West Point cadet quits over religion
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) — Military development. Academics. Athletics. Three pillars of Army values that cadets at America’s most prestigious military academy live by.
But West Point cadet Blake Page says there is one other unspoken pillar at the United States Military Academy: religion.
That’s why, with just five months left before graduation, Page quit.
And he did it in a most public fashion — in a fiery blog post.
“The tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution,” wrote Page, 24, in The Huffington Post.
“These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.”
Page said he felt discriminated against for being nonreligious. And that discrimination, he alleged, was systematic.
In his letter of resignation, he said: “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same.”
He said West Point made prayers mandatory and students who took part in religious retreats and chapel choirs were given extra passes. He said officers incentivized religious activities and there was generally open disrespect for nonreligious cadets.
“The problem is a lot of people don’t report it,” Page said.
The U.S. Military Academy confirmed that Page’s resignation had been accepted and that he was being honorably discharged.
However, spokesman Francis DeMaro Jr. said Page’s claim that prayer was mandatory was 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,” he said. “The academy provides cadets the opportunity to foster an understanding regarding the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”
DeMaro said West Point has a Secular Student Alliance club to meet the needs of nonreligious students.
Page went to West Point because, he said, he’d always wanted to become an officer in the U.S. Army.
After high school in Stockbridge, Georgia, he enlisted and spent three years in an air defense unit. While there, his commanders encouraged him to enroll at West Point.
Page knew how prestigious an institution it was. It would be an awesome career move, he thought.
He began at West Point, Page said, as a high performer. He was encouraged to seek out challenging positions. He said his tactical officer and mentor even tried to promote him to squad leader prematurely in his sophomore year.
But later, he struggled after his father committed suicide. He was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety and disqualified from being commissioned as a second lieutenant, the usual next step for West Point graduates.
Still, DeMaro said, Page was meeting academic standards and was not undergoing any disciplinary actions.
Page said he quit before graduation because he could no longer fulfill his dream of being an Army officer.
He had been trying to effect change for nonreligious students, he said, from inside the military. He said he would continue to advocate from the outside through his affiliation with the advocacy group Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The group’s founder and president, Mikey Weinstein, called Page’s act one of great courage. But he said he was not surprised by Page’s allegations.
“We have the Christian Taliban running amok unchecked in the technologically most lethal organization ever recorded in human kind,” Weinstein said about religion and the military. “There’s no problem except that we have a small document called the Constitution that separates state and religion.”
Weinstein said people like Page were critical in ensuring constitutional rights for all those who join the military.
“There is no difference between this and degrading anyone for the color of their skin or being a female,” he said.
But he commended West Point for honorably discharging Page and not punishing him for what he has done.
Page said he’s received support from other nonreligious cadets. But he’s also been called a coward and a quitter.
A former classmate, Charles Clymer, wrote an open letter to Page on the Facebook page of the Secular Student Alliance. Clymer described himself as a Christian but also an “aggressive, outspoken liberal” who voiced his opinion loudly on what he called the injustice of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and limited career options for women.
He said he was not a typical cadet, but that he was angered by Page’s online post and believed that Page lashed out simply because he wasn’t cutting it at West Point.
“I never, not even once, witnessed, heard about, or even thought it implied that non-religious cadets face discrimination of any kind at the Academy,” Clymer wrote.
“I saw widespread homophobia and sexism but never any negative sentiment towards those cadets who identified as atheist or agnostic,” he wrote. “In fact, the closest thing I ever observed that looked like a pro-Christian bias were the few cadets who believed Islam is evil, and that was a very small fraction of our class. The vast majority of Christian cadets treated non-Christian cadets with respect insofar as their beliefs are concerned.”
Page said that, ultimately, he was not concerned with what others said about him.
“That’s really fine.” he said. “I am not trying to talk about myself. I am trying to talk about church and state.”