For over 5 years, Soldiers punished for not attending evangelical concerts

Jason C. writes:

I was in AIT at Fort Eustis,VA in 2003 and the drill sergeants tried to force everyone to go to a Christian evangelical rock concert . After I spoke up to our platoon leader he brought up to the drill sergeant that some people were not Christian. Everyone was forced to toe the line to pull out our dog tags and show our religious affiliation we had on the tags.

Even when I had No Religious Preference on my tags I was questioned and required to tell him I was an atheist . I really didn’t care since I wasn’t ashamed. But even some Christians who had No Religious Preference on their tags were forced to go to the religious event even though they didn’t want to.

The soldiers who were not Christians were forced to buff the floors and clean the barracks. Once all of the soldiers returned from the concert they were not required to help buff the floors.. After that, a lot of Christian soldiers went to the Post Exchange and ordered new dog tags with no religious preference inscribed to avoid future compulsory religion services.

Usually whenever there was a Christian evangelical function, the drill sergeants would ask for volunteers. Out of the 400 or so soldiers, about 60-80 would volunteer and many of them said they only volunteered because they knew they would be forced to go when the drill sergeants saw that so few volunteered to attend.

Last I heard the same unit got a lawsuit filed against them.

Yes, Jason, you are absolutely right. And the mainstream media barely touched it. Here is an excellent bit of coverage from RTTV


The problem is, RTTV  is a Russian television station. Though there are English language start-ups in specialty markets, this is not the kind of exposure necessary to fight a thoroughly broken system. This is completely fucked.

From what I remember, the case took years to process and they finally ended up giving a single E-7 a slap on the wrist. No punishment for the officers that orchestrated this, and perpetuated this for at least five years, now. Yours is by far the earliest report I’ve heard of so far. I think this even predates Mikey Weinstein’s formation of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (the lawyer you see in the video above).

Just so you know, the upcoming Rock Beyond Belief festival is in direct response to yet another Spiritual Fitness concert. Luckily the officials at Fort Bragg did not make it compulsory, which I suspect may be largely because this is not an AIT/Boot camp setting.

Aside from forced attendance, the biggest problem is that these on-post concerts are specifically aimed at converting soldiers (and their children) to evangelical Christianity – a goal not mirrored by our festival. We think people are fine just the way they are. Anyone can come enjoy a full day of music and speakers (including Richard Dawkins) on 31 March 2012. Even if you respectfully disagree with everything you hear, you might enjoy the opportunity to meet these ‘famous atheists’ and perhaps get in a question or two.

Spiritual Fitness as a concept is a non-starter, and has no place in the Government. Now that they’ve started mandatory suicide prevention Spiritual Fitness testing, and mandatory remedial spiritual training… we need help. This stuff is out of control.

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  • F

    From what I remember, the case took years to process and they finally ended up giving a single E-7 a slap on the wrist. No punishment for the officers that orchestrated this, and perpetuated this for at least five years, now.

    The institutional support of religious indoctrination is bad enough, but this is also typical of how the military handles just about anything. You really have two separate but overlapping problems to fight here.

  • Unfortunately, I completely agree there. Two separate problems. Still worth pointing out, though.

  • The case where the sergeant (I think he was an E-6) was used as the scapegoat, but only got a slap on the wrist, was actually just last year.

    I wrote about it here:

  • Justin Miller

    Justin, I’m not sure if this is what you used my quote for awhile back-it may have been Mikey Weinstein-but they did the same thing to us when I was in basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood. Basically, there was a free day away event, and they said we didn’t have to go to the church service if we wanted to do it. We all lined up at the bus, and the drill sergeant came out and told us that we did have to go to the service, and if we didn’t like it, we could stay behind and pull details. Naturally, it was some typical baptist fire and brimstone service about going to hell if you’re not saved. Last I’d heard, Fort Leonard Wood had changed its policy on the free day away, but still, it was total bullshit.

  • This is why MRFF (Mikey Weinstein and Chris Rodda) have been so necessary and successful. I’m proud to join their ranks as an ally at American Atheists.

    I’m also a client and MRFF member – but there is literally so much work to be done that we would probably need a team of 1000 Mikey’s, Chris’s, and Justins to catch all of it. There is so much room in the military atheist community for activism that it’s depressing.

    At least it seems to be changing this year. Travis AFB, Rock Beyond Belief (festival), and the organization taking place on countless bases is promising…

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