Pfc. Anthony Smith had been training at Ft. Eustis in Virginia when he and the other soldiers were ordered to march in formation to the Commanding General's “Spiritual Fitness Concert”. Two Muslim soldiers reportedly fell out of formation rather than comply.
This “spirtual fitness” event was held under the orders of Gen. James E. Chambers, who is a self-professed “born again Christian”. His events are almost always Christian in nature, fundamentalist in particular.
According to Truthout:
“Once outside the concert, Smith and the other trainees were finally given an option and told to split into two groups: those who wanted to attend, and those who did not. Smith and about 80 others decided not to attend, even though they were obviously being "pressured" to do so. Smith and the others were sent back to their barracks on "lockdown," a punishment that Smith said withholds even basic freedoms like using their own electronics.”
The issue here isn’t the specific punishment, but rather that US soldiers were punished for standing up for their religious liberty, guaranteed to them by the US Constitution’s First Amendment. The issue here is that soldiers are meant to be fighting to preserve, protect and defend that Constitution, but the commanding general obviously is not.
Mandatory religion has no place in the military, but this is nothing new: The radical right has been working hard to make "a spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform.” I wrote about that two years ago.
Smith said “…there were so many people who weren't willing to stand up for themselves." But Smith and another soldier filed an Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint against their commanding officers, not that they took any notice.
Personally, I find it reassuring that despite the best efforts of radical far right christianists, there are still soldiers willing to stand up for their Constitutional rights in the face of massive pressure and injustice.
Smith told Truthout, “I've always stood up to my beliefs, it is kind of ridiculous that I have to deal with this in the military." It’s very ridiculous, but we should all be glad that Smith had the courage and strength of character to do the right thing. Fortunately, there are a lot more soldiers like Smith than the radical right would ever care to admit. However, the threat remains.
Tip o’ the Hat to my friend Ninure, who Tweeted the Truthout link earlier today.