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Group suing military seeks
top chaplain's ouster

Group already suing military over religion seeks
court martial of Army's chief of chaplains

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

By John Hanna
Associated Press Writer

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A group with a federal lawsuit in Kansas alleging widespread religious discrimination within the military called Wednesday for the Army to court martial its chief of chaplains.

But a spokesman said the Army respects soldiers' right to worship freely "at all times and in all locations."

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation sought Maj. Gen. Douglas Carver's ouster on the day Carver designated for prayer and fasting for chaplains. It also was the start of Passover, observed with a ritual meal, or Seder, by Jews.

Foundation President Mikey Weinstein said his Albuquerque, N.M.-based group has received numerous complaints about Carver's proclamation in March calling for Wednesday's fasting and prayer.

The proclamation calls for chaplains to act "in keeping with your religious traditions." Carver later issued an addendum saying participation was voluntary and that he consulted with two senior Jewish chaplains.

Weinstein said Carver also has endorsed an effort to bring Bibles in Arabic and other languages into Iraq and Afghanistan, citing a quote from Carver posted on a ministry's Web site. Weinstein said such efforts clearly violate civilian and military law against trying to convert non-Christians.

The foundation and a former Fort Riley, Kan., soldier filed suit last year in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., against Defense Secretary Robert Gates, alleging a pervasive bias within the military toward evangelical Christianity. The lawsuit also alleges the military allows personnel to try to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan to Christianity.

"It's a fundamentalist Christian-Constitution fight," Weinstein said in an interview. "This represents a perfect, quintessential example of the fact that our United States military has become infused, essentially, with the Christian mirror image of the type of Islam that is pushed by al-Qaida and the Taliban."

Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Wright said it accommodates soldiers of all faiths, such as when they need special meals to comply with dietary restrictions. He said all soldiers are free to accept or reject a chaplain's services.

"Our chaplains come from and practice a variety of faiths, but all chaplains minister to all soldiers, families and civil servants who want the counsel, comfort and religious services or personal counsel," Wright said.

The foundation says it represents about 11,500 military personnel, and 96 percent are Christians upset about what they view as discrimination by other Christians.

Weinstein said soldiers of different faiths complained about designating a day of fasting on an important Jewish feast day. Carver recently was quoted by the Baptist Press as noting Wednesday is a meeting night for fellow Southern Baptists.

Carver also is quoted on the Web site of the Soldiers Bible Ministry: "Thanks so much for your invaluable ministry of the Word to our Soldiers."

The ministry, part of the Heart of God International Ministries Network in Willard, Ohio, says on its Web site that it strives to make soldiers "ambassadors of Christ."

"This is absolutely about proselytizing in Iraq and everywhere else," Weinstein said. "We're not at war with Islam? It sure looks like we are."

Heart of God spokesmen didn't respond to telephone calls or e-mails Wednesday, but the Soldiers Bible Ministry site said it provides Bibles upon request to troops "who desire to have a personal copy."

Weinstein said the foundation's complaints about Carver would be incorporated in its lawsuit. The other plaintiff is Spc. Dustin Chalker, a combat medic previously stationed at Fort Riley and now at Fort Detrick, Md.

Chalker is an atheist whose original complaints included being forced to attend military formations where Christian prayers were given. In December, he and the foundation expanded the lawsuit to allege the military doesn't take complaints of religious discrimination seriously enough.

The U.S. Justice Department, defending Gates, has until Thursday to reply. In the past, it has said has said allowing courts to intervene would interfere with Army operations.

___

The lawsuit is Specialist Dustin Chalker and Military Religious Freedom Foundation v. Robert Gates, secretary, United States Department of Defense, No. 08-cv-02467.

___

On the Net:

U.S. District Court, Kansas: http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/

Military Religious Freedom Foundation: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/

Department of Defense: http://www.defenselink.mil


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