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West Point cadet who quit over ‘religious bigotry’ going home amid firestorm


This news story was published on December 7, 2012.
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By Mark Brunswick, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Six months short of graduation, West Point cadet Blake Page resigned over what he says is a culture that promotes prayer and religion and harasses nonreligious cadets at one of the country’s most prestigious military academies.

Within the next few days, his life in the military will be over and he’ll be headed to Minnesota amid a firestorm about the meaning of God and country and the separation of church and state.

At West Point, Page said, he witnessed cadets being rewarded for participating in religious activities, saw requirements for mandatory prayer, and other efforts to reward, encourage and require sectarian religious participation. After deciding to leave West Point, he wanted to make a statement to his chain of command, writing a scathing letter criticizing academy leadership for its “blatant religious bigotry.”

But he was encouraged to go even further by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which advocates for the separation of church and state in the military. Page’s subsequent commentary, “Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate,” was published earlier this week in the Huffington Post and has exploded an online debate. In his post, Page denounced as “criminals” leaders in the military who he said infuse fundamentalist Christian proselytizing into all aspects of life at West Point.

“I’ve had challenges at West Point, but there was nothing I couldn’t take on,” he said in a phone interview. “I realized either way it would be worth it in the end. There are so many other people who have problems. I can deal with it.”

A spokesman for West Point, Francis DeMaro, said Page’s claim that prayer was mandatory is not true.

“As officers, cadets will be responsible for soldiers who represent America’s great diversity in faith and ethnic background,” he said in a statement. “The academy provides cadets the opportunity to foster an understanding regarding the fundamental dignity and worth of all.”

Page, 24, said his beliefs on religion were not a factor during his prior service in the Army, where commanders encouraged him to apply to West Point and to continue a military career as an officer.

Page did not hide his feelings at West Point, where he became president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance, which Page said was refused recognition by the academy for two years. He filed an Equal Opportunity complaint against the academy, which is still under investigation.

Page was scheduled to graduate in May. Coming in the 11th hour of his studies, his departure was heralded as heroic by the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. His decision to resign came after he was notified he would not be commissioned in the Army because of a medical issue related to clinical depression.

At the time he announced he would be leaving school, Page feared West Point could have demanded that it recoup several hundred thousand dollars in tuition or require him to return to the Army as an enlisted soldier. He found out recently that West Point will not pursue the costs and he will receive an honorable discharge.

“It really is an incredible act of sacrifice — not against Christianity or for atheists — it’s a sacrifice for the Constitution which allows everyone to celebrate their faith, or no faith,” said Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder and Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein of Page’s decision to resign so close to graduation. The group, which says it represents 30,500 members, is at the forefront of lobbying against what it describes as the “fanatical religiosity, the Christian version of the Taliban” in the American military and service academies.

West Point’s DeMaro pointed to the Secular Student Alliance as evidence that the academy does not discriminate against cadets who do not have religious beliefs. He said Page was meeting academic standards and was not undergoing any disciplinary actions. He declined to discuss specifics of Page’s other claims, citing the continuing investigation.

Finishing the paperwork to end his military career, Page, who graduated from high school in Georgia, will be traveling to Minnesota by the weekend to begin a new life. His grandparents have a home in Wright County and Page will be living with them for the foreseeable future. His grandmother is sick and he said he wants to spend time caring for her. He also plans on continuing to work on the issue of separation of church and state and is considering a degree in public administration, possibly transferring credits to the University of Minnesota or the University of Georgia.

He does not fear reprisals for his position, even though West Point Facebook pages have been rife with animosity and threats in the past couple of days. Still, he said he never felt physically threatened or in danger during training or in drills because of his beliefs. After he taped his online post on his door at West Point, he said, one cadet angrily confronted him. But Page said he told the cadet he wasn’t opposing her religious beliefs, only that he was entitled to his own.

“If you can stop them from yelling at you,” he said, “they can at least understand your point of view.”

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12 Responses to West Point cadet who quit over ‘religious bigotry’ going home amid firestorm

  1. Avatar

    a citizen Reply Report comment

    December 7, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Katie: When the people at the seminar started praying, why didn’t you just eat your meal? You didn’t have to pray, nor did you have to wait until they finished their prayer. It’s your life-take control of it. And to quit going? You should have stood up for yourself. I walk my own path. If people don’t like it, than I suggest they get out of the way. This is not in any way a rebut to the
    West Point article, merely a response to Katie’s blog.

