Military Atheists Respond: Dustin Chalker and the Facts

It seems the prior article on the White House petition to “end discrimination” against military atheists struck a chord, most notably with its creator, Dustin Chalker.

Chalker posted a response to the article with his MRFF ally Chris Rodda as an independent blog.  Not all of the assumptions Rodda and Chalker made were necessarily accurate, but the response here, as some have seen, has been interesting.  Most who have commented failed to actually read the story behind any of Chalker’s accusations, making such deep and thoughtful statements as “You’re a coward” easy, if logically unsupported, diatribes to make in their passionate support of Chalker.

Though he never indicated so himself, Rodda claims Dustin Chalker – who sued the Department of Defense as an Army Sergeant – is now the civilian “Mr.” Chalker, though she contradictorily uses his rank in the present tense.

Both Rodda’s and Chalker’s comments contained factual errors, though accuracy has never been Rodda’s strong suit.  Some of the more salient points of Chalker’s comment are below:

Chalker said it was “lying” to say his lawsuit 

was tossed out because Chalker failed to use the internal grievance systems the Army has in place

The facts of the case seem to disagree.  From the order dismissing Chalker’s case:

According to [Captain Kenneth Jones, Chalker’s commander], Chalker did not initiate a request for religious accommodation for any of the three named events, and he first learned about Chalker’s desire to be excused after Chalker filed this lawsuit…

[In an affidavit, SFC Dennis McQuay, EO Advisor for Chalker’s brigade, indicated] Chalker…did not file an EO complaint regarding any of the three named events…

Finally, from the Judge’s summation [emphasis added]:

Chalker has provided no evidence of even one instance where he was denied intramilitary relief, or when he could not receive timely relief through that process.

Apparently the Captain lied, the EO office lied, the institutional Army lied, and the Judge believed the lie.  Chalker is free to disagree, and he was also free to appeal the dismissal of his lawsuit.  Despite Weinstein’s promise that an appeal was forthcoming (as he always does), no appeal came (as it never has).

Chalker had an interesting response to the statement that

there is no indication the military, as an institution, “forces” anyone to participate in any religious act.

His reply (formatting original):

Being present IS participation. Being forced to stand in silent respect IS participation. The closest thing I have to a “religious practice” is to LEAVE when people do things I find intellectually absurd and irrational. Why can’t I “practice my religion” and leave?

That’s a fascinating display of a lack of religious tolerance and understanding of religious freedom.  He furthers the diatribe with a common canard:

If a Wiccan forces you to stand silently on a parade field in a position of respect so he can cast a spell on you, would you mind? Would you comply?

Chalker has tried this before (in an apparent assumption that wicca/etc is the magic pill in such a debate).  There are chaplains of several religious faiths in the US military.  Whether a Chaplain (or other military member) says “Jesus,” “Insha’Allah,” “Om,” or anything else, it does not infringe on the religious freedoms of those who are “present” and are asked to stand or be silent in respect.  Christians in the military have stood for Chaplains of other faiths, despite the disagreement with the tenets of those faiths.  Despite Chalker’s offense, military atheists have, too.

The article noted Chalker’s petition proposed a “mutually exclusive proposition,” saying

If the voluntary presence of prayer prefers “religion over non-religion,” wouldn’t an official ban on prayer prefer “non-religion over religion?”

Chalker claims this is a straw man and that

not praying shows no preference whatsoever to “non-religion over religion.” Not praying is the position of neutrality.

Again, Chalker shows his tendency to read into something that which isn’t there – he sees the position he wants to fight rather than the position stated.  The article clearly said, and he even quoted, that the dichotomy he proposes is voluntary presence versus official ban.  Generally speaking, no military policy requires prayer at ceremonial functions.  Likewise, no military policy bans prayer at ceremonial functions.  Those officiating the ceremony are free to include prayer…or notThis is the neutral government position – not a government enforced ban which could potentially “favor non-religion over religion.”

When the article noted Chalker’s broad, melodramatic conclusion of a “threat to national security” was unsupported by any example, Chalker put his foot in his mouth grasping for an example.  He said:

Hasan comes to mind.

So the shooting massacre at Fort Hood is evidence of discrimination against atheists?  As astounding as that seems, Chalker then prepares the world for an atheist-styled Hasan in the future:

I don’t actually know any crazy atheists, but I also don’t believe that being non-religious magically makes them immune from the factors that lead to extreme or violent ideologies or behavior… I’m surprised you’d shy away from the possibility of one of them doing something drastic as a backlash for having magic Jesus spells cast on him all the time.

Chalker and Rodda have joined the “pants on fire” chorus with Michael Weinstein.  Following Weinstein’s pattern, they cite no factual inaccuracies to be corrected.  Errors are occasionally made, and they are fixed.  For Weinstein and his crowd, however, it isn’t about the facts.  The mere expression of an opinion in opposition to Weinstein’s personal vendetta is cause enough for threats of legal action or an elevation to that most feared of tactics:  name-calling.  Because when all else fails, aim low.

Weinstein and his supporters aren’t after the truth.  They have an agenda in stark opposition to religious freedom in the US military.  Anyone who dares defend religious liberty and Constitutional protections from their vitriol risks becoming a target themselves, as history has shown.

Doubt it?