West Point’s dangerous medieval Christian Crusader imagery

This is another one of those times that foxhole atheists need you to speak for them. West Point cadet, Blake Page has shunned anonymity. It was a moot offer on my behalf anyway, he already sent this up his chain of command, and they remain silent. Though he does not speak on behalf of the US Army or the DoD, he’s absolutely correct – this is not only illegal, it’s simply dangerous.

*West Point Cadet – Blake Page writes:*

shield-third-regiment-corps-of-cadetsBottom Line Up Front: The 3rd Regiment Shield and motto are currently in a state of selective non compliance with the US Constitution, the Supreme Court’s Lemon Test, Equal Opportunity Policy and promote a message which has been successfully used by our country’s enemies for the purpose of recruitment and motivation for attacks against US service members.

This regiment has a legal and ethical obligation to modify the shield and motto to comply with constitutional law and Army policy, and an ethical obligation to support an environment which does not endorse religious and Christian exceptionalism.

West Point’s own damning description of the Shield

“The Shield of the Third Regiment of the United States Corps of Cadets was designed to be a physical representation of the ideals of the Regiment as expressed in its motto, “Strong Bodies, Strong Minds, Strong Faith.”  The shield depicts the ideals through heraldic symbols whose historic significance has developed through the centuries.  At the same time, the shield is divided in a reversed tierce per pale design (three parts) to express the past, present and future of the Third Regiment.  The colors of the shield represent various branches of the Army in which members of the Regiment will one day serve.  The heraldic cross (crossed crosslet) in Chief Dexter (the upper left) was developed during the time of the Crusades.  This symbolized fidelity and represents the “Strong Faith” in the Regiment’s motto.  The light blue field upon which it is mounted is the branch color of the infantry.

The words on the ribbon are Latin: “Fides, Corpus, Animus,” which mean “Faith, Bodies, Minds.”  Classically, these three words relate the Regiment’s Motto, “Strong Bodies, Strong Minds, and Strong Faith.” … It portrays the close connection between the Regiment and the Corps of Cadets, and it predicts the fates of it members, the cadets of The Mighty Third.”

The Cross Crosslet

Position of the Cross Crosslet:

“the symbol depicting the organization’s mission or history faces to the right side (dexter) never to the left side (sinister) of the bearer.”  <source>

            So, in Chief Dexter, the Cross Crosslet, is intended to represent the mission or history of third Regiment.  Is it really some ubiquitous symbol of faith? 

Meaning of the Cross Crosslet:

This is not an example of ceremonial deism, it is an explicitly Christian symbol.  The Crusades aren’t something people of all faiths and philosophies can get behind.  The shield was designed in 1964, when West Point was still practicing not just mandatory prayer, but also mandatory chapel attendance, and not only just requiring cadets to go to church, but to memorize and recite the “Cadet Prayer.”  Those were different (read: archaic) times, and we’ve come a long way since then.  It’s about time we clean up the stains that mess left behind, especially considering the strategic implications of branding thousands of our Army’s future leaders as Crusaders.

  • “Of Christian significance. May also refer to families who engaged in the Crusades.” <Source>
  • “A symbol for world evangelism of the Christian Gospels” <source>

Synthesizing the intended message of the third regiment shield yields a statement that the “mission or history” of third regiment is “world evangelism of the Christian Gospels.”  Even if the symbol intended to represent faith were something which could be applied to members of all faiths, which it demonstrably is not, the message of endorsing faith over reason remains a violation of law and Army policy.

Relevant selections from the US Constitution:

1st Amendment: 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.

As a bureaucratic branch of the United States Government, commissioned by Congress, all units in the US Army, to include USMA, are subject to adherence to the establishment clause.  The inclusion of textual endorsement of religion over non-religion in the motto and symbolic Christian endorsement in the third regiment shield are both in violation of this amendment.

The Lemon Test:

Established by the Supreme Court in response to the 1971 case of Lemon vs. Kurtzman, the Lemon Test established three criteria that all government entities must abide by in all cases<source>:

  • The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  • The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  • The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

There is no arguably secular legislative purpose for endorsing “strong faith” in the third regiment motto.  The Cross Crosslet represents the advancement of religion, specifically Christianity.  Both of these represent an excessive government entanglement with religion.  Therefore, the motto and shield are in violation of each of the three tenets of the Lemon Test.

