As a former West Point cadet and atheist, I’m appalled at the claims and accusations made by West Point cadet Blake Page who recently resigned over purported discrimination against non-religious cadets at the academy. His accusations stand on equal footing for charges made by church groups against the teaching of evolution in schools and have become nothing more than biting ammunition for a secular counter-crusade. An excerpt from his official resignation letter reads: “I do not wish to be in any way associated with an institution which willfully disregards the Constitution of the United States of America by enforcing policies which run counter to the same. Examples of these policies include mandatory prayer, the maintenance of the 3rd Regiment Shield, awarding extra passes to Plebes who take part on religious retreats and chapel choirs, as well as informal policies such as the open disrespect of non-religious new cadets and incentivizing participation in religious activities through the chain of command.”
Again, as a former West Point cadet and atheist at the academy, his accusations are not only exaggerated, but largely hypocritical. Prayer at the academy was never mandatory. Moments of silence were held for young officers- our classmates- who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. That moment was not designed solely for prayer, but for humanistic recognition. Granted, traditional invocations were held before ceremonies at the academy, but I was never required to fold my hands, bow my head, or even mutter an ‘Amen’- neither was I harangued for abstaining. Despite being an atheist, chapel on Sunday mornings during Cadet Basic Training was just as much a blessing for me as it was for the Catholic New Cadet next to me. Why? Because it meant an hour of solstice, food, and no drill. Although scarce, I witnessed similar incidences of disrespect between non-religious cadets against religious cadets and even between cadets of different religions. This isn’t a matter of religion vs. non-religion; it’s an issue of personal character. Freethought blogger Justin Griffith rails against “West Point’s dangerous medieval Christian Crusader imagery” as noted in the 3rd Regiment Shield by Blake Page. I was a cadet in 3rd regiment. An atheist cadet in 3rd regiment. The Latin motto: “Fides, Corpus, Animus”, or “Faith, Bodies, Minds”, is just as much a humanistic motto as it is arguably a religious one. Faith in myself and my comrades, physical readiness, and mental astuteness. You can find these same virtues in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Furthermore, if the 3rd Regimental Shield breaches church-state then we should ban firemen from utilizing the Maltese Cross because its origins are from the Crusades. Medical personnel should ditch the caduceus because it hails to Greek paganism. Harvard’s veritas emblem should likewise be stripped because its roots are Puritan. Furthermore, the awarding of extra passes to Plebes who take part on religious retreats and chapel choirs is a framed accusation taken out of context. Plebes in any organization going on any kind of retreat were given passes to attend and participate in relevant events.
With regards to Page’s claim that “countless officers… are criminals, complicit in the light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism” and not held accountable is untrue. One of our best commandant’s during my time at the academy, Major General Robert Caslen, was grilled for appearing in a video for the Christian Embassy in a video in 2007. His career was derailed because of it and his meritorious past shouldered to the side because of a single breach of duty. I’d rather go out on patrol in Kandahar with a Muslim LT who practices salat five times a day and proselytizes but makes the right call for the soldiers under him than an LT who readily respects separation of church and state on the battlefield but gets his men killed. Page missed the point of what it really means to be an officer in the United States Military and I hope his resignation was well-accepted. This, too, coming from me, a former cadet and atheist who left the academy after two years because of his own personal gripes with West Point.