[RESOLVED] Army chief of chaplains office reports that this program was shut down for basic trainees in early 2009 following continuing MAAF inquiries.
The Free Day Away program subjects hundreds of service members each week to extreme Southern Baptist proselytism. Service members are offered food, fun, and time away from the stress of basic training if only they'll listen to this evangelistic message. The documents below are selected examples of communications and reports regarding Free Day away.
I am writing in regards to the Free Day Away program at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. This program is supported personally by 3rd Training Brigade Commander COL Daly. The program allows for a private church, Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lebanon, Missouri, to send busses to Ft. Leonard Wood and pick up hundreds of trainees and take them to a recreational day at the church. This day is followed by an evangelical Baptist religious service. View references here: http://www.heistherock.org/missions.html.
I have experienced this program personally, spoken to others about their experiences, and also spoken with Tabernacle Baptist, 3d TB Chaplains, and Ft Leonard Wood IG to verify the nature of this event. The evidence indicates that Army leaders are supporting this program as a means to push their personal religious beliefs on all trainees. I am writing to ask what knowledge the Army IG has of this program and what investigations, if any, have been conducted.
The following documents include selected actionable issues currently present with the military today as well as supporting information for your convenience.
I spoke to Vicky at that [Tabernacle Baptist Church], and she just let it all out to me. The pastor goes to the base and meets with different brigade commanders and drill sergeants regularly. Brigade Commander and commanders have all been for it, they tell their drill sergeants it's MANDATORY, and makes it a requirement. The program has taken 36 years to build. With 27 buses, program is run every week. 270 soldiers participated last week, 432 a couple of weeks ago, and before Christmas there were 612. The bus driver tells them it's mandatory to go to church. They can choose to get off the bus at that time but once on the bus there is no way out to avoid church service. A guy from Israel was converted yesterday. There is no choice for the soldier not to go to the service once h/she is there. There are no drill sergeants there with them - the soldiers are on their own. Some atheists may have been converted. The soldiers hear the clear presentation of the gospel 4 times, and then they are told they have to forgive their sins or go to hell. The base commander allows promotion of this religious activity on the base. Officers and drill sergeants talk about it and encourage actively soldiers to participate in it.
Thank you for your investigation and reforms. I specifically appreciate the wording in your letters assuring personal time for those who opt out of religious activities.
I remain concerned that those who opt out of these events will be identified as nontheistic, or that they will be afraid to opt out for fear of being identified. In addition, I am concerned that the command promotion and benefits offered to those who attend major religious events such as Free Day Away effectively constitute coercion. This coercive effect is not only effective toward nontheists but also theists of faith groups which may disagree with the messages presented in return for attending the event (e.g., Jews and Catholics who are subject to Baptist proselytism).
I look forward to seeing these reforms enacted especially at IET instutions. As you may know, MAAF continues to work with the Secular Coalition for America, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and other organizations to ensure equal freedoms for nontheists.
Americans United received a response from their inquiry dated Dec 18, 2009. In the letter, the Ft Leonard Wood commanding general states that soldiers who opt not to attend the Church Retreat are able to bowl at the post bowling alley, use their personal cell phones, and order pizza to be delivered at the base. These options are comparable to the Free Day Away, except that they are on post rather than off post, which doesn't provide a "free day away." Also, there is no addressing the unprecedented access this Baptist church has to young trainees. In addition, there is no solution to the requirement of young trainees to identify themselves as unwilling to submit to the Christian program. The new Free Day Away alternative passes are a step forward, but we will continue to work with our partners and members to ensure equality of treatment and appropriate use of government resources.