Fort Mills, SC

Atheist at Fort Riley
reports death threat

Monday September 8, 2008

By JOHN HANNA

TOPEKA, Kan. — An atheist soldier who's accusing the military of violating religious freedoms has received a death threat, the leader of a foundation involved in the soldier's federal lawsuit said Monday.

The Army post in Kansas said it is investigating a message left on Spc. Jeremy Hall's cell phone. Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, based in Albuquerque, N.M., have a lawsuit pending in federal court in Kansas City, Kan., with the Defense Department and Secretary Robert Gates among the defendants. Foundation President Mikey Weinstein provided a transcript of the message left for Hall early Saturday. The message is laced with obscenities and a racial slur commonly directed at African-Americans, though Hall is white. In it, the caller promises to slit Hall's throat and drink his blood. The caller also promises to sexually assault Hall's wife and mother.

Hall serves in a military police company at Fort Riley, and Weinstein said it's "highly probable" the caller was a fellow soldier. Weinstein said he notified Hall's company commander and battalion commander's office and wants the caller found - and court-martialed.

"We have the phone number this death threat came from and the actual voice recording," Weinstein said. "Even Inspector Clouseau would be able to nab this felon. How hard can this really be?"

Fort Riley spokeswoman Deb Skidmore said the call was being investigated by the post's director of emergency services, whose duties include responding to possible terrorist incidents.

"If they need to involve more people they will," she said.

In the lawsuit, Hall alleges that while he was serving in Iraq in 2007, an Army Reserve major prevented a meeting Hall planned with atheists and others, then threatened to take action against Hall. The major, also a defendant, has denied the allegations.

Both Hall and the foundation allege harassment of Hall by fellow soldiers continued while he was in Iraq and after he returned late last year to assume duties with his military police unit. They also allege a promotion for Hall to sergeant was blocked.

Weinstein said the cell phone message represents the first explicit death threat Hall has received.

Skidmore said making a threat violates the military's code of justice, but she wouldn't speculate on how severe charges could be. Weinstein said the matter is even more serious because Hall is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit.

"An attack on Jeremy is an attack on all of us," he said.

Hall and the foundation also allege in their lawsuit that the military permits religious discrimination by fundamentalist Christians who try to force their views on others, especially subordinates.

The post and the Army have said they don't condone discrimination, and the Justice Department has argued that the military has adequate policies for dealing with complaints. The Justice Department also has said allowing the courts to intervene would interfere with Army operations.

The Justice Department has asked to have the case dismissed, and Hall and the foundation have until Sept. 15 to respond.

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Associated Press Writer John Milburn contributed to this report.

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Hall and the foundation's lawsuit in U.S. District Court is case no. 08-cv-02098.

On the Net:

U.S. District Court for Kansas: http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/

Military Religious Freedom Foundation: http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org

Fort Riley: http://www.riley.army.mil


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