Soldiers not forced to aid churches, fort says

Fort Gordon officials said Wednesday they do not compel soldiers to do charity work for churches.

The question was raised when a national organization, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, complained about soldiers assisting Catholic Social Services.

The group, which has also raised questions about the Augusta Mayor’s Office and church prayer breakfasts, released a statement this week saying it had pressured the fort to stop the practice.

“The Freedom From Religion Foundation has stopped a violation in which soldiers were being forced to mow Catholic Charities’ lawn,” the Tuesday press release stated.

“FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel drafted and sent a letter on July 5 on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and also signed by American Atheists, objecting to using U.S. soldiers to support Catholic Social Services of Augusta. The Regimental Noncommissioned Officer Academy’s Advanced Leader Course (ALC) at Fort Gordon, Ga., ordered soldiers to ‘provide area beautification support to the Catholic Social Services.’

“FFRF’s complainant has assured us that the “program with Catholic Social Services has ceased.”

The fort released a statement Wednesday saying, “The issue raised by the Freedom From Religion Foundation results from a misunderstanding.

“Soldiers taking part in community service projects while attending the Regimental Non-Commissioned Officers Academy may choose the project in which they participate from a list provided by the Academy. Catholic Social Services is on that list because they have periodically requested assistance from Fort Gordon Soldiers. However, because CSS is a private organization, all Soldier assistance to it must be provided on a voluntary basis. “We understand the sensitivity involving issues of belief, and we want to ensure that our Soldiers fully understand the voluntary nature of the program. We will reemphasize to our Soldiers that participation in any particular project is voluntary and that they may choose a community service project that matches their personal values. Catholic Social Services remains one of the programs that Soldier may voluntarily assist as part of their service project,” the statement read.

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