Washington, D.C. – The United States Army is being threatened with a lawsuit after a chaplain allegedly prayed to the Heavenly Father during an event at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, which offended an atheist soldier in attendance.
The Huffington Post reports that Staff Sergeant Victoria Gettman is unpleased with the response that she has received from her superiors in regard to complaints that she had lodged over the prayer, which was delivered last September. Gettman and a number of other soldiers were attending a mandatory suicide prevention session, which concluded with a prayer. The prayer itself was voluntary as soldiers were not required to participate.
Gettman states that she became offended because she believed it was obvious that the chaplain was delivering a Christian prayer.
“The chaplain said we have to have something bigger than ourselves. We need, and he stresses need, to have something divine in our life,” she said. “The entire theater was [then] forced into a mass Christian prayer. … I heard him refer to his ‘Heavenly Father’ and ‘Lord.’”
While Gettman acknowledged that the closing prayer was optional, she asserted that some of those in attendance may have been from other faiths and were not aware that they did not have to participate. She filed a complaint last year with the Army’s equal opportunity office and also discussed the matter with her superiors. However, Gettman has not been satisfied with the response she has received.
“After I had that meeting with the EO[A] — and I was so disgusted with the way he treated me that first time, I went to my leadership — I went to my first sergeant — and I told him the whole story,” Gettman told reporters. “A couple days later, he comes back to me and says it was just a miscommunication … I was horrified by that, too. It felt like I was being blown off.”
Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation then contacted the Army and demanded that the chaplain who delivered the prayer be disciplined and that the Army apologize to the soldiers that they had to endure a prayer that was made to the Heavenly Father. However, he was unhappy with the response he received as well.
Now, Weinstein is preparing to file a lawsuit against the Army on behalf of Gettman if he does not receive what he feels is an acceptable response.
The Army denies any wrongdoing.
“The Battalion Chaplain spoke to the companies gathered in the theater and he encouraged the young Soldiers to lean on a higher power in their journey through life,” it wrote in a statement in October of last year. “The chaplain’s prayer had no reference to any specific deity, and ended with the words, ‘through Your holy name.’ This is the same ending offered during each training course, graduation ceremony or other military-sponsored event.”
“The Army is cognizant of our soldiers’ religious freedoms, and would never violate their free exercise of religion or choice not to profess a religious faith,” it added.