Chalker v Gates, the lawsuit which pitted the MRFF and an atheist Soldier against the Department of Defense, has been dismissed. The case was brought by Michael Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and US Army Specialist Dustin Chalker. The primary complaint was that Chalker was forced to attend formations at which Christian prayers were given, though Weinstein used the lawsuit as a forum to accuse the military of promoting Christianity.
According to various reports,
US District Judge Kathryn Vratil ruled Thursday that Chalker failed to exhaust all available remedies before filing suit.
Weinstein has said he will appeal the decision.
The ruling that dismissed the lawsuit (pdf) is slightly more complex than the media summary. The ruling stated: Read more
In September, Michael and Bonnie Weinstein filed a civil lawsuit against the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches and Gordon Klingenschmitt. The primary issue seems to be Klingenschmitt’s “imprecatory prayer” against Weinstein and Barry Lynn, as was noted in a previous analysis. (Weinstein has amended his lawsuit twice in the intervening months, but only the original is currently publicly available.) This case will be interesting for religious freedom in general, not just in the military, since it may delineate what control–if any–the government is willing to place on public prayer. Initial commentators, including allies of the Weinsteins, doubted they would succeed in their suit. However, despite the initial furor, there has been little in the media since.
The case continues, however. It appears one of the initial issues will be jurisdiction, which is a legitimate question in this case. Weinstein is a resident of New Mexico, the CFGC is headquartered in Texas, and Klingenschmitt is presumed to be a resident of Colorado. Weinstein is suing in Texas district court. Since the CFGC is in Dallas, it would appear to make sense that Weinstein would sue the CFGC in Texas.
However, the CFGC’s connection to the complaint is tenuous. As noted already, the precipitating action in this litigation appears to be a prayer by Klingenschmitt, not anything done or said by the CFGC or its head, Jim Ammerman. The CFGC’s role in the prayer is nonexistent, except insomuch as Klingenschmitt is a Read more
A variety of websites that track issues of religion in the public sphere have listed their “top ten” stories for 2009. Though each uses their own criteria, the resulting lists generally matched the recent trend (as noted last year) in which issues of religion and the military have largely disappeared from the “big stories” over the years.
US News mentioned nothing about the military in their list, nor did the Religion Clause. BJC Online included a mention about Sikhs and the military at #8 and accusations of military evangelism in “US Foreign Affairs” at #4. Of these, the Religion News Writers were the only ones to mention US Army Maj Hasan’s Fort Hood massacre (#3).
While ongoing events in the world will likely keep religion near the forefront of current affairs discussions, “controversies” over the interaction between religion and the military do not appear to be the “headlines” that some might think they are. The year 2009 may have borne that out. Some of the “biggest” stories on the military and religion were actually non-events, including accusations of Bible distribution in Afghanistan or the plethora of complaints that Chaplains acted illegally or unConstitutionally.
There will always be controversies and media attention. Still, the belief that some accusations of impropriety are “tempests in a teapot” may be correct. Perhaps, too, claims of surreptitious military takeovers by religions seeking world domination really are the fringe conspiracy theories they often seem to be.
Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and co-author of Is Christianity Good for the World with Pastor Douglas Wilson, takes on religion in the US military in his latest article in Vanity Fair, for which is he a contributing writer.
The lead-in to the article demonstrates a set of false assumptions which are never substantiated within the article:
It’s no secret that conservative Christians dominate the US military, but when higher-ups start talking about conversion missions, it’s time to worry.
Hitchens never provides evidence that any ideological belief, never mind conservative Christianity, “dominates” the US military. He also misrepresents Read more
The American military isn’t the only one that has to contend with accusations of mistreating detainees–or of crusading a religion.
In late December, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service concluded that a list of accusations against the Canadian military over the past few years were “unfounded.” The list included not only physical mistreatment, but also religious coercion: Read more
While some seem to imply that only Christians associate their religious ideology with their military service, public examples on all sides demonstrate that is not the case.
A Pennsylvania paper recently covered a local story in which a group of pagan veterans are encouraging those with similar beliefs to, in their words, “come out of the broom closet.” Charles Arnold is the “‘national commander’ of the Pagan Veterans of the United States,” which he formed earlier this year. He says pagan veterans “number Read more
God and Country will return on 28 December. In the meantime, we leave you with the words of President Barack Obama, chatting with children during a visit to a Boys and Girls Club in Washington, DC. Amazingly, at least one person has implied Obama violated the Constitution in making these comments. The relationship between those in government service, the Constitution, and religion is certainly controversial–and misunderstood–in America today. Kudos to the President for not shying away from the legitimate discussion of religious beliefs, as well as respecting those of the children.
Have a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Savior. Merry Christmas.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the most important thing is just to remember why we celebrate Christmas.
CHILD: I know!
THE PRESIDENT: Do you know?
CHILD: The birth of baby Jesus.
THE PRESIDENT: The birth of baby Jesus, Read more
The lawyer for accused Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan has said his client’s religious rights have been violated by policies that restrict his freedoms during his confinement in the hospital.
Pretrial restrictions on Hasan [include] a requirement that he speak only in English with visitors or on the phone, unless an Army-approved translator is present…
Attorney John P. Galligan said he learned that police guarding Hasan…cut short a phone conversation Hasan was having with one of his brothers on Friday because Hasan was not speaking in English.
“Police at the hospital refused to let him pray, in Arabic, from the Quran with his brother,” Galligan said. “I think it’s illegal and a violation of his religious rights.”
The article cites “those familiar with” military justice in saying that the restrictions, while potentially non-standard in the civilian sector, would not necessarily be unusual within the military criminal justice system.