2-508 PIR promises to support all the atheists they banned

So they posted the flyer again. But they FIXED IT! It no longer appears to give religious soldiers the morning off. It also no longer says their unit (and the command associated with it) are specifically endorsing this thing.

Old version:

New version:

This is not perfect, but is an improvement. There are bits of sanity attempting to ooze out of this explanation they offered:

Mr. Griffith-

There was a much better way to air your grievance than encouraging every follower of your blog to post on our site. You could have simply contacted us and pointed out the error of our ways and we could have pulled it down and corrected it. We acknowledge that our 1st posting wasn’t as clear as it should have been. As it stands, the flier has been re-published with no reference to it being a unit sponsored event. Our only other option is to mass email the flier to everybody affiliated with 2-508th PIR. We choose this forum because there are many family members that visit the page, but choose to NOT be on any mailing list for the battalion.

Mrs Belton is our Battalion Chaplain’s wife and is the unofficial spiritual adviser to the Family Readiness Group. She is a member of the FRG steering committee and sought approval before posting the flier. Her activities in support of the FRG do not fall under the auspices of a non-governmental agency, in our opinion.

*Justin Griffith: note: the child care being provided is coming out of Mrs. Beltran’s pocket. This is most certainly not a government entity, otherwise the Family Readiness Group would pick up the tab. She also says that this Friday is the first time she isn’t doing it in her own house. You simply ARE advertising against your own policy. I don’t have a problem as long as you reciprocate the opportunity to all groups.*

No disrespect was or is intended to people who choose to follow a totally different concept of religion or deny religion, altogether. If referring to the gathering as a prayer group somehow violates any law, we will consult with our SJA and change the wording to something more appropriate, such as a “fellowship gathering”.

However, many of us have read the Constitution and the amendments and are not completely oblivious to their meaning, regardless of what the media or splinter groups attempt to push as the meaning. English is a pretty straight forward language for native speakers.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That very intrinsically states that you can’t prevent the free exercise of religion. In no way is our flier in the 1st or 2nd form a mandatory function, just an offer for people that would like to attend… an offer. You may find some law, somewhere, that states that we can’t do what we’ve done. Please, educate me by attaching that law.

YOUR Blog posting’s very title suggests that soldiers were getting time off to attend a prayer group. I hope that you realize by now that was never the intention and was never implied. I must admit it was good hype and it most likely had your desired effect. The fact that your supporters kept coming back to restate that lie is an indication that your insistence to make this an issue is a political agenda. That is the problem with assuming facts not in evidence. Please, explain to your followers that arguing a lie, does not make the lie come true.

It is within our right to moderate our page as we see fit. We will continue to delete comments and block posters that violate our standards. If we err in that process, well… we aren’t lawyers and our intent is to limit any ensuing drama, not to offend folks. We are Infantrymen and common assumptions paint us as Neanderthals, with our knuckles dragging the ground. I guess that I can “play” stupid, even if I am not.

I probably would like you if we talked, simply because you are taking a stand for your belief, but I doubt that you would convince me that we are in any sort of intentional blatant violation of any law. I do not approve of your tactics, because you prey upon people’s ignorance of the facts, in this case your facts did not stipulate that soldiers were not participating in the event. You simply led the masses to believe that atheist soldiers were being denied the same opportunity that religious soldiers were being provided, which was entirely false.

If we had an atheist group that requested to post a gathering announcement, they would be provided the same opportunity. The fact that no atheist group is identified within our organization, is not grounds to exclude others from posting their functions. Encourage them to come forward and they will not be denied that opportunity. They must be members of the battalion or extended family members of soldiers assigned, just to be clear. Someone outside the organization organizing an event, especially outside the immediate area, we probably won’t take seriously, especially if they haven’t been an active FRG member. So, please inform your blog followers that an inundation of requests for services will be compared to our FRG list and if they aren’t members, the request will be discarded out of hand.

As for coloring you as political, your blog IS political and furthers a political agenda. Having your followers post to our site was a political decision with political aims… post to tell us how unconstitutional we are. You are attempting to make us change the way we communicate information to our families. Having them scream “censorship” when we delete them for using our page as a referendum for their political agenda or social change is another avenue of politics.

Honestly, where we are wrong, please point it out with the legal annotations and facts. I am not trying to challenge you on everything, but I simply do not see where we erred in our execution of a simple prayer group announcement. Next, you are going to tell me that a posting that alludes to praying for our soldier’s safety, is unconstitutional… in which case, I’ll use expletives and dare you to pursue legal action… because I will be long retired before it comes to trial.

