New complaint in MRFF lawsuit corrects name

By JOHN MILBURN
Associated Press Writer
September 25, 2007

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) Attorneys for a soldier who claims he has been harassed for being an atheist have filed an amended complaint that they say corrects the name of the officer listed as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The change came Tuesday, after military officials said they found no trace of Maj. Paul Welborne.

The amended complaint, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., by Topeka attorneys on behalf of Spec. Jeremy Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, names Maj. Freddy J. Welborn and Defense Secretary Robert Gates as defendants.

Army officials said they also have not been able to verify that Welborn is an officer or that he is deployed to Iraq.

However, Welborn appears in videos on the Web site for the 3rd Infantry Division, to which he is assigned, along with his son, Spc. Joshua Michael Welborn. Both of them are in Iraq. The elder Welborn is a civil affairs officer identifying his hometown as Leavenworth, while his son is with Fort Riley's 610th Brigade Support Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division and claims Wichita as his home.

In the three videos, Freddy Welborn discusses the importance of military service, leadership and discipline.

Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the foundation, said it was incomprehensible that the Army couldn't find Welborn and verify that he was an officer and in Iraq.

"The fact they couldn't find this guy, how are they going to find (Osama) bin Laden?" he said.

In his lawsuit, Hall, who is with the 97th Military Police Battalion, also of Fort Riley, alleges that Welborn threatened to file military charges against him and block his reenlistment for holding the meeting of atheists and non-Christians. Hall, 22, was trying to organize a chapter of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers at his base in Iraq.

On a MySpace page that appears to be Welborn's, he says he is working toward a degree in "personal evangelism" from a Kansas City-area Bible college. The page is under Welborn's name and has several pictures of him in uniform. He lists his interests as the "study of God's word, evangelism, grandchildren, family and those men called by to God preach the Gospel."

"Doctrine is important, but not as important as a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus," the site states.

Weinstein said Welborn has the right to any personal views about faith that he wants but shouldn't impose them on junior officers and enlisted soldiers.

"We're fighting the Christian Taliban. That's who I tell people we are fighting," Weinstein said. "He doesn't work for Starbucks, he works for the U.S. Army."

On his own MySpace page, Hall wrote that he had sought approval from the military to hold meetings but that a meeting was disrupted during the summer.

In naming Gates as a defendant, the lawsuit alleges he permits a culture that sanctions activities by Christian organizations, including providing personnel and equipment. It also says the military permits proselytizing by soldiers, tolerates anti-Semitism and the placing of religious symbols on military equipment, and allows the use of military e-mail accounts to send religious rhetoric.

A Pentagon spokesman said the military values and respects religious freedoms but that accommodating religious practices should not interfere with unit cohesion, readiness, standards or discipline.