ONTD Political

Cadet quits, cites overt religion at West Point

1:19 pm - 12/06/2012
A cadet quitting West Point less than six months before graduation says he could no longer be part of a culture that promotes prayers and religious activities and disrespects nonreligious cadets.

Blake Page announced his decision to quit the U.S. Military Academy this week in a much-discussed online post that echoed the sentiments of soldiers and airmen at other military installations. The 24-year-old told The Associated Press that a determination this semester that he could not become an officer because of clinical depression played a role in his public protest against what he calls the unconstitutional prevalence of religion in the military.

"I've been trying since I found that out: What can I do? What can I possibly do to initiate the change that I want to see and so many other people want to see?" Page said. "I realized that this is one way I can make that change happen."

Page criticized a culture where cadets stand silently for prayers, where nonreligious cadets were jokingly called "heathens" by instructors at basic training and where one officer told him he'd never be a leader until he filled the hole in his heart. In announcing his resignation this week on The Huffington Post, he denounced "criminals" in the military who violate the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution.

"I don't want to be a part of West Point knowing that the leadership here is OK with just shrugging off and shirking off respect and good order and discipline and obeying the law and defending the Constitution and doing their job," he told the AP.

West Point officials on Wednesday disputed those assertions. Spokeswoman Theresa Brinkerhoff said prayer is voluntary at events where invocations and benedictions are conducted and noted the academy has a Secular Student Alliance club, where Page served as president.

Maj. Nicholas Utzig, the faculty adviser to the secular club, said he doesn't doubt some of the moments Page described, but he doesn't believe there is systematic discrimination against nonreligious cadets.

"I think it represents his own personal experience and perhaps it might not be as universal as he suggests," said Utzig, who teaches English literature.

One of Page's secularist classmates went further, calling his characterization of West Point unfair.
"I think it's true that the majority of West Point cadets are of a very conservative, Christian orientation," said senior cadet Andrew Houchin. "I don't think that's unique to West Point. But more broadly, I've never had that even be a problem with those of us who are secular."

There have been complaints over the years that the wall between church and state is not always observed in the military. The Air Force Academy in Colorado in particular has been scrutinized for years over allegations from non-Christian students that they faced intolerance. A retired four-star general was asked last year to conduct an independent review of the overall religious climate at the academy.

There also has been a growing willingness in recent years by some service members to publicly identify themselves as atheists, agnostics or humanists and to seek the same recognition granted to Christians, Jews and other believers. Earlier this year, there was an event at Fort Bragg that was the first known event in U.S. military history to cater to nonbelievers.

Page said he hears about the plight of other nonreligious cadets in part through his involvement with the West Point affiliate of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The founder and president of that advocacy group said Page's action is a milestone in the fight against "fanatical religiosity" in the military.

"This is an extraordinary act of courage that I do compare directly to what Rosa Parks did," said Mikey Weinstein.

Page, who is from Stockbridge, Ga., and who was accepted into West Point after serving in the Army, said he was notified Tuesday of his honorable discharge. He faces no military commitment and will not have to reimburse the cost of his education.

West Point confirmed that it approved his resignation and that Page had been meeting the academic standards and was not undergoing any disciplinary actions. Page said he had been medically disqualified this semester from receiving a commission in the Army as a second lieutenant — like his classmates will receive in May — because of clinical depression and anxiety. He said his condition has gotten worse since his father killed himself last year.

It's not unusual for cadets to drop out of West Point, an institution known for its rigorous academic and physical demands. But the window for dropping out without the potential for a penalty is in the first two years. Dropouts are rare after that point.

Page expects to leave for his grandparents' home in Wright County, Minn., in the coming days. He plans to remain an activist on the role of religion in the military.

"I'd really love to be able to do this for the rest of my life," he said.


