West Point Military Cadet's Unsettling Story of How Christianity Dominates the Academy and Drove Him to Quit
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West Point was different for you?
Page: West Point is different, true. Mandatory prayers are more common. The Chaplains’ interactions are much more common. In Cadet Basic Training they’ll come up to you in formation, “Hey, who wants a Bible?” Or during training events they’ll walk around in the field and say, “Does anyone want to come pray with me?” I understand that there are people who need those things, but many of us need something else. The lack of Humanist support throughout the military can be disappointing at times, but it was my experience setting up the Secular Student Alliance that really changed my attitude.
What exactly is the Secular Student Alliance?
Page: It’s a campus club. The biggest thing we do is weekly meetings. It gives cadets who are likeminded a place to meet. Also we organize nontheist chapel time. During basic training you have almost no free time except church, so, we just made an alternative to church. During summer training, one of the professors gets a room, brings in food, and mostly it’s just a time to connect and relax. During the academic year our weekly meeting is about personal development. We have topical discussions about things like the viability of marriage, ethics, how we define what is good.
When I heard of the Secular Student Alliance here I started going to meetings, not because it was revolutionary but because it was fun to meet people like me and have a good time. But finding out how much organizational resistance there was to that club existing-- that was what did it. How much trouble we had getting recognized! How much trouble we had getting funded! That was it!
What kind of trouble did you have?
Page: West Point is a place where authority and formalities have a lot of power. You have to be an approved part of the system to get trips authorized or organize any significant event. By not being recognized we could not exercise the privileges afforded to the thirteen religious clubs that already existed. The former Director of Cadet Activities admitted that he didn’t want a place for atheists here. We went through two or three appeals.
After being recognized, I thought that all of our problems would be solved. But from Day One they have been awful toward us. At West Point we have officers assigned to clubs. Ours was the only “Officer In Charge” not given an invitation to the briefing about club operations at the start of the semester. Then there is a night when all of the clubs go to a large theater and set up tables for recruiting. This year was the first time we were official and could participate! But when we arrived the organizer said, “Sorry, never heard of you.” I explained that we were recognized and had every right to be there. She said, “I don’t know and walked away . . . . “ We set up anyways, and eventually she came around and said we were okay to stay.
At that point, I was still unsure as to whether it was a problem with disorganization or discrimination. Next we found out we had no budget. Some clubs, like athletic clubs, have tens of thousands of dollars. We sent up a request for a budget of $20k to support things like trips, guest speakers, hopefully a conference. We ended up getting $1500 because our request was misplaced.
Another problem was the website. We weren’t listed as a recognized club. We had a meeting with one of the representatives. The guy in charge of the website said, “No problem.” Then I told him the name of our club and what we are. Right after I said the word “atheist” he became visibly upset and started grumbling. We’re still not listed. They refused to acknowledge us publically.