MSNBC and NPR cover mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker tests for Spiritual Fitness / Religion

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.


Click here to listen

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.

For example:

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?

YES.

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.

Spiritual Fitness Guide page 1

SPIRITUAL FITNESS GUIDE - Unit, Crest, Names, phone numbers redacted

However, it clearly explains exactly what the Spiritual Fitness concept is. That seems appropriate, given the title: Spiritual Fitness Guide. This guide is entirely based in religion. Which, as I said before, is not the problem. The problem comes from the MANDATORY Global Assessment Tool / Soldier Fitness Tracker which evaluates a soldier’s fitness using the Spiritual Fitness concept. Then the test insults atheists, and highly recommends mental therapy and hours of Spiritual Fitness training (also steeped in religion).

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’

For the full guide, click here.
(Warning, images may take a minute to load)

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?).

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About Justin Griffith
  • Rob

    SGT Griffith,

    I took the time to read through your blog. I apologize if this sounds harsh but you are living proof of the fact that atheists can be as small minded, legalistic and petty as the worst of fundamentalist Christians. That said, kudos to you for being decent enough to work X-mas for a friend.

    I disagree with your analysis of the Global Assessment Tool (GAT) and with your take on the GAT altogether. Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture here. In case you missed it, our fellow Soldiers are still killing themselves in record numbers. The Army is working overtime in trying to reduce the number of Soldier suicides and the GAT is one of the tools the leadership is using to identify potential trouble areas. I cannot speak for you, but as a Soldier, and human being in general, I’d say taking steps to reduce our suicide rate is both laudable and necessary. Yet you want to throw the entire test out over a handful of pretty innocuous questions that address spirituality?

    You scored low on the spirituality section. Well, no shit. Of course you would since, as you’ve said yourself, you don’t have any. No surprise there, right? So your take on this is that it means the Army is telling you that you aren’t fit to be a Soldier? Uh, that is absolutely not in fact the case. It’s more than a little disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

    Perhaps you disagree? How about the next time you’re in uniform you take a moment to look at your chest. Since you started this blog/your assorted protests you’ve been promoted to the grade of Sergeant. You’re now a Noncommissioned officer and a part of the “backbone” of the Army.
    Do we promote people based on their spiritual fitness or lack thereof? No. I would guarantee that you weren’t asked about God during your promotion board. Moreover, I would assume that no one in an official capacity has given you any crap, threatened to chapter you out or forced you to undergo any sort of additional training because of your GAT results. Nor is anyone forcing you into a pew either (because given the stridency of your complaints about something as minor as the GAT, I’m sure you’d have cried out about it long and loud if they even hinted about doing so). If and when they do, I will stand right there beside you to protest.

    As for the concert thing, I agree with you that the Army shouldn’t have overtly religious concerts on base (and I say this as a seminary student who is pursuing the chaplaincy). If they do have them, no one should be compelled to attend. You weren’t though, were you? I mean, I’m sorry you felt like you were…what exactly? Invited too much? Made too aware of it? If you don’t feel strong enough to resist/ignore e-mail invites or fliers…you know?

    Regardless, your group has been given permission to host an event specifically catered to atheists, which under the circumstances seems fair. Got to say though, I listened to the bands that are coming… I’d sooner hit myself in the face repeatedly with an e-tool than subject myself to that (but in their defense that goes double for the Christian bands). To each his or her own though. :-)

    Anyway, this is just my two cents. I wish blessings upon you and your family and best of luck to you in your career.

    Rob

    • Justin

      No offense taken, thank you for reading through. Though I think you skimmed a bit on the area where I clearly stated that the ‘unfit’ is implied from a Soldier FITNESS Tracker. That’s a huge slap in the face. I’ll respond anyway.

      I disagree with your analysis of the Global Assessment Tool (GAT) and with your take on the GAT altogether. Let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture here. In case you missed it, our fellow Soldiers are still killing themselves in record numbers.

      Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Religion has nothing to do with preventing suicide. If you took the religious and spiritual portions of the Spiritual Fitness test and training out of the SFT, you’d be left with an awkward video about haircuts being a spiritual ritual and suggestions to ‘listen to music’. Empty vacuous crap. Also, do you think that a depressed or battle-damaged atheist wants a slap in the face like that? No. My cousin shot himself while I was deployed, and he didn’t believe in god. Depression has nothing to do with Spiritual Fitness.

      I cannot speak for you, but as a Soldier, and human being in general, I’d say taking steps to reduce our suicide rate is both laudable and necessary.

      Of course!

      Yet you want to throw the entire test out over a handful of pretty innocuous questions that address spirituality?

      I have said over and over: Remove the spirituality part of the test. Not the whole test. And what do you mean innocuous?

