West Point Cadet Resigns, Cites Discrimination Against Non-Religious

Blake Page was only five months away from graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point and obtaining one of the most prestigious degrees in the world. But instead of continuing in that course, Page chose to resign.

In a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post, Page explained further:

[T]he tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation.

He goes on to allege instances of “debasing harassment”:

Many here are regularly told they do not deserve a place in the military. They are shown through policy that the Constitution guarantees their freedom of, but not from religion. Many are publicly chastised for seeking out a community of likeminded people because it is such a common belief that Humanism and other non-religious philosophies are inherently immoral and worse.

This rather unusual set of circumstances prompts a few thoughts:

1.  I have no idea whether either Page’s specific accusations are accurate, though it’s worth noting that other non-religious people associated with West Point seem to characterize the environment of the school very differently.

2.  In principle, however, Christians who apparently enjoy a majority status in circumstances such as this need to take special care to treat those of different beliefs with the proper respect. This begins to wade into the somewhat convoluted notions of tolerance in our society, on which I’ve commented a bit more elsewhere. Suffice it to say here, however, that this respect should be extended less for the satisfaction of some hollow notion of political correctness and much more for two biblically grounded reasons. The first is simply that everyone is worthy of genuine respect by virtue of being made in the image of God (see, e.g., James 3:7-10). Likewise, Christians are called to love their neighbors and even their enemies. Secondly, denigrating a non-Christian for his or her lack of belief will, if anything, only drive people further away from Christ. Though Christians are called to challenge the beliefs of others when appropriate in the service of commending the gospel, our mandate is to win hearts, not to alienate unnecessarily those who different from us.

3. All that said, the sense I get from my admittedly limited exposure to Page’s views leads me to suspect I would significantly differ with him about what constitutes religious freedom at West Point as determined by the Constitution.  He complains that cadets “are shown through policy that the Constitution guarantees their freedom of, but not from religion.” But in an important sense, this is true. The Constitution does rule out religious coercion, and to the extent Page has experienced it, he’s entirely right to complain. He should certainly be free not to hold religious beliefs. But popular (mis)understandings notwithstanding, I’m not sure how Page is any more entitled to “protection” from religion, including even legitimate (i.e., respectful, non-coercive) proselytizing than, say, a religious student would be from a biology department whose faculty are committed to an ideological naturalism that leaves no place for God.

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