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Eighth Army looking into complaint over use of Bible during military ball

The 8th Army is looking into a complaint that the use of a bible during a military ball violated a soldier’s religious freedom.

COURTESY OF MRFF

By KIM GAMEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 1, 2016

SEOUL, South Korea — The 8th Army is looking into a complaint that the use of a Bible during a military ball violated a soldier’s religious freedom.

The soldier wrote to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation after a Bible was included in a POW/MIA table display at the Adjutant General’s Corps Ball sponsored by the Morning Calm chapter on May 13.

An 8th Army spokesman stressed that the ball was a voluntary social event and not a command-sponsored or an official unit function.

The soldier also expressed frustration over a description of the significance of the Bible and other objects on the table during a ceremony.

“I was completely taken aback by this,” the soldier said in the letter, which the advocacy group emailed to news organizations and posted on its website. “Placing the Christian label on all uniformed personnel is a gross violation of religious freedom, and a warning shot to ‘fit in, or be ostracized.’ ”

The soldier, who feared retaliation and was not identified by the foundation, said that as a secular humanist atheist “there is no way that I felt part of the team after this transgression.”

In an email to the 8th Army commander, MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein called the actions “deliberate and despicable violations of bedrock constitutional law” as well as military directives aimed at promoting religious freedom.

Weinstein, who frequently battles the military on questions of religious freedom, demanded that those responsible be investigated and appropriately punished.

Eighth Army spokesman Col. David Patterson said the command was looking into the matter.

He said the Bible was included and mentioned during the “missing man table” ceremony, with a script stating “the Bible, placed on the table represents the strength gained through faith to find peace and sustain those lost and missing.”

The presentation also included a single red rose, a lighted candle, lemon slices, salt and an inverted glass, according to a picture provided by the soldier. Weinstein said the use of an “Operation Worship” Bible with its camouflage cover also amounted to an inappropriate endorsement of a nonfederal entity.

The tradition, also known as the “fallen comrade table,” has been controversial in the past. The MRFF said it has successfully fought in recent months to have the Bible removed from displays in Veterans Affairs Department facilities and military bases in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Patterson also stressed that participation in the planning and execution of the ball was “strictly voluntary.”

About 250 soldiers, family members and civilians attended the ball, which was organized by Morning Calm, a private organization, and funded through ticket fees and donations, Patterson said.

He declined to comment further on the event or possible ramifications of the use of the Bible, pending the command’s investigation.

Weinstein said he received a prompt reply to his May 19 email from 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Vandal and that he had been in touch with the unit’s inspector general.

“We’re very happy about the response, but the Army is not going to escape this by arguing that it’s not an official event,” he said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

gamel.kim@stripes.com
Twitter: @kimgamel

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