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A West Point cadet slated to graduate this year will instead be heading home without a degree after resigning to make a point about religious proselytizing at the acclaimed military academy.
Instead of a degree and commission, in fact, Blake Page could be going back to Minnesota with a bill to reimburse the government hundreds of thousands of dollars for tuition, he said.
“There’s a lot on the line here for me, but I can’t take this … anymore,” Cadet Blake Page said in a telephone interview today. “The officers here have blown me off. They don’t want to do the right thing.”
At West Point, the former Army enlisted man became a leader in cadet efforts to end illegal Christian proselytizing at the academy and favoritism shown by faculty and administrators toward Christians. Page is president of the West Point Secular Student Alliance.
Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, likened Page’s actions to those of Rosa Parks, the African-American woman whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white person in 1955 became one of the milestones of the Civil Rights movement.
“Blake is saying he won’t be part of an institution, he won’t be wearing a [West Point] ring … or be part of this military force that violates his own internal regulations and violates the oath you take to the U.S. Constitution,” Weinstein said.
Page said today he submitted his resignation from the school about a month ago following meetings with his chain of command at the school. But he made the decision public today in a sometimes scathing Huffington Post column entitled “Why I Don't Want to Be a West Point Graduate.”
Page states in the piece that “countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation.”
At West Point, he told Military.com, leaders routinely let cadets know that one way to be viewed positively by staff and faculty was to take part in Christian prayer groups or attend Christian retreats. During what he expected was an academic counseling session with one lieutenant colonel, he said, took a turn for the theological after the officer asked Page if it bothered him to be called a heathen.
“I told him it was disrespectful,” Page said. “He told me I would never be a good leader until I filled the hole in my heart [with God].”
Page said he attended West Point after first serving about two years in the Army as an enlisted man. He joined the Army in 2007, becoming an air defense specialist and serving at Camp Casey, Korea, for about 16 months. His commander saw him as a high performer, he said, and encouraged him to apply to West Point.
He began as a chemical engineering major but switched to management. He said he has been a good student, though he had some problems in his second year after his father committed suicide.
Page said he currently has about a 2.8 grade point average.
“Not stellar, but not terrible,” he said.
Page sparked an Equal Opportunity Investigation at the academy earlier this year after the Directorate of Cadet Affairs, which for two years would not even grant recognition to the West Point Secular Student Alliance, gave the group an inadequate budget. That investigation is still underway, he said.
Page said he believes that Brig. Gen. Theodore Martin, the school commandant, is genuinely interested in resolving religious issues at West Point. “But he’s not the one making the day-to-day decisions, calling cadets into the office for counseling,” Page said.
That is where the pressure is maintained, he said.
Page said he got acquainted with the MRFF after writing an article entitled “Secular Students of the Military: West Point,” for Patheos.com. A friend told him he should contact the organization and soon he established a campus branch of MRFF.
“I’m a pretty bold person, but there’s no way in hell I would have done any of this if I didn’t have the support of a good lawyer at my back. [Weinstein] makes it possible that there’s someone out there to defend me,” he said.
West Point is not alone in dealing with this issue. The problem has also arisen at the other service academies. Illegal proselytizing and favoritism are not authorized and officially condemned by school and Pentagon officials, but it has been an ongoing issue at the schools.
Page said he does not know what lies ahead for him, beyond returning to Minnesota, where he will live with his grandparents until he decides his next move.
He figures he will put his West Point experiences in a book, he said.