Military backs off threat to pull atheist from ceremony

Johnny - posted on 10/20/2011 ( 8 moms have responded )




By Jennifer Rizzo, CNN

Washington (CNN) - After almost being pulled from a graduation ceremony for refusal to lower the head during a benediction, a soldier is now allowed to attend but must instead stand at attention.

The 20-year-old private first class, a proclaimed atheist, is graduating from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina on Thursday.

The soldier, who requested that CNN not give a name and gender for fear of repercussions, called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation on Wednesday after taking part in a rehearsal for the graduation.

The soldier told the watchdog group that during the rehearsal, officials ordered the soldiers to bow their heads and clasp their hands during the chaplain's benediction. As an atheist, the soldier refused to do so.

"I immediately pointed out that not only is a prayer at a public ceremony unconstitutional, but to force someone to give the illusion of religion when the individual does not believe in any religion is blatantly wrong and very illegal," the soldier said in an e-mail to the foundation.

The rest of the platoon "groaned" at the soldier's stance, but the soldier wrote that "I stood my ground."

"When you stand up like this, you make yourself a tarantula on a wedding cake," said Mikey Weinstein, founder of the foundation. Weinstein said the soldier was "brave" for taking a stand.

Officials at Fort Jackson threatened to pull the soldier from the ceremony but then backed down, according to the soldier, after hearing that the soldier had contacted the religious freedom foundation.

"This is an absolute perfect example of the separation of church and state, and it takes a 20-year-old to stand up and say no," Weinstein said.

Fort Jackson claims the soldier’s participation in the graduation ceremony was never in question but is still looking into whether orders were given to bow one’s hands and lower one’s head during the benediction.

“It is not the command’s policy to force anyone to bow their heads and clasp their hands to pray,” said Patrick Jones, Fort Jackson Public Affairs Officer. “The Army fully recognizes all faiths or lack there of”.



Krista - posted on 10/21/2011




Standing at attention and being quiet and respectful? No problem with it at all. But being ordered to bow his head to a deity in which he does not believe? No. That's not right.

And to the religious folks who say, "Oh, he should have bowed his head, what harm is it?", I ask you...if you were in a Muslim country, would you want to be forced to kneel and pray to Mecca 5 times a day, even though you don't believe? Or do you believe that being silent and respectful while the faithful are praying should be good enough?

I don't bow my head for prayer. I just stand there quietly. Why should anybody have a problem with me (or anybody) doing that? I'm not making a scene, or disrupting the prayer. I'm just not bowing my head.


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Krista - posted on 10/21/2011




Yeah, maybe I'm a weirdo, but if I WAS religious, to me, that would be my OWN thing. So if I wanted to pray, that would be cool. But I just can't understand the mindset that would want to pressure any unbelievers in the room with me to bow their heads as well. I wouldn't even care if they're quiet -- as long as they're not deliberately trying to distract me from my prayer, then that'd be fine.

Jenni - posted on 10/21/2011




Like always, I agree with Krista.

When I'm with family who prays, at a funeral, at dinner, or whatever the occasion may be. I sit/stand silently, out of respect but I do not bow my head.

It is not anymore disrespectful than it is to force someone to show respect to a god/deity through gestures that they do not believe in.

Lady - posted on 10/21/2011




I totally agree the soldier should not have to pretend to pray if he/she does not believe. At my children's schools they are supposed to bow their heads and clasp their hands in assembly for prayer but as my children are athiests I've told them they don't have to - that they just have to sit quietly and be respectful of others - I don't bow my head for prayer at wedding or funerals or if I attend their assembly's - I will not pretend to do something as I feel it's making a mokery of those who do believe - for the same reason I would not get my children baptised - even though my mother in law told me to for the sake of my kids - I was not going to stand in front of a church full of people and claim to believe something i most definitly didn't.

[deleted account]

Right. What's the harm of religion right?

For those who groan along, why should he be required to bow his head to what he considers a fairy tale? It is just as respectful to stand politely at attention.

Iridescent - posted on 10/21/2011




I agree with Carolee. It's probably not a popular opinion, but it's long overdue.

Carolee - posted on 10/20/2011




Nobody should be forced to "pretend" to believe something they don't. They should still be polite and tactful, though. I think what he/she did was risky, yet it needed to be done.

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