PFAWF Requests Investigation, Action on Reported Coercive Battlefield Baptisms

Requiring Soldiers to Attend Sermon and Accept Baptism Violates First Amendment

People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas requested that the Army conduct a formal investigation into a published report that an Army chaplain in Iraq has been requiring soldiers to attend a sermon and accept a Christian baptism before being allowed access to a scarce pool of water for bathing. According to a news report from April 2, 2003, an Army chaplain stated, “It’s simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they get baptized.”

“Obviously, if this press report is accurate, a very serious violation of the soldiers’ First Amendment rights is occurring. The Constitution forbids the government from coercing soldiers into being baptized or proselytized to in order to gain access to bathing water or any other resources,” Neas said in a letter sent to Army Secretary Thomas White.

According to the report, soldiers are first required to attend a one and a half hour sermon in the chaplain’s tent, and then spend another hour being baptized, during which Bible quotes are recited. “It is utterly unacceptable, if this report is true, that Americans risking their lives in combat are being asked to relinquish their freedom of religion,” the letter continued.

Neas also asked that the Army Secretary “immediately issue a directive making it clear that no members of the American military can lawfully be put in a coercive position in which they are only able to obtain access to water, food, or any other resource by ‘voluntarily’ submitting to a religious practice.”

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