NHF Westpoint trying to dispute his claims by bringing up his father's death. He's not lying. As a spouse of someone in the military, I have been discriminated against. I know my husband gets it worse at work. He recently had a briefing about Jedism, they always recite prayers, etc.
chaya 6th-Dec-2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
This needs the 'christianity' tag.
d00ditsemily 6th-Dec-2012 07:51 pm (UTC)
done :)
terra_tenshi 6th-Dec-2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
It seems like part of the problem may come from trying to define discrimination. In a lot of ways discrimination is about how something makes you feel so it can be difficult to come to a consensus on subtler forms of discrimination. For example, some people may feel that being called a "heathen" is discriminatory because of their religion while another may think that it's just another joke or insult that their drill sergeant style teacher happens to be throwing around.

I think the Rosa Parks comparison may also be hurting his cause since people already tend to think of historical civil rights battles as being about people who were standing up to blatantly discriminatory laws so when their isn't a law that someone is fighting or the discrimination is confined (or seems to be confined) to a small area like Westpoint they're more likely to think that the person is overreacting.
anolinde 6th-Dec-2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
For example, some people may feel that being called a "heathen" is discriminatory because of their religion while another may think that it's just another joke or insult that their drill sergeant style teacher happens to be throwing around.

Yeah, I personally would lol if someone called me a "heathen" (as long as they were actually doing it jokingly, like the article said - otherwise I would rme).
d00ditsemily 6th-Dec-2012 10:45 pm (UTC)
The Rosa Parks comparison is nagl ia
eveofrevolution 7th-Dec-2012 02:04 am (UTC)
MTE re: Rosa Parks.
lizzy_someone 7th-Dec-2012 10:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm an atheist and all for increasing atheist visibility and acceptance and so on, but I pretty much wrote off the Rosa Parks comment as just, you know, typical instance of a white dude appropriating the experiences of women of color.
a_phoenixdragon 6th-Dec-2012 08:49 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately this does not surprise me. Nor does the military's defense over their behavior or lack thereof. I love the way they tried to double-talk their way around this even as they are forced to address the very problem they deny. Even if it is only found in one section, that doesn't make it less of a problem. Actually it makes it more of a problem because it is harder to eradicate before it spreads.

I know a lot of military men that were/are atheist, agnostic, Wiccan - and the flack and discrimination they recieved is appalling. You wanna be religious? Fine. But there is a reason there is a separation between Church and State and West Point defines it.

Edited at 2012-12-06 08:50 pm (UTC)
ms_maree 6th-Dec-2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
On the Rosa Parks mention. I read an opinion piece which I initially wanted to post which at one point briefly compares the enviromental movement with the civil rights movement and brings up Rosa Parks. I was like, I can't post this, because half the reponses would be focusing on how wrong it is to compare anything to the civil rights movement and nobody will actually read the post without getting past those lines.

It's so annoying when an article has all the points you'd love people to discuss, written well, but then has two lines which would be so easy to derail into something entirely different in discussion.
angelofdeath275 6th-Dec-2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
oh do tell more
fishphile 6th-Dec-2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
angelofdeath275 6th-Dec-2012 09:50 pm (UTC)
the white people here are becoming unruly and too stupid. The PoC shouldnt have to do this shit every time but their minds seem to short-circut whenever race in involved

i mean i swear ive noticed a drop in the number of comments by PoC (or those I can remember is a PoC)

Edited at 2012-12-06 09:51 pm (UTC)
poetic_pixie_13 7th-Dec-2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
So, it has gotten worse and I'm not just imagining things. Good to know.
alryssa 7th-Dec-2012 08:10 pm (UTC)

ms_maree 6th-Dec-2012 10:56 pm (UTC)
Stupid comparisons are annoying! Yay?
alryssa 7th-Dec-2012 08:08 pm (UTC)
I'm going to presume you didn't intend your comment to come off in what seems to be kind of a trivialising manner and address it as such, since I seem to recall you mentioning your anxiety issues re: posting and I don't want to instigate a dogpile or anything, but I couldn't not respond.

The problem in associating a discussion about a badly made comparison to the civil rights movement to derailing is a poor choice of words given the demographics of this community. It might seem unimportant to you given the relative content of the piece in question but for a lot of PoC, it matters because their experiences are routinely trivialised, dismissed and considered unimportant, so you (likely unwittingly) have contributed to that dismissive attitude white people have.

