West Point Military Cadet's Unsettling Story of How Christianity Dominates the Academy and Drove Him to Quit
Blake Page, a 24-year-old cadet in his 4 th year at West Point, created a storm on November 19 when he announced he was leaving in protest over religious discrimination and church state boundary violations. In his letter of resignation he stated, “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.” In an op ed published at the Huffington Post on Monday, Page minced no words: “Countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution . . . through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation.”
Page is a Humanist and president of West Point’s Secular Student Alliance. He served as an enlisted soldier in Korea for two years before his commanding officer recommended him for West Point. His story shines a spotlight into a military culture that, despite repeated exposes and lawsuits, continues to suffer from the Evangelical zeal that ran amok under devout officers like General David Petraeus and fundamentalist chaplains like Gordon Klingenschmitt (who attempted exorcism on a lesbian service member who requested his help after being raped).
Tell us the story. How did you end up being the guy at the center of the storm?
Page: You know, when I was an enlisted soldier I didn’t really think much about this stuff. It was there from the beginning, but I just went along with it. In basic training I said I wasn’t going to church but I found out quickly that if you didn’t you were severely punished: You scrubbed floors for four hours or went on rock flipping detail so the rocks could get an even tan or you mowed the dirt…basically whatever they could find to keep you busy. At the time I was young and I just thought that was the way it is. So, I just went to a different church each week. I remember feeling a bit disrespectful because I was going into these organizations knowing I didn’t believe what they did. It felt intrusive.
Later on there were a handful of mandatory prayers, but it wasn’t a big deal. The only real frustration was dealing with the officers on a personal basis. One time during my tour in Korea, I had a problem with my family and had to fly home. When I notified my chain of command, they said I had to talk to chaplain. I thought it was maybe just a formality, but it went right away to you need to believe in God, you need to pray with me, God will guide you through hard times. There was no chaplain for non-theists, and with many chaplains, their personal mission was to encourage you to be religious. That personal mission often overcame the professional mission.
You say there were no Humanist chaplains?
Page: There are no Humanist chaplains. The army officially refuses to recognize Humanist chaplains and refuses to allow us to put Humanist on our dog tags. I have atheist on my dog tags even though atheism doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s not a philosophy. Humanism means something: We should be good for the sake of being good; we should care about other human beings. That means something, but I’m not allowed to say that on my tags, and we don’t have chaplains out there representing our worldview. But, that said, when I was a soldier I was focusing on what I could accomplish as a soldier and those things were peripheral.