Last week, a number of religious freedom activists, bloggers and organizations were alerted by Sgt. Justin Griffith, a soldier at Fort Bragg, N.C., to a mandatory U.S. Army survey called the "Soldier Fitness Tracker." One of the areas included in this survey, which measures a soldier's fitness in a number of areas, is "spiritual" fitness. According to his survey results, Sgt. Griffith is unfit to serve.
A little background: I've been working with Sgt. Griffith for the past few months on an event he's organizing in response to the Billy Graham Evangelical Association's "Rock The Fort" event, which was held on the parade field at Fort Bragg in September. Although a number of organizations objected to a military installation officially sponsoring this Billy Graham event, which was clearly designed to make converts of soldiers at the post, the event went on as planned. In defense of the event, the post commander issued a statement saying that any other group that wanted to hold a similar event would be given the same approval and support that "Rock The Fort" had been given. I immediately called Mikey Weinstein, my boss at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and said that we needed to take Fort Bragg up on its offer and tell them we want to hold a comparable event for non-theists. Just as we were discussing the feasibility of putting on an event on the same scale as the Billy Graham event, we got an email from Sgt. Griffith, who had had exactly the same idea. And, thus, a beautiful partnership was born. From my very first phone conversation with Sgt. Griffith a few days later, I knew we had a soldier with the brains, guts, and determination to pull this off. Other organizations quickly got on board -- the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Americans United, the Military Association of Athiests and Freethinkers, American Atheists, and the Stiefel Freethought Foundation -- as did a bunch of great entertainers and speakers, including the illustrious Ed Brayton, who has agreed to emcee the event. The event, tentatively scheduled to take place in April, is called Rock Beyond Belief.
Now, getting back to the Army's "Soldier Fitness Tracker" survey ...
After taking the survey, and finding out that, as a non-believer, the Army considers him unfit to serve, Sgt. Griffith sent out an email to all the organizations and individuals involved in Rock Beyond Belief, and people sprang into action. MRFF has a prominent law firm on it, and several of the bloggers among the recipients of the email immediately posted about this jaw-droppingly outrageous "religious test."
One of these blog posts, written by Al Stefanelli, has now gone viral. Al's post, which begins, "Did you know that the United States Army is concerned with the spiritual well-being of their soldiers? Did you know that if you choose not to believe in the supernatural that the United States Army can consider you unfit to serve?," can be found here, and a follow-up post here.
Over the past few years, I've written quite a bit about "Spiritual Fitness," as the Army calls it, and included a section about it in a chapter I wrote for the recently released book Attitudes Aren't Free: Thinking Deeply about Diversity in the US Armed Forces, published by Air University Press, the publishing arm of the Air Force's Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base. Here's what I wrote about it in the book:
"Spiritual fitness" is the military's new code phrase for promoting religion, and the religion being promoted is Christianity. There are spiritual fitness centers, spiritual fitness programs, spiritual fitness concerts, spiritual fitness runs and walks, and so forth.
This year, for example, Fort Eustis, Virginia, and Fort Lee, Virginia, have been holding a spiritual fitness concert series. At Fort Eustis, it's actually called the "Commanding General's Spiritual Fitness Concert Series." This is a Christian concert series. All of the performers are Christian recording artists. Photos from one of the Fort Lee concerts show crosses everywhere, and one photo's caption even says that the performer "took a moment to read a Bible passage" during her set. In some cases, attendance at Christian concerts held at basic training installations has been mandatory for the Soldiers in training.
In March 2008, a program was presented at a commander's call at RAF Lakenheath, England. This commander's call was mandatory for an estimated 1,000 service members, and the PowerPoint version of the presentation was e-mailed to an additional 4,000-5,000 members. The "spiritual fitness" segment of this presentation was titled "A New Approach to Suicide Prevention: Developing Purpose-Driven Airmen," a takeoff on Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life. The presentation also incorporated creationism into suicide prevention. One slide, titled "Contrasting Theories of Hope, 2 Ultimate Theories Explaining Our Existence," has two columns, the first titled "Chance," and the second "Design," comparing Charles Darwin and "Random/Chaos" to God and "Purpose/Design." Darwin, creationism and religion are also part of a chart comparing the former Soviet Union to the United States, which concludes that "Naturalism/Evolution/Atheism" lead to people being "in bondage" and having "no hope," while theism leads to "People of Freedom" and "People of Hope/Destiny."
(My entire chapter, "Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic," can be downloaded here.)
Since the publication of the book, MRFF has found out that not only were the "Spiritual Fitness" concerts at Fort Eustis exclusively Christian, but that soldiers were actually punished for choosing not to attend them. We have also received many more complaints about a plethora of other ways in which Christianity is being pushed on our service men and women under the guise of "Spiritual Fitness," such as the new "Spiritual Fitness Center" at Fort Hood, which, while claimed by the Army to not only be non-Christian but completely non-religious, is chock full of crosses and other displays promoting evangelical Christianity. Check out this video tour, filmed by a soldier at Fort Hood for MRFF.
Make no mistake: "Spiritual Fitness" is just a clever term concocted by the military to flagrantly violate the Constitution and promote religion.
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