Soldiers attending advanced individual training (AIT) at Fort Gordon, Ga. say they were required to attend a Christian proselytizing event on Oct. 14, Army Times reports.
In addition to the mandatory barbecue, the trainees say they had to listen to a Christian chaplain, and Christian rock band.
More than 40 soldiers and civilians at Fort Gordon contacted Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRRF), who wrote an open letter to Maj. Gen. John Morrison Jr., the base commander shortly after the event.
Weinstein wrote that soldiers “were ORDERED by their Army superiors to form up from their barracks and MANDATORILY marched over, in formation, to one of the Fort Gordon chapels and FORCED to participate in an elaborate, Fort Gordon-sponsored and produced Christian proselytizing program.”
But the Army is pushing back.
In a statement provided to Connecting Vets, US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which oversees soldiers’ entry training, said the bi-annual “Spiritual Fitness Barbeque” was not mandatory and has been occurring over the past decade.
“The instructions were clear that this was strictly a voluntary event, and that Soldiers are not required to attend,” the statement reads. “The Brigade Commander was in attendance for the event, and saw Soldiers coming and going freely with no complaints from Soldiers he spoke with.”
Just how voluntary the event was remains in question, but this isn’t the first time the Army has been accused of forcing trainees to attend Christian events.
In 2005, the MRRF began receiving complaints of religious pressure and deception at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., a major training base for the Army. The event called “Free Day Away” brought recruits 30 miles off base to the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lebanon, Mo.
Trainees were given the impression that the event is sanctioned by the Army, and involuntary. Those that didn’t join were told they had to continue with training, while those who attended the event got a break from the drill sergeants, were allowed to eat junk food, and have fun.
But during the compulsory church service, attendees were told they are sinners, and must repent.
While the event that took place at Fort Gordon is wildly different than the experience that thousands of recruits had at Fort Leonard Wood, there remains uncertainty about how “voluntary” the barbeque was.
If you’ve been subject to religious coercion while serving in the military, let us know what your experience was in the comments, or by emailing: Matt@Connectingvets.com