December 19, 2007 – The warriors pose for the camera in a group shot – some holding their weapons in one hand and their holy book in another.
Elsewhere, a poster bears a quotation calling for the killing of enemy leaders and forcing the defeated people to convert.
If you think the images come from Islamic fundamentalist training camps in remote regions of the Middle East you’d be wrong.
The photo depicts Army trainees at Fort Jackson, S.C., where in addition to basic combat training recruits may also attend “God’s Basic Training,” while the poster — boasting a quotation from conservative author Ann Coulter — adorns the door of a Military Police office at Fort Riley, Kansas.
“These are startling and disgusting revelations of further unconstitutional behavior by technologically the most lethal organization ever created by humankind — the U.S. military,” said Mikey Weinstein, whose group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, discovered the evangelical-oriented program at Fort Jackson and the Coulter poster at Fort Riley.
The group also has found at the Fort Riley exchange the Muslim-critical “Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” on display right next to The Holy Bible. And at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., a new “Enabled By Christ” Christian men’s store operates at the base exchange, Weinstein said.
Officials with the bases in question and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, however, deny there is any deliberate intent to impose a religious belief on troops, and a Fort Riley spokesman told Military.com command would look into Weinstein’s allegations there.
“Command at Fort Riley takes the Army value of respect very seriously,” said Maj. Nathan Bond.”The things you have mentioned to me, if they are true, do not seem in line with the Army values of respect, and we will look into it.”
Maj. Scott Bullock, chaplain for the 2nd Battalion, 39th Basic Combat Training Bn., at Fort Jackson, said in an interview the weekly Bible study program is strictly voluntary. “I make a simple announcement for new soldiers: If you choose to come to this … you are welcome to come, especially those from an evangelical protestant background.”
Bullock said the recruits posing with their rifles in the photos do so because they’ve been directed to train as if they were in theater, taking their weapons with them everywhere they go. He said that recruits attending any religious service at the base chapel also would be carrying their weapons.
The “God’s Basic Training” program is part of the military ministry backed by Campus Crusade for Christ.
Judd Anstey, a spokesman for AAFES in Dallas, described the “Enabled By Christ” store as a short-term concession, one of about 15 AAFES-wide — of 50,000 — that has a religious affiliation. He also said that 75 percent of the vendor’s products are for hunting.
“Beyond what is in his stock,” Anstey said, “if someone from another religion comes in, let’s say, wanting a Torah or a Koran, he would order that special.”
Weinstein said the officials can “tell it to the judge,” since he plans to include the allegations into a lawsuit he and Army Specialist Jeremy Hall filed in September against the Defense Department over an officer’s disrupting a meeting of non-Christian believers and allegedly threatening Hall with punishment for organizing the event, held in August at Camp Speicher, Iraq.
Hall is now stationed at Fort Riley. The case, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, names as defendants Defense Secretary Robert Gates, representing the DoD, and Maj. Freddy Welborn, the officer who allegedly broke up the meeting and threatened to keep Hall from reenlisting.
Weinstein said they are seeking an injunction to prevent Welborn from conduct “that has the effect of establishing compulsory religious practices,” and also asking Gates to ensure Welborn does not interfere with Hall’s free speech rights.
Gates is named in the suit, Weinstein said, because he allegedly has let the military engage in a pattern of unconstitutional behavior regarding promotion of religious belief.
Earlier this year Weinstein’s organization revealed that senior Pentagon officials participated in a Christian Embassy video, endorsing the work of the group and of Christianity, while in uniform and against the backdrop of the Pentagon.
The DoD Inspector General ultimately determined that seven officers, including four generals, engaged in misconduct by appearing in the videos. Weinstein said the Pentagon has never said what actions were taken against the officers.