They Say There Are No Atheists in Foxholes…

Well, maybe this is why. The New York Times reports:

“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.

Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.”

Hall ended up being sent home from Iraq because of threats made against him because of his atheism. The antagonism he experienced highlights the increasing evangelicalization of the U.S. military infrastructure.

Other incidents include the controversy that engulfed the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2005 when it was reported:

“…during basic training, cadets who declined to go to chapel after dinner were organized into a “Heathen Flight” and marched back to their dormitories. It said the Air Force’s “Chaplain of the Year” urged cadets to proselytize among their classmates or “burn in the fires of hell”; that mandatory cadet meetings often began with explicitly Christian prayers; and that numerous faculty members introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged students to become born again during the term.”

More recently, four generals and three colonels appeared in uniform in the Pentagon to film a fund-raising piece for evangelical group Christian Embassy, a move that clearly violates military regulations. Air Force Major General Jack J. Catton Jr. goes as far as to say, “I’m an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country.” Not the most reassuring words on duty from a senior member of the military.

Finally NPR reports that the military chaplain program is disproportionally skewed. “Only 14 percent of the U.S. population is evangelical Christian, compared to 40 percent of the military’s active duty personnel. More than 60 percent of military chaplains are evangelicals.”

People should be free to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose. What is obviously improper is using a position of authority to proselytize any faith, particularly in a regimented, secular entity such as the U.S. military. Throw in the low regard that American atheists already experience—78 percent of Americans view them unfavorably—and the situation is especially alarming.