11. On July 31, 2007, plaintiff Hall attempted to conduct and participate in a meeting of individuals who consider themselves atheists, freethinkers, or adherents to non-Christian religions. With permission from an army chaplain, plaintiff Hall posted flyers around COB Speicher announcing the meeting. The meeting attendees included plaintiff Hall, other military personnel and nonmilitary personnel.
12. During the course of the meeting, defendant Welborn confronted the attendees, disrupted the meeting and interfered with the plaintiff Hall's and the other attendees' rights to discuss topics of their interests. During the confrontation, and because of plaintiff's actions in organizing the meeting, defendant Welborn threatened plaintiff Hall with an action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and further threatened to prevent plaintiff Hall's reenlistment in the United States Army....
21. When plaintiff Hall learned that he would be denied an appearance before the promotions board, he sought counseling from Sergeant Van Hise, who informed plaintiff Hall that since he was "under investigation," he was not eligible for an appearance before the promotions board. Sergeant Van Hise stated that plaintiff Hall was unable to put aside his personal convictions and pray with his troops. Sergeant Van Hise believed this to be a constraint on Army morale and would limit plaintiff Hall's ability to bond with his troops. Plaintiff Hall responded that religion is not a requirement of leadership. At this, Sergeant Van Hise questioned how plaintiff Hall could ask for religious freedom when in fact, as an atheist, he has no religion. Plaintiff Hall replied that the United States Army Chaplain's manual protects atheism.
By the way, I do agree that differences in religious belief — or for that matter, racial differences — may indeed impair morale in some measure. But it seems to me that both current military rules and broader American legal principles of racial and religious equality and tolerance should lead the military to try to deal with these morale problems by means other than racial and religious discrimination. So, as I said, if the allegations are accurate, this strikes me as very troubling. Here, by the way, is what the Times story says about the factual dispute:
Major Welborn declined to comment beyond saying, "I'd love to tell my side of the story because it's such a false story."
But Timothy Feary, the other soldier at the [atheist] meeting, said in an e-mail message: "Jeremy [the plaintiff] is telling the truth. I was there and witnessed everything."
I should note that it's not clear that some of the other conduct the lawsuit complains of (see paragraph 26) is unconstitutional (even if the factual account is accurate). For instance, "use of official military e-mail accounts to send e-mails containing religious rhetoric" might, depending on the circumstances, be permissible (for instance, if the message is the sender's own personal views, much as a President or other government official may often properly give a speech including religious rhetoric). But job discrimination against atheist military members, or attempts to break up atheist meetings, should be as improper as job discrimination against Jewish or Christian military members, or attempts to break up Jewish or Christian meetings.
Thanks to Adam Kaplan for the pointer.