New 25th Infantry leader riles religious-rights group
TOPEKA, Kan. » The founder of a foundation that has sued the military, alleging widespread violations of religious freedom, has criticized the promotion of an Army general who was reprimanded last year for helping a Christian group produce a fundraising video.
Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation raised concerns after the Army announced on Thursday the promotion of Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen Jr. to major general and commander of the 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks. Caslen is currently commandant of cadets at West Point.
Last year a report from the Defense Department's Inspector General recommended that Caslen be disciplined for wearing his uniform in a video for the evangelical group Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings regularly at the Pentagon.
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said yesterday that Caslen and Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks received "written memoranda of concern" from the Army based on the July 2007 report, which concluded that the officers "improperly endorsed and participated with a nonfederal entity while in uniform."
Lt. Col. George Wright said officers are promoted based on "patriotism, valor and fidelity, and for their potential for handling positions of greater responsibility."
"The major general's entire service career would have been considered as part of the promotion decision," Wright said.
Weinstein, whose foundation raised initial concerns about the officers' ties to Christian Embassy, said the actions will be included in a federal lawsuit filed in Kansas City, Kan., by an atheist Fort Riley solider who claims his constitutional rights were violated while serving in Iraq last year.
"Why does he (Caslen) get a pass even when he's reprimanded when Jeremy Hall can't even make sergeant?" Weinstein said.
Hall, a soldier with the 287th Military Police Company at Fort Riley, claims his promotion to sergeant was blocked after the commander of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley sent an e-mail post-wide saying Hall had filed a lawsuit alleging the military has denied his constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Caslen is president of the Officers Christian Fellowship, a ministry that according to its mission statement is an organization of "Christian officers exercising biblical leadership to raise up a godly military."
Weinstein said the incident is further evidence of a pattern by the military to tolerate the promotion of fundamentalist Christianity among its ranks.
"And we're going to put this guy in charge of the 25th Infantry Division? This is going to the head of the list of our lawsuit," Weinstein said.
Weinstein's foundation and Hall are suing Defense Secretary Robert Gates for permitting a military culture in which officers are encouraged to pressure soldiers to adopt and espouse fundamentalist Christian beliefs, and in which activities by Christian organizations are sanctioned.
Also named in the suit is Maj. Freddy Welborn, who Hall alleges prevented him from holding a meeting of atheists and non-Christians last year in Iraq. The lawsuit alleges that Welborn threatened to file military charges against Hall and to block his re-enlistment. Welborn has denied the allegations.