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Chris Rodda

Chris Rodda

Posted: July 15, 2008 05:08 PM

CNN Segment Dramatically Shifts Opinion on MRFF Lawsuit Among Both Non-Christians and Christians


As reported last week by the Wall Street Journal and many other news outlets: "CNN Segment Convinces Majority of Non-Christians that Army Discriminates: Nearly Half of Christians Agree."

In a study conducted by MediaCurves, over 200 Christians and over 100 non-Christians were asked a series of questions both before and after viewing the CNN segment, which can be viewed here in its entirety.

These were some of the questions and results from the MediaCurves study:

"Do you believe that the US Army discriminates against non-Christians?" Before viewing the segment, only 13% of the Christians answered yes. After viewing it, 46% answered yes. Among the non-Christians, those answering yes rose from 37% to 75%.


"Do you believe that there is pressure to embrace Evangelical Christianity in the US Military?"
Before viewing the segment, only 24% of the Christians answered yes. After viewing it, 49% answered yes. Among the non-Christians, those answering yes rose from 44% to 79%.

"Do you agree with Army Specialist Jeremy Hall's decision to bring a lawsuit against the US Department of Defense?"
In answer to this question, asked after the study group viewed the segment, 53% of the Christians and 84% of the non-Christians said yes.

The segment, featuring plaintiff Jeremy Hall, aired on Anderson Cooper 360 on July 8, just hours before the deadline for the government to respond to the lawsuit filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) against the Department of Defense. As expected, the Justice Department responded electronically on the evening of the final day with a motion to dismiss, citing reasons which included "plaintiffs lack standing, have failed to exhaust intramilitary remedies, and assert claims that are nonjusticiable."

According to the DoJ, MRFF's complaint against Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for failing to prevent "a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible advancements of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense (D.O.D.) and the United States military" is unfounded because "Secretary Gates already exercises his authority to prevent violations through the Army's Equality Opportunity Program -- which Specialist Hall failed to invoke."

But, it is precisely the "pattern and practice" that MRFF is alleging exists throughout the military that would make it unlikely, if not impossible, for a soldier like SPC Hall to successfully pursue a remedy through military channels. MRFF has been contacted by enough service members who have attempted to resolve their complaints through military channels, including the Equality Opportunity (EO) program, to know this. And, since the CNN segment aired last week, dozens of other service members have contacted MRFF with their stories of what happened when they tried to resolve religious issues through their chain of command or the EO program. At best, their complaints were simply ignored; at worst, the service members who complained faced retaliation from both peers and superiors. Many others have been afraid to report these violations at all. This is the very reason that MRFF is turning to the federal courts.

The DoJ's 350-page motion to dismiss also includes page after page of military regulations and directives that say the military can't promote religion or discriminate based on religion. Great. Regulations exist. We all know that. Now all we need is for these regulations to be followed and enforced and they might actually prevent many of the countless, ongoing abuses uncovered by MRFF.

MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate, former JAG, and a White House counsel in the Reagan administration, had this to say about the DoJ's motion to dismiss:

"The United States armed forces are quite simply awash in completely unconstitutional fundamentalist Christian tyranny and persecution. Having the Department of Justice, on behalf of the Department of Defense, tell us in 350 pages of legal documents that this malicious, universal disgrace and national security threat does NOT exist merely because current DoD regulations forbid it from so existing is as ludicrous as saying that cancer does not exist because the American Cancer Society has prohibited its existence. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is in this fight for Constitutional religious freedom for the long haul, and we WILL win it if we have to go all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Gandhi said, 'First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.' In the past several years, MRFF has been through the 'ignore' and 'ridicule' stages. We're clearly in the 'fight' stage now and MRFF is constantly gratified by the growing thousands of noble and honorable service men and women of the USMC, USN, USAF and USA, Reserve, Guard, and vets who have swelled our Foundation's ranks and stand with us as we carry this battle for religious freedom into the Federal Courts."

According to the motion to dismiss, "The Complaint in this case likewise fails to connect its nebulous 'pattern and practice' allegations to Specialist Hall in any manner. Plaintiffs allege no facts to demonstrate that Specialist Hall has ever personally been subjected to any of these practices..." No problem there. I can think of several examples off the top of my head in which Specialist Hall was personally subjected to some of the most outrageous practices that MRFF will be demonstrating in "its nebulous 'pattern and practice' allegations." One of the most grievous of these practices, which Hall was subjected to during his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, is the "Free Day Away" program.

The "event description" in a basic training schedule from Fort Leonard Wood describes "Free Day Away," which all trainees attend during their fifth week of training, as follows: "Soldiers spend the day away from Fort Leonard Wood and training in the town of Lebanon. Free Day Away is designed as a stress relief that helps Soldiers return to training re-motivated and rejuvenated." What they leave out is that this day is actually spent at the Tabernacle Baptist Church, and includes a mandatory fire and brimstone fundamentalist religious service. The soldiers don't even know that this part of their "training" is run by a church until they're being loaded onto the church's buses that come to pick them up. This program does anything but re-motivate and rejuvenate many of the soldiers. In fact, we have reports from parents of soldiers who were doing just fine in basic training until this free day, but were suddenly depressed and questioning if they'd made the right decision in joining the Army immediately after it. Apparently, being told you're going to burn eternally in the fires of hell isn't exactly the great re-motivator and rejuvenator that the powers that be at Fort Leonard Wood think it is.

Regarding the "pattern and practice" of constitutional violations, the DoJ refers to the handful of generalized examples listed in MRFF's complaint, saying:

"they presumably will argue that these 'pattern and practice' allegations suffice to create standing where, as shown above, it does not otherwise exist. However, Plaintiffs' burden to establish that they are in imminent danger of sustaining a concrete and particularized injury requires far more specificity."

Over the last two and a half years, MRFF has compiled very specific evidence of literally hundreds of individual violations, and we have names, dates, locations, documents, photographs, videos, etc., to support every allegation. They want specificity? We'll give them specificity out the wazoo!