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In a time when Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been repealed, you would think religious persecution in the military would be a no-no, as well. But sadly, it looks like some troops serving our country are being treated like second-class citizens for not identifying as Christian ... or merely speaking up about Christmas being the only holiday acknowledged at Guantanamo Bay.
Eighteen active-duty service members there protested nativity scenes and "Merry Christmas" banners in two base cafeterias. Because they were too afraid to speak directly to their higher-ups, fearing retribution because of the base’s “religious climate,” they went to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The nativity scenes have since been moved to the courtyard of the base chapel. Apparently, the displays were set up by foreign contractors who manage the two dining facilities and were "not intended to endorse any religion," a spokeswoman for the commander of the base said in response to the MRFF. But this is clearly about much more than that.
For one thing, the mere fact that these service members are "terrified," according to Mikey Weinstein, president of the MRFF, and that "right now, there is a witch hunt going on to find out who" is behind the complaint proves that something is amiss here. Wasn't this country -- the same that these soldiers are serving and defending -- based on freedom of speech and religious freedom? What in the WORLD should they be freaked out over?
Well, apparently, in spite of the fact that Guantanamo’s military families are from a large number of faith traditions, including Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Buddhist, and agnostic, the service members say in their anonymous letter published on MRFF's website, "No other religious denominations are represented aside from Christianity." This appears to be the result of the fact that prominent members of the command team at Gitmo displayed "Christian religious overtones." According to the letter writer, "One of our senior command team members briefed that their relationship with God was placed higher than even their relationship with their family."
Well, that's fine for him, but this is the U.S. Armed Forces we're talking about. Contrary to what some seem to believe, we're not and never were a country of one religion. It is absolutely atrocious that any service men and women were made to feel "uncomfortable, out of place, or insignificant" for their personal beliefs and backgrounds, as the letter reads. Especially not when they're being subjected to being away from their families and subjected to verbal abuse and all the other horrors that they note come with the territory of being stationed at Gitmo.
It absolutely pains me to think that the men and women behind this letter have put themselves in a perilous situation simply by speaking out about feeling marginalized at the base. But I am proud of them for standing up for what they believe in and what we as a people are supposed to believe in. With hope, their simple, significant request will be heard, and their bravery could serve to put out or preempt similar fires.