learn that soldiers don’t have unabridged First Amendment rights. I have no doubt that’s true, but I’m completely confused as to where and how the Army draws the line. Specifically how did Hasan violate standards? I assume that evangelism is not completely banned in the military — even if broadly proscribed. I assume that soldiers can believe that God comes first in terms of who they report to — with the understanding that people whose religion is completely in conflict with military ideals should not serve. I guess I just want some help understanding how the Army understands soldiers’ First Amendment rights and a look at how that might play out for adherents with varying religiosity.

There’s a hint that it comes down to stated loyalties and whether those loyalties are compatible with continued military service. Hasan wondered if he could qualify for conscientious objector status. But while he opposed the war in Iraq, he was fine (in 2006) with the war in Afghanistan, so his religious views didn’t appear to conflict with all combat, even combat againts Muslims. But the problem got worse:

“[H]e exhibited a single-minded fascination with religion that was inappropriate for an Army officer and one that intensified over time,” the investigators concluded.

I don’t think you’ll find many folks disagreeing with that analysis — particularly in hindsight. But again, I’d like to know more about how the regulations identify “single-minded fascination.” The answer not only protects those Muslims who would never kill their fellow soldiers but all devout soldiers.

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  • MattK

    “I’m completely confused as to where and how the Army draws the line.”

    Its been more than 20 years but the briefing I received in Army basic training included the following: Soldiers are not allowed to disparage the President, the government, the Constitution, the Army, or superior officers. Nor are they allowed to advocate political violence, anarchism, or Communism.

  • northcoast

    Shouldn’t the first question have been about how this guy could be a therapist to soldiers returning from conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan? Free speech does not stop at the gate to the fort, but rights of petition and assembly are limited for those in uniform. In practice, I think that medical professionals have more freedom than other officers.

  • Will

    I wonder too, as from my experience “single-minded fascination” seems to mean something like “Talking about It outside the one-hour a week timeslot.”

    As Chesterton said, one would think that religious freedom means everyone is free to discuss religion, but in practice it seems to mean that hardly anyone is free to mention it.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Whether “Single-minded fascination with religion” is constructive or destructive may very well depend on the religion that is being acted out (but for diversity’s sake we must not deeply analyze). St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day all had that “single-minded fascination”–but the media virtually never puts it that way when covering positive, constructive religious believers who are Catholic or Christian. A Moslem–in the name of his religion–wildly kills and all religions get the blame in the media. Communists and atheists kill 10′s of millions in the 20th Century and the concept of a godless. heartless atheist world devoid of the concept of the God-given sacredness of human life gets a pass in the media.

  • Nancy Reyes

    One: you can be disciplined for “unprofessional conduct” if your remarks to other staff members are inappropriate (this is broad enough to include a pattern of religious intimidation or even dirty jokes).

    Two: Preaching to patients is a no no, even if it is in your time off…when I worked in the IHS (Indian Health Service) we stopped the contract of one good MD who spent his spare time preaching to our patients and giving out bibles to them. Because he was a doctor, they were too polite to say no…

    Being an officer and a physician means he is using his position to coerce people who he outranks.

    On the other hand, as a physician, you can discuss religion, especially for psycho social problems or substance abuse: but in the context of the patient’s religion.

    There are news reports where Born again christians go over the line: Hassan’s behavior has to be compared to them.

  • Price Freedom

    Islam is more a political ideology than a religion. It is closer to other totalitarian doctrines of world domination such as communism. It has been discussed by Bertrand Russell, published in 1920, which compared emerging Bolshevism to Islam. Russell had noted in his “The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism,” (London, 1920), pp. 5, 114-115:

    “Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam… Those who accept Bolshevism become impervious to scientific evidence, and commit intellectual suicide. Even if all the doctrines of Bolshevism were true, this would still be the case, since no unbiased examination of them is tolerated…Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism [Islam] rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.”

    Your comment about the “useful idiots” who allow people such as Major Hassan to thrive in the US Army is spot on. I have more about such “useful idiots” here: “Useful idiots” What does the phrase mean?

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The US Supreme Court has issued several opinons over the years that confirm that the constitutional rights of military members are circumscribed by what is judged to be a military necessity, and the armed forces are given borad discretion in deciding what is “a military necessity”. For example, wearing armbands or headbands or hats or T-shirts with messages is generally considered a protected First Amendment free speech matter, but military members are required to obey regulations concerning uniforms and uniform hair and jewelry standards. So no nose rings, no earrings for men, restrictions on hair length and beards and mustaches, no knives or turbans for Sikhs, etc.

    It is a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to openly criticize the President and superior officers. Gathering signatures for a petition and most kinds of political activism are banned. Use of one’s position of authority to promote political or religious views is seen as an abuse of authority, as distinct from having a conversation with one’s peers about either topic. It is prohibited to wear the uniform in a political meeting where it might be considered an endorsement by the military of a party or candidate. On the other hand, wearing one’s uniform at church is OK.

    Restrictions on speech and religion in the military are not general prohibitions, but come up in the context of regulations that address specific abuses, like coercion of a subordinate, or implying military endorsement of particular views or beliefs, or when speech threatens to undermine unity and discipline.

    This is one of the reasons why the objections to open homosexual conduct in the military are off base. Soldiers are limited in all sorts of activities in ways that civilians are never restricted, because the structure of rank and authority can shade so easily into coercion and the DENIAL of freedom to subordinates, including when a commander proselytes a viewpoint to the people he or she commands and might send to their deaths. The nature of homosexual conduct, especially its tendency to indiscriminate promiscuity, makes it incompatible with the desire of most military members to be free of such approaches, especially from any superior officer.

    The kinds of statements made by Major Hasan clearly were insubordinate and undermined military unity and discipline and morale. He should have been discharged a long time ago. If he was mentally ill, why didn’t any of his colleagues and peers in psychiatry and psychology notice it and take action? If they could not identify his potential for violence, what good are they?

  • Richard

    The Army runs on “good order and discipline.” There isn’t a bright line, but when speech puts this in jeopardy, a commander can step in and impose discipline.