Relevant selections from AR 600-20, Army Command Policy:

4-12. Extremist organizations and activities

a. Participation. Military personnel must reject participation in extremist organizations and activities. Extremist organizations and activities are ones that advocate racial, gender, or ethnic hatred or intolerance; advocate, create, or engage in illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, or national origin, or advocate the use of or use force or violence or unlawful means to deprive individuals of their rights under the United States Constitution or the laws of the United States, or any State, by unlawful means.

Advocating the practice of Christian evangelism in the third regiment shield is representative of an unlawful endorsement of participation in an extremist activity.  Although Christian evangelism alone may not be considered extremist, the Cross Crosslet is an unambiguous endorsement of the actions of those who took part in the Crusades, as noted in the regiment’s own explanation of the symbol, actions which were certainly extremist in nature.  Furthermore, the superimposition of the symbol on a light blue field is a demonstrable symbolic unification of our country’s primary fighting force, the infantry, with the mission of Christian evangelism.  Even if all but one of these statements were false, the symbol is in selective non-compliance with AR 600-20.

6-2. Equal Opportunity Policy

 2) Disparaging terms. Terms used to degrade or connote negative statements pertaining to race, color, gender, national origin, or religion. Such terms may be expressed as verbal statements, printed material, visual material, signs, symbols, posters, or insignia. The use of these terms constitutes unlawful discrimination.

The motto and shield of the third regiment textually and symbolically promote religion over non religion and Christianity over other religions.  This is a clear demonstration of unlawful discrimination.  By bearing a motto and shield which promote religion over non-religion in the “Strong Faith” clause, and Christianity over other religions in the Cross Crosslet, our regiment is effectively conveying “disparaging terms used to…connote negative statements pertaining to…religion…expressed as…printed material, visual material, signs [and] symbols.”  The use of which is unlawful.

Why this matters:

1. The regiment is engaging in selective non-compliance with national law and Army Regulation.

2. It is disrespectful to all non-Christian members of the Corps.

Most importantly, it is an example of a practice which, in other regions of the world, has had very real negative strategic implications for our country.  Each of the incidents listed below provided the enemies of our country with tangible justification for their theories that we are engaged in a Christian Crusade against Islam.  Practicing the entanglement of religion and the military here fosters an environment which allows our Army’s future leaders to believe that this sort of behavior is in keeping with our nation’s mission.  Doing so endangers the lives of soldiers by providing our enemies with ample recruitment material and justification for a defensive Jihad.

Trijicon ACOGs, marked with Bible verses used in combat and distributed to Muslim allies

Distribution of bibles by deployed soldiers during combat operations

LTC Brown, promotes active evangelism in combat zones

Pentagon officials and many uniformed general officers publicly express, that their Christian faith directly influences their policies

President Bush describes our conflicts overseas as a crusade and uses bible verses on cover pages of security updates

LTG Boykin expresses his belief that we are in a religious war against Islam

Recommended course of action:

- Remove the current shield and motto from public display both from the 3rd Regiment hallway in WH and the SOP binders distributed throughout the Regiment immediately.

- Commission the drafting of lawfully and ethically sound replacements as soon as is reasonably possible.

- Be vigilant of similar instances of constitutional and regulatory selective non-compliance in the future.

—-

***(FYI – Justin Griffith writing again)***

Page is not a ‘whistleblower’. It’s much more complex than that. He’s like me, we both love the military and our country, and we think that it deserves these corrections – to make it a better military. Evangelism in a government setting is bad enough, but theological saber-rattling in a group of men with sabers - that’s insanity.

Lawyers are definitely coming to help. However, it takes more than that – it takes people like you.

How you can help

(below the fold)

Please send a short, concise and respectful email to the United States Military Academy. Use this as a template, but feel free to completely rewrite / tweak it.

ATTN: Commanders of the West Point 3rd Regiment of the United States Corps of Cadets

CC: Lt. Col. John Vermeesch

CC: Incoming RTO 

Dear sir or ma’am,

I’m writing to express my grave concern that once again the U.S. Military will be seen in a public setting as endorsing a ‘crusade’ against the Muslim world where our nation’s troops are serving. It is reckless and dangerous to allow any bonafide crusader propaganda to besmirch our great nation. Please, immediately remove and/or replace The Shield of the the 3rd Regiment of the United States Corps of Cadets.

It’s unfortunate that this Shield could not only inflame the local populace in Afghanistan, but it also shamelessly violates the US Constitution. Please, get ahead of this scandal – quietly take this down before the media has a field day.

