Charges in Religious Lawsuit
Against Army Detailed
By Jason Leopold
t r u t h o u t | Report

Tuesday 25 September 2007

An Army major who was sued last week for allegedly threatening to retaliate against a soldier who convened a meeting of atheists, and whom Pentagon officials said could not be located, has been found via a MySpace page the Army major updates regularly.

Freddy J. Welborn was identified in a federal lawsuit filed last week by Army Spc. Jeremy Hall, 22, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog organization. Because his name was mistakenly listed in the complaint as Paul Welborne, the Army said it was unable to locate him.

However, Mikey Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said researchers working for his group discovered Welborn's MySpace page on Sunday morning. Weinstein said the complaint his organization and Hall filed against Welborn, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, will be amended and refiled in US District Court in Kansas City, Kansas on Tuesday to reflect Welborn's proper identity.

On Saturday, Lt. Col. James Hutton, a spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq, told an Associated Press reporter "several media reports list a person named Maj. Paul Welborne as having been involved in this situation."

"To date, we have not located any soldier by that name," Hutton told The Associated Press, in response to the story first reported by Truthout about the lawsuit filed against Welborn and the Pentagon.

The issue appeared to be an attempt to cast doubt on the validity of Hall's claims of widespread constitutional violations. However, hours after The Associated Press report was published, Weinstein's researchers and Hall were both able to locate Welborn, albeit under a different first name, at Combat Operations Base Speicher, Iraq, where Hall is serving his second tour of duty.

Hutton's statement to The Associated Press came on the heels of another Truthout report in which Weinstein said Hall was being threatened with bodily harm by other soldiers as a result of the lawsuit he had filed against Welborn and Defense Secretary Gates.

The lawsuit alleges Hall's First Amendment rights were violated beginning last Thanksgiving when, because he does not believe in God, he declined to participate in a Christian prayer ceremony commemorating the holiday.

"Immediately after plaintiff made it known he would decline to join hands and pray, he was confronted, in the presence of other military personnel, by the senior ranking ... staff sergeant who asked plaintiff why he did not want to pray, whereupon plaintiff explained because he is an atheist," says the lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to Truthout. "The staff sergeant asked plaintiff what an atheist is and plaintiff responded it meant that he (plaintiff) did not believe in God. This response caused the staff sergeant to tell plaintiff that he would have to sit elsewhere for the Thanksgiving dinner. Nonetheless, plaintiff sat at the table in silence and finished his meal."

Moreover, the complaint alleges that on August 7, when Hall received permission by an Army chaplain to organize a meeting of other soldiers who shared his atheist beliefs, his supervisor, Army Major Welborn, broke up the gathering and threatened to retaliate against the soldier by charging him with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The complaint also alleges Welborn vowed to block Hall's reenlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet - a violation of Hall's First Amendment rights under the Constitution. Welborn is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

"During the course of the meeting, defendant Welborn confronted the attendees, disrupted the meeting and interfered with plaintiff Hall's and the other attendees' rights to discuss topics of their interests," the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint charges that Hall, who is based at Fort Riley, Kansas, has been forced to "submit to a religious test as a qualification to his post as a soldier in the United States Army," a violation of Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution.

Welborn, 44, who appears on his MySpace page in his Army uniform, wrote on his MySpace page that he is a devout Christian who received a bachelor's degree in "personal evangelism" and a minor in "Biblical world view" from Temple Tennessee University. He wrote that he is pursuing a second bachelor's degree in Christian studies from Calvary Bible College And Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He lists his occupation as "Bible Study--Operation Iraqi Freedom" and wrote that his interest is evangelism and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Currently serving w/3rd Inf Div [3rd Infantry Division] Civil Military Operations (Governance) in Baghdad Iraq," Welborn wrote on his MySpace page. He describes himself as a ""Warrior for the Lord Jesus Christ." He wrote that he and his wife Carla "place all our Faith & Trust in our Savior the Lord Jesus - who provides eternal life to anyone that believes that he is the Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, lived as God in the flesh (as man) was crucified, died, and was buried then rose from the grave the third day, then acended [sic] to the right hand of the Father - True repentance (turning away from Sin to God) Being born again, Forgivness [sic] & Justification occure [sic] to the True Believer in Christ when Baptized w/God's Holy Spirit."

Additionally, Welborn endorses Stephen Mansfield's "The Faith of the American Soldier," a book that defends and praises controversial statements made by retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the former deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, who characterized the war on terrorism as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan.

Welborn could not be reached for comment. He did not reply to an email sent to him through his MySpace page. A Pentagon spokesman said it is not uncommon for soldiers to maintain their own blogs or web sites and he did not believe Welborn's MySpace page violated military policy.

Weinstein, a former White House attorney under Ronald Reagan, former general counsel to H. Ross Perot, and who spent a decade as an Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG), has been waging a war against the Department of Defense (DOD) for what he says is a blatant disregard of the Constitution and a pattern of forcing soldiers to embrace evangelical Christianity. Weinstein published a book on his fight: "With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military." He is also an Air Force veteran and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. Three generations of his family have attended US military academies.

Since he launched his watchdog organization nearly two years ago, Weinstein said he has been contacted by more than 5,000 active duty and retired soldiers, many of whom served or currently serve in Iraq, who told Weinstein they were pressured by their commanding officers to convert to Christianity.

Last month, the Pentagon's inspector general (IG) excoriated high-ranking military officials for engaging in evangelism while on duty and in uniform. The IG responded to a complaint filed last year by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation alleging DOD officials violated military regulations by appearing in a video promoting an evangelical Christian organization.

The IG agreed and issued a 47-page report that was highly critical of senior Army and Air Force personnel for participating in the video while in uniform and on active duty.

The report recommended Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton, Army Brig. Gen. Bob Caslen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, and a colonel and lieutenant colonel whose names were redacted in the inspector general's report, "improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal entity while in uniform" and the men should be disciplined for misconduct. Caslen was formerly the deputy director for political-military affairs for the war on terrorism, directorate for strategic plans and policy, joint staff. He now oversees the 4,200 cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point. Caslen told DOD investigators he agreed to appear in the video upon learning other senior Pentagon officials had been interviewed for the promotional video.

The inspector general's report recommended the "Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Army take appropriate corrective action with respect to the military officers concerned."

The Army generals who appeared in the video appeared to be speaking on behalf of the military, but they did not obtain prior permission to appear in the video. They defended their actions, according to the IG's report, saying the "Christian Embassy had become a 'quasi-Federal entity,' since the DOD had endorsed the organization to General Officers for over 25 years."

Jason Leopold is senior editor and reporter for Truthout. He received a Project Censored award in 2007 for his story on Halliburton's work in Iran.