With the powers-that-be in the Department of Defense finally allowing more options for female soldiers, increasing awareness of sexual assault in the military has been a hot news item recently. Since 2006 there has been a 64 percent increase in violent sexual assaults, and our nation’s military leaders are responding to this problem with several programs designed to enhance awareness of this terrible problem. How much are they spending? The budget related to sexual assault prevention in the U.S. military is projected to exceed $113 million this year. Obviously, the Pentagon considers this a serious issue.
However, it is not considered as serious a problem as the “spiritual fitness” of soldiers. The U.S. Army spent more than $125 million on the mandatory holistic fitness program called the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness test last year. Part of the assessment is designed to measure the spiritual fitness of service members. What is spiritual fitness, you ask? It’s difficult to find an actual definition. When looking at the CSF website, it’s hard not to arrive at the conclusion that the testing process is an unconstitutional exercise in Evangelical Christian beliefs and principles being forced onto soldiers.
While the military is engaged in multiple theaters of combat around the globe and issues such as sexual assault are clearly in dire need of solutions, all in the face of a national, catastrophic budget crisis, how can anyone think this is a worthwhile way to be spending taxpayer money? Beyond the obvious ethical and legal implications, is this even a reasonable way to be using limited resources? The military has a clear purpose — to facilitate our national security. Maybe the $125 million being spent asking soldiers irrelevant, illegal questions might be better spent on, oh, I don’t know … maybe weapons and supplies that soldiers need so they can kick ass.
Isn’t that what soldiers are supposed to be doing in the first place? Who cares if a soldier goes to church or not, and who thinks that whether or not they go to church is anyone else’s business? Does it matter if a soldier is making the twelfth fold on the flag because they are honoring specifically Judeo-Christian deities and biblical characters? Isn’t it enough they fold the flag a certain way out of respect for our country?
Brig. Gen. Rhonda Cornum, director of the CSF program, is leading the charge in the war against soldiers’ religious privacy. Cornum is a hero of the 1991 Iraq War, when she was captured by Iraqi forces. She was held for several days and was sexually abused by her captors. One would think that if anyone would see the urgent need for the reprioritizing of tax dollars for Army programs designed to mitigate risks of sexual assault, it would be her. Instead, Cornum is highly focused on the CSF program, saying, “Researchers have found that spiritual people have decreased odds of attempting suicide, and that spiritual fitness has a positive impact on quality of life, on coping and on mental health.”
The statements made by Cornum may be true, but there are two important factors demanding immediate consideration.
First, the military has no right to violate the privacy of soldiers in this way, for any reason. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution specifically states, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This testing process is illegal and immoral.
Second, what are the implications of this testing? Reverend Skip Lindeman, of the United Church of Christ has asked some relevant questions, saying, “Think about it: A guy takes the test and gets all A-grades on spirituality, and then says, ‘Gimme a gun so I can go kill as many of the enemy as I can!’ Is that what a spiritual person does? How can anybody be spiritual, and then go blow another human being to smithereens? Please!”
Rabbi Simcha Backman responded to news of this testing by saying, “We must ensure that the military remains respectful of differing beliefs, and that it provides equal treatment to every person who takes up the noble calling of service.”
Even religious leaders think this is a bad idea. Enough is enough. It’s time for the DOD to scrap this program, and focus on programs which serve to protect our troops. The bottom line is, service members are adults who are fully capable of making up their minds on their own when it comes to religion.
—Kenneth Leonard is a jounalism junior.