Blake's story out of the US military academy at West Point reminded us of our Hanukkah narrative. The analogy is far from perfect but this sums it up.
In place of the worship institution known as the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, we have the training institution known as West Point. In place of bullying Hellenizers forcing the observance of paganism, we have extreme fundamentalists forcing the observance of a type of Christianity. In place of many oppressed Jews who fight back with armed force, we have one cadet who fights back by resigning from the academy in protest.
Frank Bruni summarizes some of the points about the West Point case in a Times op-ed which examines the larger question of the place of religion in public political life in America, “The God Glut”.
Last week, a fourth-year cadet at West Point packed his bags and left, less than six months shy of graduation, in protest of what he portrayed as a bullying, discriminatory religiousness at the military academy, which receives public funding.So that is why we say to Blake, Go back, fight back, light a menorah. You do not have to be Jewish to fight religious oppression.
The cadet, Blake Page, detailed his complaint in an article for The Huffington Post, accusing officers at the academy of “unconstitutional proselytism,” specifically of an evangelical Christian variety.
On the phone on Sunday, he explained to me that a few of them urged attendance at religious events in ways that could make a cadet worry about the social and professional consequences of not going. One such event was a prayer breakfast this year at which a retired lieutenant general, William G. Boykin, was slated to speak. Boykin is a born-again Christian, and his past remarks portraying the war on terror in holy and biblical terms were so extreme that he was rebuked in 2003 by President Bush. In fact his scheduled speech at West Point was so vigorously protested that it ultimately had to be canceled.
Page said that on other occasions, religious events were promoted by superiors with the kind of mass e-mails seldom used for secular gatherings. “It was always Christian, Christian, Christian,” said Page, who is an atheist.
Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who presides over an advocacy group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told me that more than 30,000 members of the United States military have been in contact with his organization because of concerns about zealotry in their ranks.
More than 150 of them, he said, work or study at West Point. Several cadets told me in telephone interviews that nonbelievers at the academy can indeed be made to feel uncomfortable, and that benedictions at supposedly nonreligious events refer to “God, Our Father” in a way that certainly doesn’t respect all faiths.