Soldier alleges military pattern of Christian bias
By John Hanna
TOPEKA, Kan. — An atheist soldier suing over prayers at military formations claims a larger pattern of religious discrimination exists in the military, citing attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and an evangelical bias in a suicide prevention manual.
The expanded lawsuit filed Monday by Spc. Dustin Chalker and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in U.S. District Court in Kansas City also claims the military doesn’t take complaints of religious discrimination seriously enough.
The Defense Department has identified fewer than 50 complaints about alleged violations of religious freedoms during the past three years, with 1.4 million personnel in uniform, spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
She declined to comment on a pending lawsuit but noted that the military has policies against endorsing any religious view.
The revised lawsuit criticizes the Army’s 2008 manual on suicide prevention, quoting it as promoting "religiosity" as a necessary part of prevention and describing "connectivity to the divine" as "fundamental."
The lawsuit cites comments from a chaplain and a second soldier in Christian missionary publications about attempts to convert Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the two soldiers’ desire to distribute Bibles.
The lawsuit also notes that in 2007, the Air Force sponsored "Team Faith," which performs motocross stunt shows to "lead extreme sports athletes to Christ."
The original lawsuit filed in September alleged Chalker had to attend events at Fort Riley where Christian prayers were given. Foundation president Mikey Weinstein said Chalker tried to pursue his complaints within the Army but was told they were "unfounded."
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