Very respectfully,

[name]

Please also share this / spread this to any people friendly to our cause. The buttons below really are for great justice this time.

About Justin Griffith
  • steve b

    Uh oh Justin, get ready for a firestorm of 3rd regiment alums railing against the call for the banner to be changed, due to the fine tradition of it.

    Does this sound familiar? Rhode Island and New York aren’t that far from one another. hmmm.

    I’d offer you an umbrella for the upcoming firestorm, if it weren’t against regs for you to carry one in uniform. ;)

    • Tango

      It almost looks like the cadets do not have enough to do if they are splitting hairs over a symbol that does not appear to me (or the military lawyers I asked to review) to have a religous linkage. Do cadets get paid in “God We Trust” dollars? Because if they do, maybe they shouldn’t? How about no pay, and how about they pay to go to that great school? From an old grad: get back to work. We have a war going on…

      • Justin Griffith

        You say you’re an old grad. Perhaps you were paid in dollars printed before the 1950′s McCarthy-inspired addition of “In God We Trust”? How about no pay… unless you were a secret communist!

        More like ‘old Stalin-grad’.

  • Danny P

    @Steve

    That’s weird, I would have thought you would understand about fighting for what is right rather than what is easy.

    Shared to facebook!

  • dave

    I think it’s far more dangerous for a cadet to be focusing his time and energy on such a trivial issue, instead of his assigned tasks.

    It’s amusing that how often he repeats the Crusader symbolism and its impact in the enemy’s perception of the US. Not only is he inviting a religious perspective on the matter, but the implied point is that he doesnt to offend Muslims.

    I can’t believe a Soldier would write how this could inflame the Afghans. You’ve GOT to be kidding. There’s a great many highly negative things I could say about this POV, but I wont. You should be ashamed.

  • Steve

    Again, it’s worth pointing to Article VI of the Constitution, which ends “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” That actually predates the First Amendment. So much for the Army’s “spiritual fitness” requirements.

  • GvlGeologist

    Dave doesn’t understand that:

    1. breaches of constitutional obligations of the military (or any branch of the government) are not “trivial”, and

    2. the crusader and christian imagery do not only antagonize our enemies, but our allies in the middle east, and our own non-evangelical service members as well.

  • kantalope

    dave dave dave – cadets do lots of things outside of their “assigned tasks”. Football comes to mind. So does, you know, things like reading. And this looks like applied use of learning. You think looking up all this military history to learn heraldric symbolism is easy?

    The point is one of the symbols is not about faith it is about one specific faith. If it was a specifically Islamic symbol or FSM symbol would you have all kinds of thoughts that you would be unable to share as well?

    “They would not know about it if you didn’t point it out” argument is silly on two levels: 1) a bunch of people that are still fighting over the succession from 820 and who have a specific gripe with the crusades are not blind to this kind of thing. and 2) doing something wrong to someone just because they won’t notice does not make it right.

    “It’s amusing that how often he repeats the Crusader symbolism and its impact in the enemy’s perception of the US. Not only is he inviting a religious perspective on the matter, but the implied point is that he doesnt to offend Muslims.”

    The symbol was NOT chosen by accident. It has specific meaning – a specific religious meaning. The religious perspective is not tangential – it is the freaking point. So this “perspective” is not being imposed from the outside.

    bah now this is rambling. anyway – it is a specifically christian symbol. It does not belong.

  • dave

    Yeah, I mean, I get it. It’s not right. But it’s a mountain out if a mole-hill. Certainly that unit has innumerable PRACTICAL areas that could benefit from someone taking charge and fixing the issue. It’s like me pointing out that it’s out if regs to keep those folders on top of the safe. Yeah, it’s put of regs to store materials on top if a safe. But what’s important is what’s IN the safe, how to CONTRIBUTE to the contents of that safe, and to conclude projects which are are being run through that safe. The patch on the guidon is trivial compared to the men, women, mission, and quality of performance to those bearing that guidon. Another comparison is maybe people complaining about the universal symbol for women on all restrooms. Yeah, she’s wearing a dress. Yeah not all women wear dresses and it’s possible it’s contributing to a negative stereotype. If it’s your mission in life to change the symbol on women’s restrooms, hey, whatever. But the US military is more important, and the quality of a unit doesn’t hinge on potentially offensive material on the shoulder patch, relating some obscure thousand year old history in Latin. He should be addressing more important things with his applied learning.

