Blake Page doesn't want to be a West Point graduate any longer–and he is only five months from graduation. Why? In his op-ed piece on the Huffington Post, Page explains that religion–namely, evangelical religion, has had a lot to do with his decision to quit the Academy:
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. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country. These are strong words that I do not use lightly, but after years of clear personal observation I am certain that they are true. The following excerpt is from my official letter of resignation from West Point:
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. Examples of these policies include mandatory prayer, the maintenance of the 3rd Regiment Shield, awarding extra passes to Plebes who take part in religious retreats and chapel choirs, as well as informal policies such as the open disrespect of non-religious new cadets and incentivizing participation in religious activities through the chain of command.
He says that many students have come to him citing the same concerns. Page was president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance, a Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers affiliate, as well as its first Director of Military Religious Freedom Foundation Affairs at West Point.
Reactions to Page's contention and resignation have been many, ranging from the supportive to inflammatory. American Live Wire reports that fellow SSA members do not all agree with his point of view:
While some of the Secular Student Alliance agree with Blake Page on certain issues, many of them feel that his explanation of what goes on at West Point is extreme. Cadet Andrew Houchin, who is also a member of Secular Student Alliance, stated, “I think it’s true that the majority of West Point cadets are of a very conservative, Christian orientation. I don’t think that’s unique to West Point. But more broadly, I’ve never had that even be a problem with those of us who are secular.”
The Daily Kos also sheds some light on the story, citing Page as having clinical depression because of this issue and also because his father killed himself last year. The Kos believes that fundmentalists will say God visited depression on Page because he spoke out:
The story also answers a big question a lot of people asked–why didn't Page stay through May? Well, it turns out that he was diagnosed with depression earlier this year.
Page said he had been medically disqualified this semester from receiving a commission in the Army as a second lieutenant – like his classmates will receive in May – because of clinical depression and anxiety. He said his condition has gotten worse since his father killed himself last year.
So that explains a lot. Between being harassed for his atheism and having to recover from the loss of his father, Page must have figured–understandably so–that he was close to the breaking point and decided to get out for the sake of his own mental health.
You know how the fundies are going to spin this–God visited him with depression as punishment for speaking out.
Page will not have to reimburse the Army the $300,000.00 that was spent on his education, with some surmising that it is because his superiors did not do a whole lot to stem what Page felt was outright discrimination. It is clear that Page has become a symbol–for some, a symbol of opposition to Christianity, and for others, like Mikey Weinstein, he is on a par with Rosa Parks. Newsmax adds:
Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Page's actions were comparable to those of Rosa Parks, the African American woman who refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white person, an event that became emblematic of civil rights-era struggles.
Page says he intends to go on fighting religious proselytizing in the military. For now, he will return to his home state of Minnesota to assess what his next move should be.