Cadet Withdraws from West Point Over Religious Impositions


A West Point cadet only a few months away from graduating and getting his commission has resigned from the academy in protest over the many ways that Christianity is imposed on members of the military. Blake Page is the president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance and the point person at the academy for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and he explains why he did this in an article at HuffPo. This is from his resignation letter:

I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same. Examples of these policies include mandatory prayer, the maintenance of the 3rd Regiment Shield, awarding extra passes to Plebes who take part in religious retreats and chapel choirs, as well as informal policies such as the open disrespect of non-religious new cadets and incentivizing participation in religious activities through the chain of command.

And he expands on that:

While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country. These are strong words that I do not use lightly, but after years of clear personal observation I am certain that they are true…

I have been in a position to hear countless cadets recount their personal stories of frustration in dealing with the ongoing oppressive and unconstitutional bigotry they face for being non-religious. Cadets often come to me to seek assistance, guidance and reassurance in response to instances of debasing harassment. Many here are regularly told they do not deserve a place in the military. They are shown through policy that the Constitution guarantees their freedom of, but not from religion. Many are publically chastised for seeking out a community of likeminded people because it is such a common belief that Humanism and other non-religious philosophies are inherently immoral and worse.

While dealing with the bureaucracy of the academy I have had my complaints ignored by several members of my direct military chain of command. The ranking chaplain here responded to some of these instances of clear prejudice with the useless statement that he will “do what [he] can in good conscience” (which was nothing) instead of fulfilling his legal obligations. In dealing with the Directorate of Cadet Activities I have seen the Secular Student Alliance denied recognition for two years because the former director of the organization did not see a reason to recognize an organization for support of nonreligious West Point cadets. Even after finally receiving hard-fought recognition this year, that same organization continues to work with us only half-heartedly. They have only begrudgingly given us a pitifully inadequate budget, continue to refuse to list us on their website, and one of their staff has openly laughed at the idea that we could organize a conference or even produce club t-shirts for our members.

These are the kinds of complaints that MRFF gets every day from people serving throughout the military. And it is clear by now that the leadership of the armed forces will not fix it because it’s the right thing to do, but only because groups like MRFF will drag them kicking and screaming if necessary.

Comments

  1. emptyknight says

    Saw this on HuffPo, very disturbing though not entirely surprising. Good for him for standing up and fighting for what’s right!

  2. says

    Isn’t it a really bad thing to have Christians in the military?
    I mean what would happen if they start acting like they are supposed to: turning the other cheek, doing good to those that have them…???

  3. says

    The chain of command is also violating its oath to defend the constitution by participating in unconstitutional wars. Since Congress is supposed to approve/disapprove the President’s decision to go to war, according to the constitution, the chain of command is violating its oath when it goes to war under the kind of shaky “well, we didn’t commit ground troops, so it’s not a war” nonsense the Executive Branch has been pulling.

  4. jws1 says

    Stuff like this is one of the reasons why I scoff when people say that the military are “protecting our freedoms.” These bozos couldn’t understand the Constitution they allegedly swore to defend if their lives depended on it.

  5. baal says

    richardelguru – with conservatives general support and adherence to authority, they tend to make good soldiers. The turn-the-other-cheek and semi-communism that Jesus taught falls away easily.

  6. wscott says

    I attended West Point back in the 80s. There was a fair amount of this sort of Christianist BS back then (and in my subsequent military service), but it was somewhat compartmentalized and there were still a fair number of senior officers (including within the Chaplains Corps) pushing back against it. I’m sorry to see the Christianists appear to have won.

    A sidebar I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere: I believe it’s still the case that a Cadet who quits in their senior year is still required to serve a certain number of years (5?) as an enlisted soldier. While I admire Page standing up for his principles, he has after all gotten several years of top-notch education at taxpayer expense.

    @ Marcus Ranum 4: Yes by all means let’s have a military that ignores orders from civilian leadership, interprets the Constitution as they see fit, and generally thinks they know best what orders to follow or not. I see no way that could end badly. #eyeroll

    @ jws1: It may surprise you to learn that fluency in Constitutional law isn’t near the top of the list when recruiting for positions to kill people & break things. Nor should it be – I no more want soldiers defending my rights in court than I want lawyers defending my freedom on the battlefield.

  7. laurentweppe says

    the chain of command is violating its oath when it goes to war under the kind of shaky “well, we didn’t commit ground troops, so it’s not a war” nonsense the Executive Branch has been pulling.

    Well, this nonsense is not meant to hide that “Congress disagrees but we don’t give a fuck about it“, but to hide that “Congress agrees with this war, it’s just that most of its members are so gutless that they don’t want to be seen speaking in favor of this war until they’re sure we’re on the winning side“. So one could argue that Congress approved the war but did not approve being held responsible for approving it. And I suspect that no provision in the US constitution account for the possibility of the legislative branch to be populated by spineless cowards obsessed about saving face.

  8. naturalcynic says

    @7: I remember seeing on the MRFF e-mail that Page had entered West Point from the enlisted ranks and his situation, he has to repay the cost of his education. Will the GI bill apply here?

  9. says

    And I suspect that no provision in the US constitution account for the possibility of the legislative branch to be populated by spineless cowards obsessed about saving face.

    Yeah, but. :(

    I’d say “approval” would consist of at least doing a vote.

    There’s also the matter of war crimes, which are being regularly committed (indiscriminate use of artillery on civilian targets) although that’s not a constitutional issue.

  10. Olav says

    Wscott, #7:

    Yes by all means let’s have a military that ignores orders from civilian leadership, interprets the Constitution as they see fit, and generally thinks they know best what orders to follow or not. I see no way that could end badly. #eyeroll

    No. Illegal orders = legal obligation to refuse them.