    And I could give f***-all about offending the enemies of humanity. Considering they kill far more Muslims than anyone else, I sincerely doubt they or our ‘allies’ really give a damn.

  • blake page

    Dave,

    You make some nearly valid points. Unfortunately you have a limited perspective, and don’t understand the entirety of the situation. My primary concerns since coming to West Point have been exactly the sort of thing you talk about in your last comment. Performance, dvelopment, pragmatic training and the like. I have made all of those things a priority since coming here and have put in FAR more work towards those ends than I have towards adressing religious exceptionalism. I agree with you that the military is more important than a symbol, however in this case this symbol has implications for the military culture. I haven’t been so consumed by this one issue as to have had to compromise on any of my other duties. I perform well in all all of my classes, and above average in most. I have voluntarily taken on some of the most challenging leadership positions the academy has to offer, and am fully committed to my professional development as a future officer. I have done my best to take charge and adress practical problems as well, and they certainly exist. I hope this clears things up for you.

  • StevoR

    The Lemon Test:

    Established by the Supreme Court in response to the 1971 case of Lemon vs. Kurtzman, the Lemon Test established three criteria that all government entities must abide by in all cases:

    •The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose;

    •The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;

    •The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

    Emphasis added.

    Seems to me – and yeah, I may be mistaken but still – that the government stepping in and ordering a military cadets group to change their current long-standing traditional shield breaks both the “inhibiting religion / religious expression” clause of that Lemon Test and the “excessive government entangelment” one.

    Why now? If this hasn’t been an issue before? (Or am I missing something and, if so, what?)

    Also I don’t think its possible for Muslims to hate us more. The USA and Western world could nuke Mecca and burn a skyscraper full of korans and put all the Jihadist terrorist prisoners at Gitmo through a woodchipper and feed their remains to left-handed pigs and dogs and it couldn’t raise their hatred any higher than the 100% saturation rage it’s already at.

    Also, honestly, why should we care what Islamist Jihadists think and feel and how offended they may be given they are self-appointed as our mortal enemies and only want to conquor the Western world and impose Sharia law upon the whole planet not just their cruddy, hellishly repressed and brutal parts of it?

    In two words : Screw ‘em!

  • StevoR

    PS. It seems a bit off to care more about the feelings of tehenemy side in awar than your own.

    Which is kinda how this looks to me.

    Yes, Christianity and its fundamentalists are pretty awful too, I know. I’m not saying the West is perfect and if this shield was a new introduction, maybe I’d be more against it, I don’t love it but, yeah, what I said in the first line here.

  • Paul Loebe

    Dave, it is very important to care about what your event thinks and feels especially in a coin war. I’ve deployed to combat 3 times and as a boot on the ground I can tell you that small things like this are a recruiting drive for the Islamic fundamentalists. And those recruiting efforts are very effective. They have a media spin in those countries whose media is run by theocratic Islamic governments.

  • Paul Loebe

    Enemy….autotext…smh

  • Old Rockin’ Dave

    @Dave #3:

    You would do well to read up on the Crusades. The First Crusade never got to Muslim lands but stayed in Christian Hungary for months, expecting to be fed and housed. The Hungarians finally drove them out by force. The Fourth Crusade destroyed the Byzantine Empire, the largest Christian kingdom in the world. Crusaders not only warred with Muslims but in many instances slaughtered and looted Christians who lived in the Muslim cities. Both in the “Holy Land” and on the way there, the oh-so-holy Crusaders massacred Jews wherever they found them, in Europe or in the Middle East. Their record is dismal, often evil, and they were all too often greedy and cruel. Greed, promises of salvation, escaping the miserable life of a serf, all were motivations that ranked higher with many, maybe most, of the Crusaders than any burning desire to deliver the “Holy Land”.

    The use of Crusader symbolism is offensive to many people of all faiths and none, and should be offensive to all civilized peoples.

  • Erp

    @13 Actually the first crusade did make it to Jerusalem. Reading the accounts of the capture is pretty horrific (mass slaughter). The kingdoms they established lasted for about 200 years.

  • steve b

    Danny, all I can say is whiskey tango foxtrot over. I don’t what I said to provoke you going off on me, or what you’re reading into it, but you’re off base.

