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Are U.S. troops being force-fed Christianity?

A watchdog group alleges that improper evangelizing is occurring within the ranks.

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At Speicher base in Iraq, US Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

On Sept. 17, the soldier and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed suit against Army Maj. Freddy Welborn and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, charging violations of Hall's constitutional rights, including being forced to submit to a religious test to qualify as a soldier.

The MRFF plans more lawsuits in coming weeks, says Michael "Mikey" Weinstein, who founded the military watchdog group in 2005. The aim is "to show there is a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense."

For Mr. Weinstein – a former Air Force judge advocate and assistant counsel in the Reagan White House – more is involved than isolated cases of discrimination. He charges that several incidents in recent years – and more than 5,000 complaints his group has received from active-duty and retired military personnel – point to a growing willingness inside the military to support a particular brand of Christianity and to permit improper evangelizing in the ranks. More than 95 percent of those complaints come from other Christians, he says.

Others agree on the need for the watchdog group, but question the conspiratorial view and some of its tactics. They say dealing with religious issues is a complex matter, and the military is trying to address them appropriately.

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