      1) I am a spiritual person. 1 out of 5
      Have you read the Spiritual Fitness Guide that was mentioned in that article? It’s short. Read it.

      2) My life has LASTING meaning. 2 out of 5
      Abraham Lincoln = lasting
      His dad? Not so much.
      statistically, my life will not likely have lasting meaning. But it’s possible.

      3) I believe that in some way my life is CLOSELY connected to ALL humanity and all the world. 1 out of 5
      So you feel closely connected to all 6 billion of your closest friends? You realize that it is also pretty much the soldier’s job to kill parts of the humanity that he is supposedly closely connected to? This question is impossible to answer anything but 1 out of 5 in an intellectually honest way, no matter what your religious preference is.

      4) The job my partner is doing in the military has LASTING meaning. 2 out of 5
      See #2

      5) I often find comfort in my religion or spiritual beliefs. 1 out 5
      This is LITERALLY a violation of Article VI Para 3 of the constitution. Notice how the question also equates (correctly) ‘religion’ and ‘spiritual beliefs’.

      6) In difficult times I pray or meditate. 1 out of 5
      This is a more subtle version of the extremely offensive “There are no atheists in foxholes” myth that is repeated more often to my face than you would imagine.

      7) I attended Religious Services in the last 4 weeks. 1 out of 5
      This is LITERALLY a violation of Article VI Para 3 of the constitution.

      8) During the past four weeks I did something that utilized my Spirituality skills. 1 out of 10.
      Not innocuous.

      Next.

      You scored low on the spirituality section. Well, no shit. Of course you would since, as you’ve said yourself, you don’t have any. No surprise there, right? So your take on this is that it means the Army is telling you that you aren’t fit to be a Soldier? Uh, that is absolutely not in fact the case. It’s more than a little disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

      So if I perform poorly on the SOLDIER FITNESS Tracker, which is a mandatory requirement coming from the Comprehensive SOLDIER FITNESS department, it’s my fault for feeling that I’m being told that I’m UNFIT as a SOLDIER? It’s very easy to see why this implication comes through loud and clear. Listen, there are 220 others who have since come forward who feel the same way. 96% are Christians who feel like they ‘aren’t Christian enough’. I am not reaching here at all. It really does imply that I’m unfit as a soldier.

      How about the next time you’re in uniform you take a moment to look at your chest. Since you started this blog/your assorted protests you’ve been promoted to the grade of Sergeant. You’re now a Noncommissioned officer and a part of the “backbone” of the Army.

      Roger that. I’m looking around. Yes, I do feel the urge to stand up for what is right. I do feel empowered to speak for other soldiers who may not have come forward (220 and counting) without someone setting the example. Yes I am proud to defend the constitution, a document we both swore an oath to defend. I do feel like the backbone of the Army.

      Do we promote people based on their spiritual fitness or lack thereof? No. I would guarantee that you weren’t asked about God during your promotion board.

      Agreed. I never claimed this. What is your point?

      Moreover, I would assume that no one in an official capacity has given you any crap, threatened to chapter you out or forced you to undergo any sort of additional training because of your GAT results. Nor is anyone forcing you into a pew either (because given the stridency of your complaints about something as minor as the GAT, I’m sure you’d have cried out about it long and loud if they even hinted about doing so). If and when they do, I will stand right there beside you to protest.

      You are missing the point here. What are these GAT results being used for? To justify the allocation of money and resources for the various components of the GAT (Social, Emotional, Family, Spiritual). Do you get it? My results are directly lining the pockets of the Spiritual Fitness camp. Just about every atheist / agnostic / humanist soldier’s answers would do the same.

      You mention the concert, and being right there with me. Thank you for the solidarity there, but were you aware that the concert is part of the Spiritual Fitness initiative? As is the $30 million Spiritual Fitness Center (mega-church) on Fort Hood. As was the Christian Rock concert last May that 200 soldiers were FORCED to attend or be punished. As is the Spiritual Fitness Guide that I mentioned (you really really should read it). That’s what my answers are contributing to. That is total bullshit!

      As for the concert thing, I agree with you that the Army shouldn’t have overtly religious concerts on base

      Not just religious. Proselytizing. Their goal is to convert people from other faiths to their faith. Stated goal. That’s already against the Army’s regulations (and the constitution). I’m glad you agree here flat out, regardless of pressure to attend, these events are WRONG. I hate it when people assume that it’s okay because people aren’t being forced to go. I’m glad I wont have to explain this to you.

      If they do have them, no one should be compelled to attend. You weren’t though, were you? I mean, I’m sorry you felt like you were…what exactly? Invited too much? Made too aware of it? If you don’t feel strong enough to resist/ignore e-mail invites or fliers…you know?

      Swing and a miss. Damn.

      Thanks for the discussion Rob, I like when there is pleasant discourse between the opposing points of view. Keep checking back.


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