Pick Wayne's Brain

April 26, 2008

When the Army Won’t Defend Religious Freedom

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 2:57 PM

Though raised a Christian, Army Specialist Jeremy Hall, while stationed in Iraq, came to have different beliefs about the existence of God. He became an atheist. Little did he realize that while he, along with every other person who serves in our military forces, took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, some who took that oath did not take it to mean they had to support not having any religion at all. Specialist Hall had to be transferred out of Iraq due to threats he received because of his atheism. Even at his new assignment, Fort Riley, Kansas, the threats and intimidation continued. What I want to know is, how could so many people be ignorant about what religious freedom means?

When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.

But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. “People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.
I’m sorry to have to say this about a United States military officer, but Maj Welborn doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. He’s wrong about the constitution, and he’s wrong about the founding fathers. The constitution guarantees us that the government cannot interfere with the free exercise of our religious beliefs. If those beliefs happen to include the belief that there is no God, then it is your constitutional right to have and practice those beliefs. Anyone who tells you that you have to believe in God (especially that you have to believe that Jesus was the son of God) is infringing on your right to freely practice your religious beliefs the same as if they started telling you that you had to worship Ra. And as for the founding fathers, it is well-known that they were Deists, not Christians, and that the United States was founded as a secular nation. They most certainly did not want for this country to become a Christian nation. Some of them didn’t really want any organized religion at all, leaving people to worship the God of their choice in their own ways.

Even after Specialist Hall was transferred stateside, the harrassment continued. An NCO approached him and “without provocation, threatened to ‘bust him in the mouth.’ Another sergeant allegedly told Specialist Hall that as an atheist, he was not entitled to religious freedom because he had no religion.” Where is our military finding these people? Where were these people educated about the constitution, our founding fathers, and religious freedom? Do they honestly believe that “the free exercise of religion” means that you must pick a religion and exercise it? Why doesn’t it also mean the freedom to not choose any religion at all, or to adhere to a belief system that involves no reliance on deities (such as Humanism)? Are these beliefs not protected under the First Amendment? If not, why not? The whole point of saying that the government could make no law respecting an establishment of religion was that no one was supposed to be telling you what to think about God. By telling a soldier that his belief that there is no God is not protected by the constitution is to completely misunderstand what religious freedom and our nation’s founding were all about. Ours was the first nation in modern times to not have an official religion. Up until that point, in every other country, the official religion was that of the head of state, whoever he or she was. If you did not worship according to that religion, there were often consequences (sometimes deadly). Our founding fathers said that this was wrong, and that all people should be free to worship as they see fit, and that includes the right to not worship any deity at all.

You have just as much right to be an atheist in this country as you do to be a Christian.


  1. Instead of getting better, these kinds of divisions seem to be getting worse. I’m wondering if we’re headed for some sort of civil war in this country?

    I read the NY Times article early this morning and was going to post the Times piece at the Zoo, Wayne. Ya bet me to it… I should have walked away from that last dozen ham ‘n egg tarts.

    Comment by therepublicofstupidity — April 26, 2008 @ 3:27 PM

  2. First, thanks for letting me do the story, TRoS. Blame me if you don’t meet your quota this week. 😉

    As for the civil war, I sure hope not. Because the religious ones will be absolutely certain that they have God on their side, and will never see the need to surrender. And an enemy who thinks he has God on his side is a very dangerous enemy.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — April 26, 2008 @ 6:47 PM

  3. I’m sure you heard El Rushbo’s call to arms earlier this week.

    If that wasn’t meant to incite violence…

    Saaay… you wouldn’t have anyt’ing ta eat around here, wouldya?

    Comment by therepublicofstupidity — April 26, 2008 @ 7:00 PM

  4. Sorry, TRoS, I don’t keep a big supply of snacks around. I’m just a sweet little innocent bear cub.

    As for “El Rushbo”, I’ve been trying to dop some research on the subject and it sounds like as long as the danger was not imminent that a riot would erupt from his words, he can say them. The convention is months away, so they would have ahard time linking his words to someone else’s actions. Now, as we get closer to the convention, if he keeps saying these things, he may face legal trouble.

    But I’m no lawyer.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — April 26, 2008 @ 7:39 PM

  5. Another excellent piece, Wayne.

    There’s one thing I remember very strongly from school, 5th or 6th grade, I think. We have freedom of religion in this country, and that means we have freedom FROM religion as well.

    My teacher would probably get in a lot of trouble for saying that these days.

    These types of divisions will get much worse before they get better. Scary times…

    Comment by Zooey — April 26, 2008 @ 7:49 PM

  6. When I was a soldier I didn’t have problems like this kid. I do remember that the first time I tried to get Daoist/Taoist put on dog tags the administrative lady refused and instead put down Buddhist. Two years later, I got some replacement one and they happily put it down, didn’t even ask how it was spelled.

    Comment by dumbwhore — April 27, 2008 @ 7:34 PM

  7. I had them put “No Religious Preference” on my Air Force dog tags. I think they just figured I was a Christian of no particular persuasion, as opposed to an atheist.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — April 27, 2008 @ 7:43 PM

  8. […] E-4 Jeremy Hall probably didn’t expect much to come of his lack of belief in God. But apparently he received so many threats that they had to ship him to a new base. Found via The Zoo ala Pick Wayne’s Brain. […]

    Pingback by Specialist Jeremy Hall threatened because he wasn’t Christian | I'm pissed off and this is cheaper than therapy — June 15, 2008 @ 1:18 AM

  9. When anyone who make vague statements that the USA was founded by leaders that were not Christian just to serve their own power to subdue Christians does not do so with proper facts. Very simply stated “In God We Trust” makes a statement all it’s own, and I am sure you have your wrong facts about it also. I have heard it all. But I want you to have your religious freedom and I am against anyone that tries to take your rights to that freedom away to do so. But that does not mean you have to trash our US History with such wrong facts.

    I also find it not just Christian but base human morally repugnant that at your supported Military Religious Freedom Foundation Website at http://militaryreligiousfreedom.org/ the video Why MRFF starts out comparing our US Soldiers to Terrorists when the video starts out it shows a Suicide Bomber with a rifle and Koran then shows US Army Soldiers with rifles and Bibles.

    Say what you want believe what you want but now you are trying to tear down Christians like you say they are doing to you. Kind of reverse prodigious!

    Comment by Dan Holgate — July 9, 2008 @ 7:11 AM

  10. Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Holgate. I apologize that it has been so long. I’ve been taking a break from the blog.

    For the record, the framers were Deists, meaning they believed in a Supreme being, a Creator, who did, in fact (from their perspective) create the Earth, and all the men on it (equally in their eyes), and even smiled on our undertakings (Annuit Cœptis). At that time, the idea of a country having no official religion was unheard of. Every nation had one, and it was almost always whatever religion the leader of that country followed. Our framers saw too many people persecuted for trying to follow the religions they were used to, and they thought that everyone should just live and let live when it comes to religion. They felt that if the nation had no official religion, then no one should be persecuted for following whatever religion they chose. If they even chose one. It was not to “subdue” anyone, neither Christian, Jew, nor Muslim. Quite the opposite, it was to ensure that even the less-often practiced religions could be practiced freely without fear of government interference. (Bigoted neighbors was their problem.)

    If you must know, I am atheist. I do not believe in such things as gods, and I do not believe our existence is the result of any actions taken by such a being. I do no fear going to Hell, for I do not believe in such a place.

    Have a nice day. Vaya con dios.

    Comment by Wayne A. Schneider — July 20, 2008 @ 12:36 AM

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