    • Avatar

      Katie Reply Report comment

      December 8, 2012 at 1:37 pm

      I told the hobby seminar in the last survey that I would not be back because of the prayer. I also did NOT pray. It was a buffet, so I didn’t have food to eat yet. I do not bow my head during prayers, even if I have to go to funerals.

      I just think it’s terrible that our military is harassing people who don’t practice a religion. This country was founded because of forced religious practices in Britain, during the Age of Enlightenment. We do not need to become another theocracy.

  2. Avatar

    Katie Reply Report comment

    December 7, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Christianity is shoved down our throats constantly in America. It’s hard to go anywhere without someone thinking s/he needs to say a prayer before a meal. I remember going to a large secular hobby seminar where this happened. It was in a large city where I’m sure there were people of all faiths. There was a survey at the end and I complained. The next one had a moment of silence. It wasn’t long until they were back to praying. I complained again to no avail. I quit going.

    Religion should have no part in the required daily activities of the military. If it wants to set aside time for those who want to take part, fine. But there should be no requirement and no harassment of those who don’t participate.

    • Avatar

      Just My Opinion Reply Report comment

      December 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Absolutely agree!

    • Avatar

      Jason Reply Report comment

      December 7, 2012 at 8:20 pm

      “It’s hard to go anywhere without someone thinking s/he needs to say a prayer before a meal.” So your religious practices trump mine?

      “I remember going to a large secular hobby seminar where this happened. It was in a large city where I’m sure there were people of all faiths. There was a survey at the end and I complained. The next one had a moment of silence. It wasn’t long until they were back to praying. I complained again to no avail.”
      Did it ever occur to you that others complained about the lack of prayer before the meal?

      “I quit going. ”
      As is your right.

      “Religion should have no part in the required daily activities of the military”
      Even if the Veteran’s religious practices require it?

      • Avatar

        Just My Opinion Reply Report comment

        December 8, 2012 at 9:40 am

        Jason, would you be okay with every religious sect demanding time for their own religious practices? What if there were Muslims attending an event and they wanted to recite a few lines from the Quran before a meeting or meal? What would your reaction be? I’m not talking “terrorists” here. Just common, law-abiding Muslims. (Yes, there are millions of them, whether you believe it or not.) How could you deny them this right? The Constitution does not contain the word “God”. Neither does the Preamble to the Constitution. Even the first amendment omits it.

        Are you prepared to allow all religions the right to practice their beliefs in a public setting?

      • Avatar

        Jason Reply Report comment

        December 8, 2012 at 12:58 pm

        “Jason, would you be okay with every religious sect demanding time for their own religious practices?” Yes!!!

        “What if there were Muslims attending an event and they wanted to recite a few lines from the Quran before a meeting or meal?” They could do that, no problem.

        “What would your reaction be?” I’d sit and LEARN something about another religion, I might even ask questions! You see that is the way we learn.

        “How could you deny them this right?” I don’t.

        “The Constitution does not contain the word “God”. Neither does the Preamble to the Constitution. Even the first amendment omits it.” Correct, and your point is?

        “Are you prepared to allow all religions the right to practice their beliefs in a public setting?” Why yes, I would. the KEY word here is ALL.

      • Avatar

        Just My Opinion Reply Report comment

        December 8, 2012 at 1:27 pm

        Well, I have to admit I admire your open-mindedness. It could make for some very long meals/meetings, however. 🙂

      • Avatar

        Katie Reply Report comment

        December 8, 2012 at 1:31 pm

        Jason, I have the right to freedom from religion. That is why people fled England and colonized America. Remember? That is what separation of church and state means and why it was so important to our forefathers. And I never hear Christians standing up and asking if someone from another religion would like to offer up a prayer. NEVER.

      • Avatar

        Jason Reply Report comment

        December 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

        “Jason, I have the right to freedom from religion.”
        Sorry, no. You have the right of freedom of religion. But that doesn’t allow you to trample on another’s religious rights.

        “That is why people fled England and colonized America. Remember? That is what separation of church and state means and why it was so important to our forefathers.”
        Yep, but you are confusing the establishment (of a of their religion by others.

        “And I never hear Christians standing up and asking religion) by the government with the free practice if someone from another religion would like to offer up a prayer. NEVER”
        Like wise I have NEVER heard a: Muslem, Babtist, Catholic, Budist, Atheist, Agnostic, Presbyterian. . . stand up and ask for a prayer from another religion.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous Reply Report comment

      May 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm

      Idiot