Last Week, Keith Olberman of MSNBC, contacted me for an interview regarding the Soldier Fitness Tracker controversy. This kind of national visibility is exactly what this test for religion needs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be cleared by my Public Affairs Office (PAO) in time for the intense time constraints of their production deadline. However, Rock Beyond Belief speaker, and Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) President and Founder, Mikey Weinstein was able to hook up with Keith in this segment:
Now that I am cleared by my PAO, and receiving a lot of support from everyone at my command, I can respond to all of the media requests that have started to come in. Keith Olberman’s producers have approached me for a follow up segment, to air when the news-cycle returns to normalcy after the awful tragedy in Arizona. Mikey did a fantastic job all by himself, and I hope this story gets a lot more press. If any media personnel want to interview me about this, please contact me using the contact form, and I’ll get you in touch with my PAO.
Yesterday, I was on the radio talking about the story in an all too brief segment. National Public Radio’s Religious Correspondent, Barbara Bradley Hagerty interviewed me for about 30 minutes. The segment that aired was only 4 minutes long, but I think it touched on a lot of the basics.
I felt that the vast majority of this story was left on the cutting room floor, but that’s how the news works. Sometimes even when the answer is clear-cut, today’s journalists are dead set on getting both ‘sides’ of the issue.
“If [Spiritual Fitness] were pushing people to engage in religious experience, that would be the slam-dunk that Mr. Weinstein talked about,” says professor Robert Tuttle at George Washington University Law School. “But it’s not.“
I can’t possibly disagree any more. First of all, at least half of the ‘Spiritual’ questions on the test specifically ask about religion and religious ideas. That’s unconstitutional right there. This is before we even get to the training / results screen.
Is the Spiritual Fitness concept pushing people to engage in religious experience?
I’d like to point out the Spiritual Fitness Guide that my unit published. This guide is not mandatory for soldiers to read, or even notice, though it is plainly available in every building that I’ve been in attached to the unit (several). I have no problem with this document existing, or being widely available. It’s probably helpful to many religious soldiers, especially Christians.
Let’s explore this guide together.
Total Pages: 68
Number of Pages that don’t mention ‘God’ : 4 *
Number of Pages that mention God, religious prayer, and/or souls: 64
Number of Pages that give specific Bible verses: 31
Number of Pages that give specific verses from non-Biblical Holy Books: 0
Number of specific Bible verses quoted: 72
*= including the blank inside cover, and the page that says ‘this page intentionally left blank’
NPR’s counter-expert, Mr. Tuttle, hasn’t reviewed the material objectively, or hasn’t reviewed all of the material. And he certainly isn’t reviewing the GAT/SFT from the point of view of a Soldier. Soldiers know exactly what Spiritual Fitness means. It means ‘Religion’ ‘Chaplains’ ‘Prayer’. All of which are fine except when you are using those concepts to create mandatory tests for soldiers on their overall / comprehensive fitness.
Tuttle reviewed the material and says there are a couple of things — such as the flag-folding description — that are overtly religious. In fact, that portion was recently removed. But Tuttle says the Army is offering coping skills and overall it is not favoring one religion over another, or religion per se. And remember, he says, courts give a lot of deference to the military.
That was removed in the last few days for some reason. Hmmmm. That is one promising move, actually. It means that my fellow foxhole atheists can stand up when they see the lines being crossed and make an immediate difference. I broke this story 3 weeks ago, and we are already seeing change! This tiny change is one of a hundred or so that need to be made to the training, not to mention scrapping the test. 1 down, 99 to go.
Soldier. Fitness. Tracker. The implications are obvious, and offensive. It measures Emotional + Family + Social + Spiritual aspects of a fit Soldier. I am 100% fit as a Soldier, even though I’m an atheist. I’m not 75% fit, and it’s a slap in the face to even imply that.
Not to mention, my anonymous answers seem to be being used as justification to allocate money and/or resources to improve the Army’s Spiritual Fitness training capabilities (otherwise, why even collect this data if you aren’t going to use it?).