Many of you may have heard about Army SPC Zachari Klawonn, the Muslim soldier serving at Fort Hood who, despite an exemplary service record, has faced repeated and unconscionable discrimination and threats because of his religion, eventually being moved off-post for his own safety. To add insult to injury, the Army has yet to provide this soldier with the standard housing allowance given to soldiers who live off-post, forcing him to have to take out personal loans and pawn his possessions to pay his bills.
Zachari Klawonn is now a client of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and appeared on CNN's Campbell Brown the other night, along with MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein and Texas attorney Randy Mathis, who is representing Zachari pro bono. (A portion of the interview with Zachari is available on Campbell Brown's blog.)
As Zachari explained during the interview, he had told his superiors that he was uncomfortable attending the Muslim services available off-post because he found the Imam to be too radical. He was then told that a room in the post's Spiritual Fitness Center would be reserved for Fort Hood's Muslim soldiers to have an on-post place to hold prayers on Friday afternoons. But, as Zachari told the Washington Post, when he arrived at the designated room on a Friday afternoon, he found that the room was already being used for a Christian financial planning class. (According to DoD contracts, the Army has purchased thousands of training kits from Financial Peace University to teach biblically based financial planning to our soldiers.)
As I wrote back in August of last year, as part of some research I was doing for Jeff Sharlet last summer regarding the members of Congress involved in the C-Street scandal, I was looking at the recent earmarks requested by these members of Congress. Although the work I was doing with Jeff was unrelated to my job at MRFF, something that naturally jumped out at me was the enormous amounts of money being approved to build large chapel complexes on military bases. The largest of these earmarks was requested by "Family" member Rep. John Carter (R-TX), who represents the district in which Fort Hood is located. To date, the Fort Hood "mega-church" project has received over $28 million in earmark funding: $17,500,000 for its chapel complex and religious education center, and an additional $10,800,000 for its "Family Life Center."
In addition to this extravagant new chapel complex, which is currently under construction, Fort Hood also recently opened its new "Spiritual Fitness Center," a facility created by extensively renovating one of the post's eleven existing chapels. While the military insists that this Spiritual Fitness Center is not religious but merely spiritual, the renovations of the existing chapel resulted in a building that is indistinguishable from a chapel, complete with its Christian-themed stained glass windows.
Although all I had seen of this new Spiritual Fitness Center at the time I wrote my previous post were a few photos released by by Fort Hood, I wasn't buying the claim that this facility -- which looks like a church, is set up to hold worship services, and had a Christian rock concert as one of its kick-off events -- was not religious. But even I was shocked (and it takes a lot to shock me after three years of working for MRFF) by just how religious -- and overtly Christian -- this facility actually is.
As part of my job with MRFF, I often ask service members to send me photos documenting their claims, so I asked Zachari, who had described the Spiritual Fitness Center to me on the phone, to take some photos. He sent me not only the requested photos but a video walkthrough of the facility that made my jaw drop. Words would not do this justice, so I've decided to post the video here so everyone can just see it for themselves.
In addition to the video, Zachari also sent me the photos I requested, which included additional images of Christian artwork not seen in the video, and photos of the books available in the facility's lending library. In this facility, where even the room that was supposed to be reserved for Muslim prayers was taken over by a Christian financial planning class, the only book available for Muslims is a book on how Muslims can become Christians, and how Christians can help Muslims become Christians.
The book, titled Unshackled & Growing, is published by the Navigators, one of the largest and most influential of the fundamentalist Christian para-church military ministries currently ingrained in and operating unrestricted throughout the military.
Here's how the Navigators describe their military ministry:
We envision a movement of thousands of courageous men and women passionately following Christ, representing Him in advancing the Gospel through relationships where they live, work, train for war, and deploy. This movement includes men and women of all races and ranks, and permeates the military community on and around every U.S. installation and foreign military around the world.
The description of Unshackled & Growing on the Navigators website begins:
Do you know Muslims who are not attracted to Christianity yet are intrigued by Christ? As you attempt to win these Muslim friends to Christ, you may be tempted to dump the entire Gospel message on them in the wrong way at the wrong time. Musims [sic] can easily sniff out an agenda, but truthful, culturally-sensitive answers and a genuine friendship can change their lives.
I don't think any further comment is necessary.