When Spc. Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.
But minutes into the talk, the officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, began to berate Hall and another soldier about atheism, Hall wrote in a sworn statement. "People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!" Welborn said, according to the statement.
Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them, according to the statement.
Last month, Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Kansas, alleging that Hall's right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment had been violated and that he had faced retaliation for his views. In November, he was sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers.
Eileen Lainez, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, declined to comment on the case.
Hall's lawsuit is the latest incident to raise questions about the military's religion guidelines. In 2005, the Air Force issued new regulations in response to complaints from cadets at the Air Force Academy that evangelical Christian officers used their positions to proselytize. In general, the armed forces have regulations, Lainez said, that respect "the rights of others to their own religious beliefs, including the right to hold no beliefs."
At the July meeting, Welborn told the soldiers they had disgraced those who had died for the Constitution, Hall said. When he finished, Welborn said, according to the statement: "I love you guys; I just want the best for you."
Welborn declined to comment beyond saying, "I'd love to tell my side of the story because it's such a false story."
But Timothy Feary, a soldier who attended the meeting, said in an e-mail message: "Jeremy is telling the truth. I was there and witnessed everything."
This is another case showing the bias "religious" people have against atheists. Many so-called religious folk have no problems trampling the rights of atheists. It'd be interesting to hear Welborn's "side of the story" though you have to wonder why he'd have "no comment" if he has a "side" to tell...