Leaders at Fort Gordon, Georgia, have determined that soldier attendance at a Christian “spiritual fitness barbecue” Oct. 14 was voluntary, but that they “understand why some students concluded the event was mandatory.”
Army trainees at the installation contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to say they were marched from their barracks to a base chapel for a mandatory Christian proselytizing event. Mikey Weinstein, the president and founder of the foundation, then lodged a complaint with Maj. Gen. John Morrison Jr., commanding general of Fort Gordon and the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence.
In a Nov. 16 email to Weinstein, Col. Samuel Anderson, Morrison’s chief of staff, said the investigation found that “the intent and guidance of the Senior Leaders and Chaplains” was to make this a voluntary event. However, miscommunication led some students to believe their attendance was mandatory.
“After review of the investigation, we understand why some students concluded the event was mandatory,” Anderson wrote. “Although this was clearly not our intent, we recognize that our messaging and execution could have been better.
Anderson wrote that leadership there would take “immediate and long-term action to ensure these types of events are understood by all to be strictly voluntary.”
As one example, he wrote, advanced individual training leaders would receive instruction that any communication, to include “written products of instruction from brigade to platoon level” must make clear whether an event is religious in nature and, if so, that attendance is voluntary.
“It was always our guidance and intent for this to be a voluntary event,” Anderson wrote, “and we will continue to emphasize this, so it is absolutely clear to all involved”
In a release, Weinstein praised Anderson for “going the extra mile” and ensuring that MRFF’s clients were interviewed and given an opportunity to talk about their experiences without fear of reprisal.