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Questions Raised Anew About Religion in Military

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Joanne98 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 11:10 AM
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Questions Raised Anew About Religion in Military

WASHINGTON Terry Bradshaw stared intently into the camera, his eyes moist, as the interviewer asked him if his faith in God had helped him through his bouts with depression.

Oh, yeah, answered Mr. Bradshaw, the Hall of Fame quarterback. Well, Im a Christian for one thing so, yeah, Id been praying.

The viewers of this video were military personnel who were watching an official military production dealing with depression, suicide and the importance of faith.

The screening of the suicide-prevention video and other recent incidents are reviving questions that the Pentagon had hoped to put behind it years ago: what the proper role of religion should be in the military and whether a pro-Christian culture permeates the armed forces.

Military officials have worked to enforce tougher restrictions on proselytizing and religious bias since a flare-up over religious discrimination in 2005 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where the football coach posted a locker room banner for Team Jesus. Officials said they had made great strides in the last few years, with training for officers and a concerted effort at the inclusion of all faiths.

Id be wrong to state that every chaplain does it right 100 percent of the time, but we work very hard at it, said Carleton Birch of the Armys Chief of Chaplains Office. Chaplains ascribe to pluralism. We represent our own faith while respecting other faith groups.

Signs of continued friction over the issue still abound, however. In a memorandum distributed last month at the Air Force Academy in response to several recent complaints about religious bias, base leaders reminded faculty members that the Air Force is officially neutral when it comes to belief systems. The memorandum said cadets should not be made to feel that they would get better jobs by going to optional Bible study sessions.

Still, some military personnel and activists opposed to what they see as forced religion in the military said they believed the problem had continued largely unabated, and they said private groups like the Officers Christian Fellowship and the Campus Crusade for Christs Military Ministry maintained an outsized influence on many bases.

The Army enforces policies against racism and sexism, but doesnt bat an eye at these kinds of religious discrimination, said Specialist Dustin Chalker, an Army medic based at Fort Detrick, in Maryland, who was raised in a Christian home but is now an atheist. Why is it acceptable that soldiers are unable to serve this nation without attending state-led religious practices they find offensive and false?

Specialist Chalker is now a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that accuses the military of ignoring laws and policies banning mandatory religious practices. Specialist Chalker, who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq, remembers returning from the war in 2007 and attending a mandatory ceremony that began and ended with a Christian prayer. The experience, Specialist Chalker said, was humiliating and dehumanizing.
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