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.