Wait 'til you hear this!
So many of you were fired up about yesterday after I blogged about Army Specialist Jeremy Hall, an atheist soldier who is suing, among others, the Department of Defense and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
We were flooded with responses!
Specialist Hall alleges the military is becoming a Christian organization. He says his religious freedom protected under the First Amendment was violated.
If you missed the original blog, Hall was raised Baptist, said grace before dinner and read the bible each night before bed. Then a friend, a fellow atheist, suggested he read the Bible again. When he did, Hall says he had so many questions that he decided to embrace atheism. He no longer believes in God, luck, fate, or anything supernatural.
That change in Hall's beliefs, he says, cost him his military career and nearly cost him his life in Iraq. He says his life was so at risk that the army assigned him a full-time bodyguard and even sent him home early from Iraq.
Hall says he was ostracized for not embracing fundamentalist Christianity in the military. At Thanksgiving two years ago, Hall says he was told to sit at another table because he refused to pray at mealtime.
After he was nearly killed during an attack on his humvee, Hall told me, a fellow soldier asked him “do you believe in Jesus now?”, His response, “No, but I do believe in ballistic armor,” which saved his life.
And he says he was passed over for a promotion because he’s an atheist, and was told, “because I can't put my personal beliefs aside and pray with troops I wouldn't make a good leader.”.
Hall filed suit against the federal government in March. He isn’t seeking money, just religious freedom in the military.
The Justice Department had until midnight yesterday to respond and it took its time. Late last night, it filed a response. Turns out, the U.S. Government, the very government Hall agreed to serve and risk his life for, wants his lawsuit tossed out.
Justice says the case should be dismissed because, “plaintiffs lack standing, have failed to exhaust intramilitary remedies, and assert claims that are nonjusticiable.”
“Because Secretary Gates already exercises his authority to prevent violations through the Army’s Equality Opportunity Program – which Specialist Hall failed to invoke—there is no live controversy with respective for plaintiff’s injunctive relief against him,” the Justice Department says. It also notes Secretary of Defense Gates has instructed the army to develop policies and procedures consistent with the Department of Defense’s prohibition against religious discrimination.
Throughout the response, the Government faults Hall for not filing a formal complaint with the military. I had asked Hall why he hadn’t done that when we met near his base in Fort Riley Kansas. He told me that nothing ever gets done as a result of those complaints, so he reached out to the group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation, to make sure this was handled. The group and its founder, Michael Weinstein, is suing along with Specialist Hall.
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