Secondly, you simply can't control a discussion on the internet and force people to talk about certain things. That's just the nature of the beast. If it has problematic elements they DESERVE discussion as much as the next thing, but assuming that nobody here can both criticise the piece as a whole AND point out the issue with the comparison at the same time can be read as fairly insulting, especially, again, to the intelligence of the community.

tl;dr It's not derailment to discuss things that matter to a person and it's not for you to decide or declare what is or isn't important to them. It might be two lines to you but the context of those lines and the throwaway use of them is a commentary in of itself as to how white people consistently co-opt and minimise the experiences of oppressed minorities to highlight their own agendas.

romp 7th-Dec-2012 02:58 am (UTC)
He recently had a briefing about Jedism

This is the religion of being a Jedi? What would a briefing about it be like?
bushy_brow 7th-Dec-2012 03:01 am (UTC)
All about the Force, of course! :-P
d00ditsemily 7th-Dec-2012 03:49 am (UTC)
Supposedly, it's not at all and it was highly stressed at how offensive it is to make jokes about it.
d00ditsemily 7th-Dec-2012 03:51 am (UTC)
Supposedly it has nothing to do with star wars even though wiki says other wise.


But it was about how making jokes about it isn't cool and they need to respect jediism or something. But it mainly turned into a discussion about why they don't do briefings on other religions or lack of but did one on this.
ahria 7th-Dec-2012 04:47 am (UTC)
My husband is active duty AF and they start stuff with prayer all the time. Anytime you might be having a problem they aggressively suggest you talk to the chaplain and when you reply you'd be uncomfortable because you aren't Christian, they insist religion would have nothing to do with it. They have nothing unbase for non-Christian religious groups. If you'd like to start a group or service or something for your non-Christian religion you have to use one of the churches on base and find/hire your own religious leader/group-runner. I have so many more examples of how Christianity is basically forced on the military. :/
serendipity_15 7th-Dec-2012 06:25 am (UTC)
Is this a recent thing or has this been going on for a while?
d00ditsemily 7th-Dec-2012 02:53 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure it's always been this way.
ahria 8th-Dec-2012 06:40 am (UTC)
We've been at this base for 3.5 years and it's been the whole time we've lived here. My husband told me that praying at the beginning of meetings doesn't happen that often (I guess the times he complained about it just really stuck out in my memory) but all the other stuff is really common.
hammersxstrings 7th-Dec-2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
not to mention, i know when people started requested Menorah's be placed out for the holidays as well, people threw a shit fit, from what i remember (i was a AF brat, so I was just a kid, but I remember it being a big deal). its kind of ridiculous
ahria 8th-Dec-2012 06:42 am (UTC)
That really wouldn't surprise me. :/
maynardsong 7th-Dec-2012 01:03 pm (UTC)
He lost me at the comparison with Rosa Parks. I'd have a much easier time engaging with the atheist movement if they didn't go on the record saying shit like that. And... He had fewer than six months to go. He couldn't stick it out for that time and graduate? He could have had much more clout when denouncing the school if he graduated. But as it stands now...well I'm feeling rather heartless.
poetic_pixie_13 7th-Dec-2012 03:44 pm (UTC)
After I stopped rolling around in laughter at that ridic Rosa Parks reference (also, fuck you) I read this: Page said he had been medically disqualified this semester from receiving a commission in the Army as a second lieutenant — like his classmates will receive in May — because of clinical depression and anxiety. He said his condition has gotten worse since his father killed himself last year.

I'm sure being in a religious environment like that must've been shitty but I'm thinking it also exacerbated his mental health issues, issues that were almost certainly super affected by his father's death.
alryssa 7th-Dec-2012 08:20 pm (UTC)
Wow Pi, you talked about both the terrible reference to Rosa Parks AND read the entirety of the article! It's like you can multitask or something! :P
hammersxstrings 7th-Dec-2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
as a contractor who is allowed to attend military and office events, i often feel very out of place when a group prayer is performed or God is overtly referenced. But i'm a lowly contractor so...lol
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