My reply:

Other ways to contact? I tried. I called. I asked. I emailed the (pre-enterprise upgrade) email address listed for such purposes. I waited a few hours before posting my follow up.

In the end, you posted a flyer that no longer has the appearance of a command endorsement on the surface. It still shouldn’t come from the official 2-508th PIR Facebook page. HOWEVER, you did promise an equal level of support. Isn’t that all I asked for? I corrected you, and you listened… twice.

I’m not seeing why having so many supporters = politics. You listened to them. You listened to me. No need to ban them just because they got there from me. I’ll turn off the fire hose, though. FYI – you did ban members / spouses of your unit. How do you think I even heard of Mrs. Belton’s prayer service?

You also conveniently glazed over the constitution that you quoted – and are completely ignorant of the subject of ‘limited public forum’. But as you say, you are not a lawyer, and I’d probably react somewhat like you too. Relax, it’s over. Now read this:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” are you sure you read this? This is the Establishment Clause. It not only means “2-508 PIR can’t favor one religion over another” it ALSO means “2-508 PIR can’t favor religion over non-religion.” (see: Wallace V. Jeffries 1987 and countless other supreme court cases that uphold the establishment clause in such a fashion.)

Limited Public Forum Basically, this is the only work-around that could possibly make your new flyer (from this morning) legal. To put it in layman’s terms, if 2-508 PIR welcomes one point of view on a particular topic, it MUST welcome all points of view on that topic. Your promise to support atheist troops basically accomplishes this. However, since you banned us all we can’t say ‘thank you’.

And you also failed to realize that those initial comments were all VERY RESPECTFUL, and from veterans and soldiers, many of whom are deployed (a few who are deployed with your unit). Your deletion of their points of view creates a very one-sided conversation that treats atheists as if we are the enemy. This undermines the limited public forum that you are obligated to maintain. Seriously, you need to allow all points of view and moderate comments only based on content (swear words, Ron Paul spam, etc…. those are bad.) and not point of view (‘I like prayer’, ‘I don’t like prayer…’ both are welcome).

We are going to slam that closet door behind us. There are more atheists in the military than Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Buddhist, Hindu…. But you wouldn’t know about that, because most are afraid to ‘admit it’. That changes now. It’s already happening. Expect and accept us.

While you still aren’t 100% legally compliant, it’s clear that you are attempting. You have done well, despite your nervous reaction to a point of view the Army is used to keeping in a closet. Charlie Mike.

My very first comment was about how I supported the Free Exercise clause, and thought it was important. This person thinks that we want all prayer banned. We simply want equality. If he had just read our comments, he’d know this.

Here is the comment that I was banned for making (before they clarified that soldiers weren’t invited):

Yes, but it’s during the duty day. Are there equal ‘time away from work’ opportunities for non-religious soldiers?

I’m all for religious soldiers getting their needs fulfilled (free exercise clause of the US Constitution is important). However, if you do not provide the same ‘time off work’ opportunity to non-religious soldiers (with free child care), they are effectively being punished for not being religious. Do they not deserve a break to contemplate, have fun with their families, and growth in their community?

Perhaps most importantly, it sets up non-religious soldiers with their religious peers’ workload.

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  • Steve

    They just need to change the time. Hold the event on a weekend when people don’t usually work. The problem is that people apparently get time off from work to attend this. That wouldn’t be ok in the private industry either.

  • eric

    Steve – the spouses can hold gatherings any time they want. If most of them work from home, it may make more sense to do it during the day. Sure, many servicemembers won’t be able to participate, but that’s the organizer’s choice.

    IANAL but I think the only remaining issue would be using some official, army-sponsored facebook page to communicate a religious service. As Justin points out, even that is not an issue so long as the webpage managers treat it as a limited public forum in the future. If nonchristian spouses/FRG members can advertise their ‘spouse of service members’ events on the same page, everything should be good.

    Aside, but what a wierd culture. My wife and I are part of a local “mom’s group” with over 100 members. I’d guess the vast, vast majority of member families are Christian, yet the issue of religion never comes up. The support we give each other consists of things like nanny sharing, babysitting, toy and clothing trading, organizing charity drives, etc… None of the organizers or members have ever suggested anything like a prayer session. AFAIK we don’t have an “unofficial spiritual advisor,” and don’t need one.

  • Carla

    I do think it was in bad taste to attack an FRG Facebook page for a deployed unit. Many military families are overly religious, especially during a deployment, and if the Chaplain’s wife is trying to help them out by bringing them together in prayer so be it.

