Dustin Chalker, an Army Sergeant and MRFF “client,” publicly announced that he started a petition on the whitehouse.gov “We the People” website calling for an “End [to] the Military’s Discrimination against Non-Religious Service Members.”
The petition wording reflects some of the sentiment behind Chalker’s failed lawsuit against the Army — a lawsuit that was tossed out because Chalker failed to use the internal grievance systems the Army has in place. The petition contains similarly vague claims of illegal conduct, which are (still) unsupported to date by any public facts:
We [non-religious service members] are forced to participate in religious rituals during official ceremonies. This is not free exercise, this is forced exercise. Worship belongs in voluntary services, not in mandatory formations. This is unconstitutional establishment of an official preference for religion over non-religion.
Though he doesn’t say so, Chalker is apparently referring to ceremonial prayer in military formations when he says “religious rituals.” Even considering the recent head-bowing incident, there is no indication the military, as an institution, “forces” anyone to participate in any religious act.
Oddly, Chalker presents a mutually exclusive proposition: If the voluntary presence of prayer prefers “religion over non-religion,” wouldn’t an official ban on prayer prefer “non-religion over religion?”
We are forced to take an unconstitutional religious test for “Spiritual Fitness”. Those who fail the test are forced to take remedial training instructing them to go to church and pray. This proselytization by the US military is forced onto us against our will.
There is no religious test in the Global Assessment Tool, despite military atheists’ opinions to the contrary. There is no public evidence the military instructs its Soldier to go to church and pray (though that may be one option it suggests for those who wish to do so).
The petition’s summary is dramatic:
These policies create a hostile environment, division, and resentment within the military, destroying morale and threatening national security.
Naturally, this rampant threat to national security has manifested itself in demonstrable ways. Of course, neither the petition nor any other public source provide any examples of the ways in which unit morale has been destroyed or national security has been threatened.
Started on October 1st, the petition required a minimum of 5,000 signatures to get an official response from the White House, a threshold it crossed on October 29th. It’s not surprising the MRFF petition obtained the signatures — Michael Weinstein claims 25,000 “clients.” (The threshold for new petitions has been raised to 25,000 signatures, an apparent acknowledgement that 5,000 signatures isn’t as difficult to obtain as first thought.)
What is surprising is how long it took. Despite Weinstein’s apparent claim of a groundswell of support and the ubiquity of his accusations of discrimination, it still took 4 weeks for him to collect signatures representing less than 25% of the committed followers he claims. It would seem not as many share the apparent fear of world domination as Weinstein does.
As the Religion Clause noted some time ago, there are a variety of petitions on religion-related subjects. In fact, Joshua Dubois, Executive Director of President Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has already responded to two calling for removing references to God from US currency and the Pledge of Allegiance:
While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.
A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.
That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God’ in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust’ on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans.
The MRFF might expect a similar response — or they may get none at all. In another response, the White House reminded petitioners that it cannot comment on every matter:
As explained in the We the People Terms of Participation, the White House may at times decline to comment on certain specific matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies [or] federal courts…in its response to a petition. For important policy reasons, this includes specific law enforcement and judicial ethics matters. With respect to law enforcement matters, the Department of Justice is charged with investigating crime and enforcing our laws…
This particular denial was to a petition with more than 50,000 signatures, and related to prosecutorial and judicial misconduct. The White House may recognize that the DoD, likewise, as a “federal department” has jurisdiction over the content of this petition.
As an American citizen, Dustin Chalker is entitled to petition his government even under the auspices of Michael Weinstein’s Military “religious freedom” Foundation. Having reached the threshold, he may now get a response from the White House. It’s a shame he didn’t use the opportunity to present a factually accurate description of the religious climate in the US military.