Moral Low Ground


U.S. Army’s Controversial “Spiritual Fitness” Test Rooted in Work of Torture Doctor

The US Army is coming under fire for forcing 800,000 soldiers to take a “spiritual fitness” test that many believe violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. The test, part of an Army mental health fitness initiative, is based on the work of a vile dog-torturing psychologist whose barbaric research formed the backbone of the Bush administration’s torture policy.

A report by truthout, a progressive blog, describes the Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program, a $125 million “holistic fitness program,” in great detail. CSF, designed as a measure to combat military suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases, is one of the Army’s highest priorities. Using the Soldier Fitness Tracker and Global Assessment Tool, the Army measures soldier’s emotional, physical, family, social and spiritual resilience. Soldiers take a lengthy exam and are graded in each of the five areas. If they perform poorly in any area, they’re required to attend remedial courses to improve their resilience in “problem” areas.

The problem is, the spiritual portion of the test contains questions obviously written from the point of view of people who believe in god, or at least some supernatural force. Atheists, agnostics and other non-believers are guaranteed to score poorly. Soldiers must respond to statements like “I am a spiritual person, my life has lasting meaning, I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.”

While the Army says this test has nothing to do with religion, those with religious beliefs clearly score well on the spiritual portion of the test while those who don’t find themselves referred for counseling. The rejection and criticism that come with poor scores can be offensive and  psychologically damaging to non-believers: “You may lack a sense of meaning in purpose in your life,” one soldier’s test results said. “At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles and values. There are things  to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.”

One soldier who got such results was 27-year-old Sergeant Justin Griffith, who said he was “deeply offended” by the spiritual questions he was forced to answer. “It seems like my destiny is all messed up and that I am unfit to serve in the United States Army,” he told truthout’s Jason Leopold. “When I think of the word spirituality I go to the root of the word: spirit. I don’t believe in that.”

Lieutenant Greg Bowling went further. He told truthout that the test comes “perilously close to violating the 1st Amendment.” “There was no option to avoid the questions, leaving our atheist soldiers to wonder if their beliefs are tolerated in today’s increasingly religious Army,” he said.

Comprehensive Soldier Fitness is based on the work of Dr. Martin Seligman, known in the Army as “Dr. Happy.” But there is nothing happy at all about Seligman’s experiments in “learned helplessness” that became the backbone for many of the Bush administration’s torture policies. The sadistic Seligman cut his research teeth in “learned helplessness” by administering electric shocks to helpless dogs until they were tortured into utter submission. His work greatly influenced CIA and Pentagon psychologists who applied Seligman’s theories to the torture of War on Terror detainees in US custody.

Not only is CSF a violation of soldiers’ Constitutional rights, it is also a gross affront to the morals we claim to cherish as a nation. The Army should end this dubious program at once.

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One Comment

  1. RickNovember 1, 2011 at 8:56 pmReply

    The claim that the CSF violates the First Amendment is true, but it’s not the strongest argument against the offensive policy. More clear and telling is Article VI of the US Constitution that clearly states, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Every member of the US military holds a vital public trust (defending the nation and the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic), so may never be subject to a religious test. In fact those officers who devised and implemented the test are in violation of their own oaths and should be dishonorably discharged.

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