    Even if there were any soldiers who wanted to attend this event, let them, as a commander I allow soldiers to go to random events throughout their work work because it improves their moral. Someone may have to go watch their kid in a school talent show or awards program. Am I supposed to allow all the other soldiers a few hours off because a few had to go their kids school? No because in the end it all comes out in the wash. Life happens and good commanders give their soldiers time to go on with their lives even during duty hours. This mentality may come from multiple deployments where life is work and things like laundry, church, and phone calls back home are intertwined into a soldier’s work schedule.

  • FormerlyNavy

    Carla, you absolutely missed the entire point.

    1) By saying it was a prayer gathering and was sponsored by the unit itself, they were breaking the law. Just saying it is a prayer gathering is fine, it was saying the MILITARY/GOVERNMENT SUPPORTED IT that was in the wrong.

    2) Justin asking people to question it is perfectly acceptable. There were people -non religious people- that are part of that unit who genuinely wanted to know if (a) service members were allowed to go and (b) since it was during working hours, if the religious service members were allowed, would the non religious members be allowed at a later time to have the same opportunity to play “hooky”.

    3) It’s all well and good to allow your unit to improve moral by having time off, but if it is a PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED gathering geared towards only a specific sect (in this case Christians), and apparently at first glance sponsored by the military itself (though this was later corrected) then BY LAW they need to allow the other religions and the non religious the same opportunity to time off/public gatherings of choice, provided it meets the same criteria (child care and time constraints).

    BECAUSE Justin’s active questioning worked, the flyer and announcement were corrected. The gathering is not supported by the military, but by a spouse. In short, the original = illegal; corrected announcement = legal. That’s all it boils down to. Not Christians. Not Atheists. Not moral or lack thereof.

  • pete

    Carla, giving people time off to care for their kids is a lot different than giving them time off for religious reasons, i.e. to attend prayer services.

    If you make the decision to give time off for (any) religious reasons you’re going to have to give the same time off to everybody, period.

    Doesn’t matter if your motivation is coming from a good place, like to improve morale.

    I’m stunned that you don’t realize this already seeing that you claim to be a commanding officer.

  • Robin

    The spouse of the chaplain is the “unofficial spiritual adviser” of this group. And she gets to use a “neighborhood center” that appears to be located ON THE BASE. Yet atheists are denied “advisers” and the right to gather ON THE BASE. Justin, it seems tey have provided you with an opportunity here.

  • Justin Griffith

    Good eye, Robin. I was waiting for someone else to notice this. I actually sent the person (quoted above here in red) a quick explanation about our nation-wide, DoD-wide ban from meeting on posts. If I had more time here before I leave for my next station… I’d already have some people submitting this.

    Perhaps they’ll do so on their own. I’ll put it out at tonight’s MASH meeting (GRETA CHRISTINA IS SPEAKING TO US!!!)

  • Atheist Indeed

    You pansies need to get a life. You’re just one more shitbag group looking for a reason to be afronted.

    Be ashamed of yourselves….truly ashamed.

  • Drivebyposter

    Stupid fuck:

    This woman was (potentially) breaking the law.

    Maybe you hate America so much that you want to let criminals run fucking rampant, but many of us are patriots that like to see the Constitution upheld.

    It’s amazing that you have such a problem with you know…maintaining society.

    And it’s funny how you accuse other people of just wanting to be affronted…what the hell is it that you’re doing? “I demand that you stop opposing christians getting special treatment! *whines and stamps feet*”

    You might want to reign in your tantrums before accusing others of being pansies.

  • Nothing_happens_when_you’re_offended

    Do you just go around hunting for something to offend you? Seriously….you are about as good as a lawyer who tries to find a bunch of people who are offended by something you so you can get money (or more likely in your case publicity) about the topic.

    You might have either not noticed or didn’t care that 99% of this unit is deployed to Afghanistan. 99% of it’s men and women (who are better than you could hope to be in the cumulative effort of 100 lifetimes) are patrolling areas in Afghanistan and enduring situations that would make you piss your pants, tuck tail, and run.

    People like you are of the parasite kind, the kind that manipulates and distorts for your own personal gain. I can tell you that if Atheist spouses showed up to the prayer group they wouldn’t be shunned or turned away. They’d absolutely be welcome in any capacity they wish to involve themselves. And they would probably gladly participate. They wouldn’t look for some reason to be offended so they could bitch. Why? Because they are part of a family supporting warriors. They know that what is important is supporting the warriors down range, not bitching about the venue and trying to seek out things to be offended by. Why? Because they are all far better Americans than you could ever hope to be.

    You are on an unfortunate equal plain with people who want memorial crosses at Camp Pendleton honoring fallen Marines to be removed or the newest case in the small town.


    Please do us all a favor and either shut up or turn-in your man card. Actually, do both.