JUNCTION CITY, Kansas (AP) — Like hundreds of young men joining the Army in recent years, Jeremy Hall professes a desire to serve his country while it fights terrorism.
But the short and soft-spoken specialist is at the center of a legal controversy. He has filed a lawsuit alleging that he’s been harassed and his constitutional rights have been violated because he doesn’t believe in God. The suit names Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
“I’m not in it for cash,” Hall said. “I want no one else to go what I went through.”
Known as “the atheist guy,” Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and — just as severe to some soldiers — gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals.
“I see a name and rank and United States flag on their shoulder. That’s what I believe everyone else should see,” he said.
Hall, 23, was raised in a Protestant family in North Carolina and dropped out of school. It wasn’t until he joined the Army that he began questioning religion, eventually deciding that he couldn’t follow any faith.
But he feared how that would look to other soldiers.
“I was ashamed to say that I was an atheist,” Hall said.
It eventually came out in Iraq in 2007, when he was in a firefight. Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said.
“I said, ‘No, but I believe in Plexiglas,’ ” Hall said. “I’ve never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I’m worm food.”
The issue came to a head when, according to Hall, a superior officer, Maj. Freddy J. Welborn, threatened to bring charges against him for trying to hold a meeting of atheists in Iraq. Welborn has denied Hall’s allegations.
Hahaha, this was pretty funny, even though it probably wasn’t intended to be.
The re-awakening of atheism in America is going to make for some very interesting times. Leaders of the Christian Right have spent years trying to cast themselves as the voiceless victims in a secular society, but the scapegoating is over. (Want to talk marginalized? How many atheists have there ever been in Congress or the White House?)
Nonbelievers know a lot about Christianity and Judaism, most having been raised in religious families. Believers, however, are somewhat less clued-in about atheists. Here are a few simple truths about who they are, and arenâ€™t.
Atheists are well-behaved. Atheists seem to play well with others overall. Theyâ€™re not in the news for getting caught doing things they tell others not to do. Most co-exist peacefully with believing family and friends. They pay taxes.
Atheists donâ€™t start wars on behalf of atheism. They do join the military, however, and contrary to the clichÃ©, they are found in foxholes. In fact, there is a lawsuit now against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a major who harassed a group of â€œfoxhole atheistsâ€ who simply wished to exercise their freedom of/from religion while serving their country in the Middle East.
Atheists have a thing for the American Constitution, particularly the First Amendment that separates church and state. They are secularists who support a government free from influence by any religion. Theyâ€™re not anti-religious but nonreligious.
So when people like Mike Huckabee announce they want to â€œtake this nation back for Christâ€ and make the Constitution fit the word of God, atheists worry, and feel that everyone else would be wise to worry along with them.
Atheists donâ€™t take up much space. In fact, they only comprise 0.4 percent of the U.S. population, according to the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, conducted through the Graduate Center at CUNY. (Agnostics would add 0.5 percent, the nonreligious 14.1 percent more.)
A total of 900,000 people isnâ€™t even enough to fill 10 football stadiums, but evangelical leaders insist the godless are behind the decline of a whole nation. Uh, okay.
Atheists make good neighbors. Chances are, if you lived next door to an atheist, you might never know it. Atheists arenâ€™t known for going door-to-door or shore-to-shore to un-convert people. They will help you even though thereâ€™s no heavenly reward in it for them.