SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS – Fort Sam ‘vigil’ draws fire

Selected Article Excerpts:

  • A suicide-prevention session that included a prayer at Fort Sam Houston last week is being investigated by the Army. Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said 38 troops at the post, including 11 who were among about 800 who attended the Sept. 26 session, are willing to sign a federal complaint against the Army and an unnamed chaplain who led it.
  • “It became incredibly like a prayer service” based on accounts from witnesses, said Weinstein, who said he feels the training violated constitutional rights of soldiers and Army regulations ensuring fair treatment of personnel.
  • [Staff Sgt. Victoria] Gettman, an atheist who grew up Catholic, said she grew uncomfortable after battery-operated plastic lights resembling candles were passed out and the chaplain talked about “needing something divine.” Though details of what happened in those 15 minutes are in dispute, Gettman said she heard references to a “heavenly father,” and viewed the session as a Christian prayer service. She later spoke with other instructors who agreed with her. “When it was all over, I was just disgusted,” said Gettman, who filed complaints Friday with the Army’s inspector general and the post’s equal opportunity office.
  • Weinstein, self-described as Jewish-agnostic, said the session was potentially offensive to people of nearly all backgrounds. The 38 troops willing to file complaints include 24 Christians as well as two Jewish soldiers who attended the session. Both had volunteered to attend training that they were told would be mission-critical on the sacred Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, Weinstein said.

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