FFRF Stops Prayers at Iraq Base — Silence from Pentagon

The Freedom From Religion Foundation protested mandatory Christian prayer and bible reading by chaplains before a captive audience in the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Iraq, as part of twice-a day shift change briefings. The Foundation was contacted in October by an officer who said at least three chaplains instigated the prayer sessions five months previously. The complainant said the chaplains continually read verses from the bible, followed by prayer invoking Jesus Christ.

The Foundation asked Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates to immediately investigate the claims, take steps to remedy the violations, and issue guidelines to all branches of the armed forces on the military’s need to stay neutral over religion.

In early December, the Foundation received a welcome e-mail from its complainant noting “there is no more mandatory prayer,” saying it has been replaced with “This day in history” and “a moment of reflective silence.”

“We have yet to receive any acknowledgment from the Pentagon of our complaint, or of its actions or its intentions to protect the First Amendment rights of nonreligious and nonChristian soldiers,” said Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor.

In his e-mail to the Foundation, the officer, who is an atheist, noted, “I’m not doing this out of self-interest. I’m doing this because as a noncommissioned officer, part of my job is to look out for the interests of soldiers of lesser rank than me. This is not a Christian-exclusive club, but a group of highly diverse individuals with varying religious beliefs.”

The officer said he was advised by an indignant chaplain when he complained that he was not forced to join the Army and should just accept the prayer before the meetings, noted Foundation staff attorney Rebecca S. Kratz in her Nov. 5 letter to Gates.

The practice of turning briefings into worship “unlawfully compels religious and nonreligious personnel to participate in religious exercises.”

Kratz’ compelling 4-page legal brief details the extensive court precedent violated by these worship practices by the Army and Air Force chaplains. Precedent includes 2006 guidelines adopted by the Air Force, stating that that Air Force will “remain officially neutral regarding religious beliefs, neither officially endorsing nor disapproving any faith belief or absence of belief.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation