Charges of evangelism went international when the Pentagon came under fire in 2010 for using gun sights engraved with Bible verses, fueling concerns that the war in Afghanistan would be seen as a military crusade. Some Pentagon officials at first dismissed complaints against the gun sights, comparing them to US currency engraved with “In God We Trust,” but senior officers demanded that the military stop using them.
This came on the heels of reports that Air Force missileers were receiving Bible-centered ethics training, with the aim of helping them shake off lingering doubts about firing nuclear weapons. The training – which had been in place for almost two decades and was known jokingly among the airmen as “Jesus loves nukes” – was halted in 2011.
“God and country is a big part of the military culture,” says Page in a phone interview with the Monitor. “Anytime we have a ceremony of any type, there’s always prayer.”
During his time at West Point as the head of the Secular Student Alliance, Page helped to establish “nontheist chapel time,” an alternative for nonreligious cadets. “Before [that, if you didn't go to chapel] you could either go back to your room or have cleaning detail,” Blake recalls. “A friend of mine was made to sing and dance and recite knowledge and do all sorts of embarrassing things while everyone else went to church.”
West Point spokesman Francis DeMaro Jr. told CNN that Page's claim that prayer is mandatory is not true. "The academy holds both official and public ceremonies where an invocation and benediction may be conducted, but prayer is voluntary," he said. "As officers, cadets will be responsible for soldiers who represent America’s great diversity in faith and ethnic background."
Though Page says he occasionally felt targeted for his nonreligious views, he also reports that he came to admire many who went out of their way to understand his concerns. He recalls one professor, an evangelical Christian, who called him in for a talk. “He genuinely asked me, ‘Would you please explain to me where you get your morals if you don’t get them from God?’ ”