Fort Hood Pagans Complain about Christian Privilege

One of the oldest and most well-known non-traditional religious groups in the US military is the pagan group on the US Army post at Fort Hood, Texas. In 1999, George W. Bush, then-governor of Texas and soon to be US President, famously criticized the US military’s openness toward wiccan practices at Fort Hood.

The “Fort Hood Open Circle” entered the news again recently when Michele Morris, the group’s self-described clergy and Designated Faith Group Leader (DFGL), posted an “open letter” on Facebook decrying their mistreatment in the face of “privilege” (which she clarified as “Christian privilege” in another interview) [emphasis added]:

My congregation was locked out of their church last night. It wasn’t the first time, or the second, in fact – I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened over the last six years…Last night was three hours outside, an entire congregation milling around, angry, scared, frustrated, defeated, and discouraged…

The last six years…have been a dizzying roller coaster of harassment and neglect relieved by brief moments of support and underpinned by the soul killer that we proudly call “tolerance”.

Morris went on to list a veritable bevy of grievances. It was unclear at some points who specifically deserved the “blame” for the grievances she aired, though those with “Christian privilege” seemed the target. For example, she complained about “grass fires and snake bites,” though how that translates into “harassment” from Fort Hood is unclear. She never really explains how she has been routinely locked out of her “chapel” while still saying in other places that she did, in fact, unlock it.

She also took issue with the Fort Hood chaplains themselves:

I can count on one hand the number [of chaplains] that have talked to our congregation and only one has ever visited a service, once.

Apparently, Morris believes Fort Hood is “harassing” her religious practice because the chaplains aren’t attending her services. It’s unclear why she feels entitled to demand — or would even want to have — chaplains who don’t share her faith attend her services.

She further complained:

When [a] chaplain assigned to support our congregation…prefaces every single conversation we have with, “I don’t agree with what you do…but I’ll do my job”, for two years – that is not in fact support.

On the contrary, as a “clergy” representing a military congregation, she should realize that’s exactly what military chaplains do — they “perform or provide.” Note she doesn’t complain that the chaplain didn’t do his job. She just complained that he said he didn’t agree with her.

Morris is apparently so entitled that she thinks chaplains have to not only provide, but also agree with her.

Morris also used careful language that either ignored important details or seemed to amplify the angst this “harassment” has produced:

Last night a soldier about to deploy did not get to have one last service before he leaves this coming week.

That sounds tragic, until Morris clarified in other reports this Soldier was going to Korea, which for most troops is a regular duty assignment. It would have been nice for anyone to get a farewell service in their faith home before they moved on — but this wasn’t a Soldier off-to-war denied his final blessing as she implied.

Morris also referred repeatedly to her “chapel” and her “congregation,” which are fine, even if it is a borrowed lexicon from faith systems she seems to disdain. What she failed to mention, however, is that her “chapel” is actually part of Fort Hood’s campground, Camp Finlayson. Being “locked out” has apparently been a function of the local MWR, which controls access to the campground, not the chaplaincy. She complained more than once about others using their facilities — as if they had no right — and leaving a mess — as if it was an intentional degradation — without acknowledging those facilities are shared.

circleShould the campers have cleaned up after themselves? Absolutely. But their conduct was unrelated to either their faith or hers. “Christian privilege” was not to blame, despite Morris’ claims.

It is also worth noting that the Fort Hood pagans apparently use their “chapel” irregularly and fairly infrequently, at least by traditional standards.  The fact their use varies with the moon, for example, increases the likelihood someone unfamiliar with their practices would fail to unlock their facility — and makes it an unfair comparison to reliably having the post chapel unlocked every Sunday at 0700.

Further, despite her denigration of the chaplains in public, Morris separately told her Facebook group that

the chaplains in charge right now are amazing and committed to ensuring that our needs are met to the best of their ability.

It would seem Morris is a little guilty of intentionally sensationalizing her “harassment” — which she essentially admitted when she said she couldn’t “make change without making noise.”

All that said, just because Michele Morris comes across as an entitled pagan owed more than every other faith on the post doesn’t mean she might not have a legitimate grievance buried in her privileged complaining. If Fort Hood has given her a campsite to call her church and she keeps getting locked out of it, then that should be rectified.

And it looks like it has been: Morris now says the chaplains purchased locks that will apparently replace those installed by MWR, meaning they’ll be able to improve the pagans’ access. If you read her diatribe again, you’ll note she never says she brought the issue of the locks to the chaplains before this date.

Pagans, wiccans, etc., on Fort Hood should be given the access they need to have their religious liberty. That doesn’t appear to be the root of the issue, though.

As noted above and in other interviews, Michele Morris took serious issue with the concept of “tolerance,” saying

Tolerance is a terrible word. We tolerate things that we don’t like.

The root issue seems to be Morris’ beliefs that she is deserving not just of religious liberty, but that she is also entitled to have others affirm and “like” her beliefs. This is not far from the current social expectation of homosexuality, in which it is not acceptable just to “tolerate” it — because, as Morris said, you “tolerate” something you don’t like. Rather, homosexuality needs to be affirmed, according to some social norms.

Thus, some would say it is insufficient for the military to allow homosexuals to serve or pagans to worship. Rather, they would say the military must celebrate “gay pride” and promote pagan worship. Only then will some claim they are able to win against the white male heterosexual Christian privilege by which they are apparently so oppressed.

In the end, Morris wasn’t locked out of her Open Circle because of Christian privilege, and military harassment of non-Christians wasn’t responsible for grass fires at the campground. Her claim to victimhood is a little too strident, to paraphrase Shakespeare.

The Fort Hood Open Circle has obviously had intermittent access issues over the past few years, and they apparently did not receive the level of attention Michele Morris believed they deserved. If the religious liberty of military pagans is restricted, it should certainly be addressed — and, given the chance to do so, it appears that’s precisely what Fort Hood is doing.

Still, that is a far cry from Morris’ claim that military pagans are suffering under the oppression of Christians — a common and socially acceptable, if rarely accurate, refrain.