    See, among others, the Nürnberg trials, where members of the German military were found guilty despite their attempted defence of “Befehl ist Befehl”.

  11. D. C. Sessions says

    Tangential:

    The honorable custom of resigning in protest has declined in recent years (as has that of resigning in acceptance of responsibility even where legal guilt does not force it.)

    Mr. Page is to be doubly commended for upholding the honor of the Army and his country even where his seniors have failed both.

  12. says

    It’s likely that Mr. Page will receive the shit detail for the rest of his time in the army. Otoh, his going public may make it a little more difficult for the brass to do a “Tillman” on him.

  13. says

    This was definitely a gutsy call, and I commend the cadet for using the courage to make it. That said, I’m not sure I would say it was the most ideal choice. There is a lot of complaining that the brass is completely insensitive to anyone that isn’t an evangelical Christian. I hate to say it, but that’s not going to change if the only people left to fill higher ranking positions are the same folks who are causing problems to begin with. Lets face it, in a lot of ways the evangelical community demonstrated that this was their approach, and that got us where we are today.

    It’s one of the reasons why I intend to keep my commission. Pointing out issues is one thing, but if you’re going to point out a problem you had damn well be ready to help fix it. Simply put, organizations don’t get better when the good people leave. I don’t think the system is so broken that people can’t fix it from the inside; far from it.

    Of course, I should also point out that in my nearly 6 years of service as an officer I’ve never really run into any problems as an openly-serving atheist. I’m fortunate in that regard. Perhaps if I had my views might be different.

  14. Mal Adapted says

    We’re used to hearing about evangelical proselytizng at the Air Force Academy, but we shouldn’t be surprised to find Christian privilege rampant throughout the service academies. Many of the comments on Page’s piece are sadly predictable, e.g.

    But some people are also very capable of finding problems where they don’t exist.

    and

    I haven’t seen a more fair environment for women or non-religious cadets since I have been at West Point. I have never been pressured to go to any religious event and when prayers are administered it is just as easy to zone out. One of my Muslim friends was perfectly fine with it.

    or

    “Mandatory sectarian participation” is, in fact, nothing more than a short prayer conducted at the beginning and/or end of a ceremony.

    To be fair, I’ve had a lot of my own unexamined privilege revealed to me by reading FtB! Do any of the service academies require cadets to take a “Privilege 101″ course?

  15. wscott says

    @ naturalcynic #9: I must’ve missed that in the MRFF email, thanks. I’m guessing Page won’t be eligible for GI Bill benefits, having already received 3.9 years of college at taxpayer expense. But he should have no trouble transferring those credits to the college of his choice to finish his degree.

    @ Olav #11: Absolutely. But Godwin notwithstanding, if you really can’t see the difference between disagreeing on Con Law interpretations vs. executing millions of civilians, I suggest your brain might need an adjustment. Google just war theory if you want a fuller discussion, but here’s the tl;dr — in modern western democracies, the decision of when/whether to engage in war (jus ad bellum) is generally regarded as the province of elected civilian leadership; the military leadership is responsible for the just conduct of that war (jus in bello).

    Now if you had a situation where the President ordered military action, but Congress refused to support it, or if the Supreme Court ruled that a Congressional resolution was insufficient… well that would get “interesting.” My gut says that if 2 out of 3 branches of government were in agreement, the military would accept that consensus. But the whole “Commander In Chief” thing carries a lot of weight in the hierarchy-conscious military; on paper, the personality & politics of the President shouldn’t be a factor, but in reality it could be. I honestly doubt it’ll ever come to that, but it’s an interesting thought experiment, particularly with the increased politicization of the military since 9/11.

    @ YankeeCynic #14: I’m glad to hear the problems aren’t universal, and salute you for sticking with it!

  16. Michael Heath says

    We need to start employing more ridicule and condemnation to the reasoned arguments like this cadet’s. The labels coward and traitor [in principle] both come to mind, because they’re accurate and provocative. We need to get inside the mind of the public on what this behavior actually is with the most memorable and appropriate language available.

    Of course this young cadet is correct these Christians are also criminals. The cowards are the commanding officers who allow this activity to flourish. The traitors of course are those who exploit their power to deprive our military personnel of their religious freedom rights, in spite of taking an oath to do the very opposite.

  17. says

    What’s interesting is that it has been conveniently left out that shortly before quitting this person learned they would be ineligible for a commission due to suffering from clinical depression. Convenient time to throw a fit. What was the deal the other 3 and 1/2 years that he thought he would receive a commission? Did that happen to factor into his grandstanding? I guess an article that reads “quits 6 months before receiving a commission” proves your point a tad more than “quits a school because he wasn’t going to receive a commission, and every employer from now on is going to want to know why he went to West Point and didn’t serve, so its convenient for him to quit on grounds of religious intolerance.”

  18. Michael Heath says

    daxopolous writes:

    What’s interesting is that it has been conveniently left out that shortly before quitting this person learned they would be ineligible for a commission due to suffering from clinical depression. Convenient time to throw a fit. What was the deal the other 3 and 1/2 years that he thought he would receive a commission? Did that happen to factor into his grandstanding? I guess an article that reads “quits 6 months before receiving a commission” proves your point a tad more than “quits a school because he wasn’t going to receive a commission, and every employer from now on is going to want to know why he went to West Point and didn’t serve, so its convenient for him to quit on grounds of religious intolerance.”

    Citation requested, which is par for the course in this venue since truth actually matters here. And please don’t just point to a cite where the military makes this claim. We want to see this information actually verified as true. That could be done by either pointing to Blake Page conceding he suffers from this condition or a qualified expert independent of the military validating your claim.

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