MRFF Files New Federal Lawsuit
Against Defense Department
Case No. 08-CV-2467 KHV/JPO - Filed September 25, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 26, 2008
CONTACT: BEKKI MILLER
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE OVER
FORCED RELIGIOUS PRAYERS
ALBUQUERQUE -- A nonreligious Kansas soldier today sued his boss, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, after being forced to attend mandatory military events where fundamentalist Christian prayers violated his constitutional rights.
Specialist Dustin Chalker, a decorated combat medic in the U.S. Army, filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court in Kansas yesterday. Joining him in the suit is the Albuquerque- based Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org), a nonprofit charity dedicated to the protection of thousands of U.S. military personnel from unconstitutional religious practices forced on them by military superiors against their will.
“This historic litigation we have filed today will incontrovertibly demonstrate a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional religious discrimination,” said MRFF President Mikey Weinstein. “ MRFF has leveled a blow in Federal Court against the unlawful religious bigotry and persecution that is sadly systemic in today’s armed forces.”
Chalker, who has served six years in the Army, was deployed to Iraq and was awarded the Combat Medic Badge and the Purple Heart during fierce combat.
After returning to the U.S. and stationed at Fort Riley, Chalker was forced to attend three events in late 2007 and in 2008 at which the battalion chaplain, according to the lawsuit, delivered sectarian Christian prayers. Being nonreligious, Chalker objected to the presence of blatantly Christian prayers and asked to be excused from the events. The requests to be excused were denied. After the denials, Chalker was forced to attend other events with sectarian Christian prayers.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent such sectarian prayers from being delivered at mandatory military events. Chalkers states in his court filing that his status as a person of no religious faith has not caused “diminished performance” of his duties or compromised his ability to take commands.
However, Chalkers says that the mandatory Christian prayer sessions are evidence of a pattern and practice of “constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army."
The lawsuit gives many blatant examples of the military engaging in noxious religious discrimination by fundamentalist Christians.
“The purpose of the lawsuit is to make it clear to the Pentagon that “Jesus’ will” is not an acceptable American military policy,” said Weinstein.
MRFF can be reached at (337) 356-8696 or at www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org.
Second soldier sues over
religious freedom issues
Friday September 26, 2008
By JOHN HANNA
Associated Press Writer
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- An atheist soldier sued Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday, alleging he was forced to participate in public prayers and that the military systematically violates the religious freedoms of its personnel.
Spc. Dustin Chalker, who has served in Korea and Iraq, is the second soldier at the northeast Kansas post to file such a lawsuit. The New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation joined Chalker as a plaintiff in his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.
Weinstein called the alleged violations of military personnel's religious freedom "a rape of the Constitution. It's at least as terrible as what we're fighting overseas."
A spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division, which is headquartered at Fort Riley, referred questions to the Defense Department, where a spokeswoman was not available Thursday night and did not return a telephone message.
An attorney for the U.S. Justice Department's civil division, which is defending Gates and the Defense Department in an earlier lawsuit, did not respond Thursday night to telephone and e-mail messages.
The earlier lawsuit, which is still pending in federal court, was filed by the foundation and Pfc. Jeremy Hall, another atheist at Fort Riley. It alleges harassment of Hall by fellow soldiers in Iraq and after he returned late last year to military police duty and that his promotion to sergeant was blocked.
The post and the Army have said they don't condone discrimination, and the Justice Department has argued that the military has adequate policies for dealing with complaints.
Both lawsuits allege the military permits religious discrimination by fundamentalist Christians who try to force their views on others, especially subordinates. Chalker's lawsuit lists 18 examples, including programs for soldiers, the decor of military chapels and presentations by "anti-Muslim activists" at service academies.
Chalker's lawsuit also cites a "spiritual handbook" for soldiers carrying the endorsement of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East. The lawsuit alleges the book promotes Christianity and denigrates nonbelievers. Petraeus is not named as a defendant.
Chalker, 23, of Mobile, Ala., joined the Army Reserve in 2002 while still in high school. He went on active duty in 2004 and is a combat medic in an engineering battalion that helps train engineers at Fort Riley.
He served a year in South Korea and served 15 months in Iraq, starting in September 2006, and there he suffered multiple concussions. He's received the Purple Heart and the Combat Medic Badge, awarded to medics who serve under fire.
In the lawsuit, Chalker says he was required to attend one function last year and two this year in which sectarian Christian prayers were delivered.
"It's always a fundamentalist Christian prayer that involves Jesus," Weinstein said. "It's just the camel's nose under the tent."
Weinstein said soldiers face "a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice" of discrimination.
Chalker's lawsuit said the pattern includes:
-- A "spiritual fitness" program for hundreds of personnel at an Air Force base in England, in which suicide prevention efforts were based on Christian teachings and, the lawsuit alleged, creationism was promoted.
-- A weekly "Free Day Away" for soldiers in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., since 1971. Weinstein's group and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have questioned the program, but it has been described as voluntary and has since been modified to make clear it's sponsored by a Baptist Church.
-- A once-suspended practice of dipping the American flag before the altar at the chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
-- Participation by a major general in uniform in a Fourth of July television special for the Christian singer Carmen.
Weinstein called the lawsuit a "telling blow" against "fundamentalist Christian religious bigotry and persecution that is comprehensively systemic in today's United States armed forces."
"There's a lot of shocking stuff," he said. "This is the first time we've put it all together."
On the Net:
U.S. District Court for Kansas: http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/
Military Religious Freedom Foundation: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org
Fort Riley: http://www.riley.army.mil
Department of Defense: http://www.defenselink.mil
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