Group Sues Pentagon Over First Amendment Religion Issue


Yesterday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and U.S. Army Major Paul Welborne. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, alleges that Army specialist Jeremy Hall, who is currently serving in Iraq, had his First Amendment rights violated last Thanksgiving when he was threatened and otherwise harrassed because he declined to participate in a Thanksgiving prayer ceremony.

According to Hall, who is an atheist, when he refused to join hands with other soldiers and pray, he was told by a staff sergeant (who first had to ask someone what an atheist was) that he could not eat Thanksgiving dinner with his peers. Hall, however, continued to eat his dinner at the table.

According to the complaint, in August, Hall received permission from a military chaplain to organize a group for atheist soldiers, but when the group met, Major Welborne broke it up, and also threatened to charge Hall with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Hall says that Welborne further threatened him that he would block Hall’s re-enlistment in the Army if the atheist group continued to meet. Hall alleges that Welborne disrupted the meeting and confronted those in attendance.

Hall’s complaint is not unique. Just last month, the Pentagon’s Inspector General responded to a complaint by an MRFF that Defense Department officials violated their own regulations by appearing in a video to promote a fundamentalist Christian organization.

A spokesman for the MRFF has indicated that the Hall lawsuit is just the first of many.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.