Blake Page claims religion is the reason he resigned this past week from being a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy. Five months prior to graduation, Page asserted he felt discriminated against for being “non-religious.” The president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance (an affiliate of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers) and the Director of Military Religious Freedom Foundation Affairs at West Point declared in a vitriolic blog post:
While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the 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. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.
Page asserts the U.S. Military Academy makes prayers mandatory, that cadets participating in religious activities receive preferential treatment and that officers in general display open disrespect for non-religious cadets. He wrote in his resignation letter, “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.” School officials confirmed Page’s resignation was accepted and that he is being discharged honorably. Spokesman Francis DeMaro, Jr., however, stated the former cadet’s claim that prayer is mandatory is untrue. He said, “The Academy holds both official and public ceremonies where an invocation and benediction may be conducted, but prayer is voluntary. As officers, cadets will be responsible for soldiers who represent America’s great diversity in faith and ethnic background. The Academy provides cadets the opportunity to foster an understanding regarding the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”
The founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Mikey Weinstein, called Page’s resignation an act of great courage. He claimed, “We have the Christian Taliban running amok unchecked in the technologically most lethal organization ever recorded in human kind. There’s no problem except that we have a small document called the Constitution that separates state and religion.” Weinstein, however, commended West Point for providing Page with an honorable discharge and not punishing him for his actions. Not everyone views Page’s resignation as an act of courage. Charles Clymer, a former 2013 classmate who was forced to separate from the Academy due to medical reasons, wrote an open letter on the Secular Student Alliance’s Facebook page. Describing himself both as a Christian and an “aggressive, outspoken liberal,” Clymer noted his outspokenness regarding the “injustice of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, the limited career options of women who serve our country in uniform, and…a very broken system of addressing sexual assault at the Academy and in the Armed Forces in general (among other things).” In his address to Page, he relayed:
I’m angry and disappointed with you over this article, and I say that as someone who very much supports the separation of Church and State. I believe religion belongs in one’s private life, and apart from certain, limited allowances for those who have a faith they practice, government employees should never be given preferential treatment and upon such instances, leaders who allow that to happen should be counseled and/or punished. . . . I never, not even once, witnessed, heard about, or even thought it implied that non-religious cadets face discrimination of any kind at the Academy. I saw widespread homophobia and sexism but never any negative sentiment towards those cadets who identified as Atheist or Agnostic. In fact, the closest thing I ever observed that looked like a pro-Christian bias were the few cadets who believed Islam is evil, and that was a very small fraction of our class. The vast majority of Christian cadets treated non-Christian cadets with respect insofar as their beliefs are concerned. And I should again point out that I spent the better part of two years calling out homophobia and sexism when I saw it, and it wasn’t as though I was “known” for being a Christian in our class. I didn’t exactly spend my free time in Christian-based organizations or attend church services, regularly. I did sing in Gospel Choir for a few semesters but never heard any sort of anti-Atheist remarks during my participation with them. They treated everyone with respect, regardless of faith, gender, or sexuality. My point is that, try as I might, with all my stereotypical, sensitive liberal feelers in tune, I can’t remember ever seeing or hearing about negative experiences of Atheists, Agnostics, or other Non-Christians at the Academy. . . . As a person who prides myself on maintaining honesty in regards to how minorities (of any kind, including spiritual) are treated, I can say with confidence that are you are either blatantly lying or, at the very least, being incredibly misleading with how you represent the Academy’s religious environment.
Clymer noted Page’s poor performance as a cadet, having failed in multiple leadership positions. Page was facing separation from the Academy for medical reasons related to mental health, which likely contributed to his poor performance. He struggled at West Point following his father’s suicide. Diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety, he was disqualified from being commissioned as an officer. He asked to resign rather than face separation, a proposition accepted by Academy officials. According to Clymer, Page “went behind their backs and claimed the resignation was done to protest Christian Fundamentalists at the Academy, which is a whole lot of bull$h!#.” Page responded by saying he was unconcerned about the perception of others. “That’s really fine. I am not trying to talk about myself. I am trying to talk about church and state.”
It appears, nonetheless, that Page’s actions are actually more about himself than about the separation of church and state. Press reports regarding his resignation have generally failed to note he was facing separation from West Point due to mental health related issues. Weinstein and others will cite this as one of the “countless” instances of “discrimination” against non-theists. The truth of the matter is that this vocal and aggressive minority seeks to overthrow the rights of theists by removing the free exercise of religion in public. They believe essentially that any public demonstration of faith should be deemed illegal – viewing people of faith (particularly evangelical Christians) as “criminals” and extremists (i.e., “Christian Taliban running amok unchecked”). It is time for theists to actively and prolifically defend their rights, rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.
* * * * *
Blake Page, “Why I Don’t Want to be a West Point Graduate”
Charles Clymer, “The Truth about Cadet Blake Page and Why West Point is Not Anti-Atheist”
Michael Hill, The Huffington Post, “Blake Page, West Point Cadet, Quits Military Academy Over Religion”
Billy Hallowell, The Blaze, “Atheist West Point Cadet Quits the Academy, Citing ‘Christian Proselytizing’ & ‘Criminal’ Constitutional Violations”
Moni Basu, CNN, “West Point Cadet Quits Over Religion”