WASHINGTON -- A former West Point cadet who resigned from the military academy in November over what he says was unconstitutional Christian proselytizing may now owe the institution hundreds of thousands of dollars in a turn of events that have left the 24-year-old “shocked.”
Blake Page, who served in the Army prior to attending West Point, submitted an official letter of resignation from the academy on Nov. 6. In an op-ed in The Huffington Post, Page explained that he no longer desired to be part of a group of “silent bystanders” witnessing what he called “egregious violations” of the Constitution.
“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,” Page wrote. “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.”
Now, Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is accusing the Army of retialiating against Page for going public with his story. The new controversy was first reported by NBC News on Thursday.
“There’s no question that this is a vicious and aggressive form of reprisal and retribution,” Weinstein, who has hired Page as a special assistant, told The Huffington Post. “This is the last thing [Page] expected and we’re certainly not going to take it sitting down.”
Weinstein added that if the Army chooses to seek financial reimbursement from Page, his organization will pursue a “massive federal lawsuit,” citing the Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
Graduates of West Point are not typically responsible for paying tuition while at the institution. Instead, students “pay off” their educational costs through military service. Students who resign or are dismissed from West Point may be subject to recoupment.
According to Page, shortly after his resignation, an Army captain told him that the U.S. Military Academy would not seek recoupment from him, either through enlisted service or financial reimbursement. In a letter provided to The Huffington Post dated Dec. 12, Superintendent Lt. Gen. David H. Huntoon did, in fact, recommend to the Army that Page be honorably discharged and that his educational expenses at West Point be waived.
Approximately one week after Page left West Point -- and after he went public with his story -- he said he received a call from an official telling him that a mistake had been made and the superintendent’s decision was not final. The official added that Blake should “keep his head down” until a final decision on recoupment had been made -- a process that could take up to six months.
On Feb. 12, Page returned to his home in Minnesota to find a letter from the assistant secretary of the Army. The letter informed Page that, while the superintendent's recommendation to honorably discharge Page was approved, an investigation was underway to determine if the former cadet was responsible for recoupment.
“I was shocked,” Page told The Huffington Post. “I didn’t really know how to process it because I had been told already that it was done, that I wasn’t going to see recoupment. I had been told multiple times, and now that this comes up it’s just hard to process.”
Page, who was determined non-commissionable due to medical reasons that arose while he was at West Point, is no longer eligible for enlistment, leaving him with only one option if recoupment is sought -- he'll have to pay back the government for his educational expenses, which carries an estimated price tag of $200,000.
“Right now, I’m just trying to strategize how I can make that much money,” Page said.
Weinstein, an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, said that it is “extremely rare” for the secretary of the Army to rule against a recommendation coming through the chain in command, making the move to investigate Page’s possible recoupment a clear “declaration of war” against the former cadet.
“They’re screwing this kid for standing up and doing something bravely,” Weinstein said.
In a written statement to The Huffington Post, Lt. Col. Tom Alexander at Army headquarters said that Page’s case “is being reviewed as all cadet resignations from the United States Military Academy are reviewed.” He also noted that the Army cannot discuss specific details on Page’s case until the investigation is complete.
Officials conducting the recoupment investigation have 120 days from the case's start date -- which was Jan. 28 -- to make a final decision. In the meantime, Page is left to wait for a ruling on whether or not he will owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Army.
Weinstein said that Page shouldn't be required to pay West Point anything.
“If the amount is anything north of zero, they’re going to be finding themselves facing [a lawsuit],” Weinstein said.