  • bryanfeir

    To dave & StevoR who don’t see why we should have to care about what the enemy thinks of our symbology…

    Even if you accept that, you should be concerned about what the symbology does to morale inside the unit for any non-Christian members, who are being treated as second-class citizens by their unit’s own traditions.

  • Old Rockin’ Dave

    @ Erp:

    You are right. The First Crusade did reach Jerusalem, but only the knights’ army did so. The peasant army of Peter the Hermit was decimated pretty much on the Byzantine border with the Muslim lands, and the mainly peasant army of the corrupt and vile German, Count Emicho, was mostly destroyed by the Hungarians in return for their pillaging of the food supply.

  • Boondock

    Symbolism.. I believe the word you’re looking for is symbolism.

  • Ted

    I think they should replace the cross with a tank then nobody would be offended.

  • ’00 Grad

    Wow… It’s been a few years since I graduated from West Point, but I seem to remember having a lot less time on my hands than to worry about the symbolism of an obscure crest (incidentally, I was in Company E4, that of the erstwhile “Go Naked” motto that had to be struck because it might be offensive). At any rate, this Page kid is going about this the wrong way, similar to what we saw Generals Zinni, Eaton, and Newbold do in 2006 to “revolt” against Rumsfeld. The generals fancied themselves the Billy Mitchell of their times, but are now barely footnotes six years later. No matter how you try to rationalize it, you can’t change the system from the outside. This kid, based on the L300-level of legal understanding shown here and in other papers, could have gone into the JAG Corps or fought the system as part of it. This “call to arms” for non-theists by resigning is a quitter’s way out. Some day soon, Page will sink back into oblivion, and will find himself $300,000 in debt, with little to show for his “action.” Meanwhile, the Academy will keep chugging along like it has for 200+ years and will continue to make incremental changes with regard to its secular policies. Page may be able to claim ‘moral victory” for those changes (if that means anything), but at the end, all he’s done is hurt his own chances at making something of himself. This is a story of personal tragedy, not heroism. Page isn’t the Rosa Parks of non-theists; he’s their Sara Jane Moore – a misunderstood person who tragically thought he was unable to make people understand through conventional means. Because of that, he’ll ultimately be written off, rather than heralded.

  • West Point GRADUATE

    I really wish someone would explain to me where the term “strong faith” explicitly mentions faith in some religion or religious organization. BLUF interpretation goes both ways, and having a crosslet on a shield signifying strong faith does not predetermine the source or destination of said faith. One may have faith in his cause, in the purpose of the Academy, or any number of other causes. The language used in the description of the shield additionally specifically mentions that the development of the crosslet in the time of the crusades however a timeframe and symbolism of faith do not an argument make. Your right to have an athiests interpretation of this shield and its history do not preclude your religious brethren from having their own unique and differing interpretations. Additionally, like many of the previous readers have posted, you obviously were spending more time making up some excuse not to accomplish your Cadet duties than dedicating yourself to preparing to lead America’s sons and daughters in armed combat. I think you should re-evaluate why you went to the Academy in the first place.

  • Karen Sherry Brackett

    Apparently, West Point has failed to properly educate this young gentlemen. If they had applied history courses in his academic agenda, he would understand that we are in fact in a religious war against Islam. He would also understand that over the course of history, Islam and yes dare I write it, Muslims have been responsible for killing over 270 Million people which is more than all of the other wars of this world combined. He should thank God that Jesus Christ taught Christians to be Good Shepherds. When a wolf is after your flock you kill it. Islam provides no freedom but slavery to Sharia Law by which all non believing Muslims are required to be put to death or if judged worthy allowed to pay a tax to survive as basically a slave. Had the Christians not fought in the Crusades, they would have been slaughtered as millions of their families members were. West Point has just earned an F in cadet training. Whoever is writing and perverting history in our Nations history books needs to be held to charges of treason!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rockbeyondbelief/ Justin Griffith

      Had the Christians not fought in the Crusades, they would have been slaughtered as millions of their families members were.

      You realize that the Christian Crusades were repelled every time? It was a disgusting effort, and it failed.

      Islam provides no freedom but slavery to Sharia Law by which all non believing Muslims are required to be put to death or if judged worthy allowed to pay a tax to survive as basically a slave.

      Sounds slightly better than the Christian way:

      Deuteronomy 13:6-10
      New International Version (NIV)

      6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

  • Ted Rodosovich

    see the religious history at whatreallyhappened.com; click on Atheism in the gray box near the top.


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