A lot of atheist blogs have had this story. For some time now, actually, But the New York Times has finally covered the story, which seems like a good excuse for me to talk about it.
The Times headline sums it up pretty darned well:
And here's a few pertinent quotes before I get into my analysis:
When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.
But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism, Specialist Hall wrote in a sworn statement. "People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!" Major Welborn said, according to the statement.
Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.
Perhaps the most high-profile incident involved seven officers, including four generals, who appeared, in uniform and in violation of military regulations, in a 2006 fund-raising video for the Christian Embassy, an evangelical Bible study group.
Specialist Hall began a chapter of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers at Camp Speicher, near Tikrit, to support others like him.
At the July meeting, Major Welborn told the soldiers they had disgraced those who had died for the Constitution, Specialist Hall said. When he finished, Major Welborn said, according to the statement: "I love you guys; I just want the best for you. One day you will see the truth and know what I mean."
Complaints include prayers "in Jesus' name" at mandatory functions, which violates military regulations, and officers proselytizing subordinates to be "born again." After getting the complainants’ unit and command information, Mr. Weinstein said, he calls his contacts in the military to try to correct the situation.
"Religion is inextricably intertwined with their jobs," Mr. Weinstein said. "You're promoted by who you pray with."
Okay. Do we have the picture now, everybody? Read the whole story if you don't. And this isn't the first time I've seen this story: plenty of atheist blogs have been carrying it for a while, along with many others like it. (More info -- not just on this case, but on an appalling number of similar ones -- at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.)
And here's why this scares the daylights out of me. More than just about any instance of creeping theocracy in our country. More, even, than creationism and other forms of religious fundamentalism being taught in our public, taxpayer-funded schools.
This is the Army.
This is the branch of our government with the big rifles.
And increasingly, they seem to be placing their allegiance to their religion over their allegiance to the country and the Constitution.
There's a story that Ed Brayton (who's been covering this story a lot) had over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. The whole story is excellent, but here's the truly terrifying part:
One individual, posting under the name "Hidog," suggested Hall put on an orange vest and carry a sign "Bong hits 4 Allah" through the streets of Iraq, "because apparently, your Bill of Rights trump your CO's (commanding officer's) orders."
As Ed pointed out, "Well yes, the bill of rights does trump the orders of a commanding officer when those orders violate the bill of rights."
And it scares the merciful crap out of me to think that the Army is increasingly full of people -- not just mooks with no power, but officers -- who don't understand that. It terrifies me to think of an Army populated by both officers and enlisted men whose hearts -- and guns -- belong, not to the citizens of this country who employ them, but to Jesus.
And it terrifies me to realize these are not isolated incidents. There's so much more to this story that I haven't gotten into, that I don't have time to get into without this turning into an unreadably long screed. It is becoming increasingly clear that this is the dominant culture of the current United States Army.
Because that, people, means that we really are living in a theocracy. Right now. The armed enforcers of our Federal government are the defenders, not of our country, not of our Constitution, but of their God and their faith.
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
Okay. Perhaps I'm being a little panicky, a little overdramatic. The good news is that we're not overtly a theocracy. Yet. When caught in these shenanigans, the perpetrators still have to shimmy and sidestep, deny that it happened or hastily issue regulations to halt the more grotesquely blatant examples of it. And if the Supreme Court hasn't become completely craven, hopefully they'll be spanking the Pentagon long and hard over this. (Military fetishists, take note.)
And the good news is that the story finally got out of the atheist blogosphere and into the New York Times. (CNN has the story, too.)
But this is not a few isolated incidents. This is not a few bad apples. This is, as Mikey Weinsein of the MRFF called it, "the intentional dismantling of the Constitutionally mandated wall separating church and state by some of the highest ranking officials in the Bush Administration and the U.S. military."
The intentional dismantling of the wall separating church and state. By the armed enforcers of the Federal government. By the branch of the Federal government that has the big rifles.
What is that but theocracy?
(P.S. I'm not even going to get into the fact that these are the people who are enforcing our foreign policy overseas, in parts of the world that are primarily and quite passionately not Christian. Except to say: Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. What a colossally, appallingly, mind-twistingly bad idea that is.)
This has been all over the atheosphere; but Susie Bright is the one who sent it to me. So thanks, Susie.