U.S. soldiers stationed at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo may be stunned to find three wooden crosses stripped from the exterior grounds of their chapel in coming weeks – and many never saw it coming.
Several high-ranking officers have met behind closed doors to discuss plans for the crosses. They have decided to remove, and perhaps destroy, the Christian symbols located outside Peacekeeper’s Chapel in the name of free exercise of religion.
Lt. Col. William Jenkins, 35th Infantry Division’s Kosovo Force 9 command chaplain, told WND, “The removal of the crosses … is bringing the chapel into line with long-standing regulations and policies that apply to every U.S. Army chapel around the world and that are supported by all faith groups in the U.S. Army.”
Jenkins cited the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as validation for the cross removal, saying it guarantees every American the right to the free exercise of religion. He also referenced an Army directive that bans religious symbols from chapels:
Army chapels are also required to be devoid of religious symbols on furnishings, such as altars, pulpits and lecterns.
“This is not a new regulation and exists to protect the free exercise of religion of all soldiers,” Jenkins said. “Army chapels are for all soldiers of all faith groups.”
Following a secret vote, several officers decided to take down the crosses as part of a “relandscaping” project. Only one person present at the meeting voted against the measure.
Soldiers say high-ranking officers have been secretive about plans for the crosses and have not made an official announcement to troops – leaving most in the dark about plans until the crosses have been removed.
The crosses will be replaced with a stone monument engraved with the name of the chapel and the crest of U.S. Army Chaplain Corps, Jenkins said. At the time of this report, there were no indications of plans to notify soldiers of the decision.
Although the camp itself was named after Sgt. James Bondsteel, a soldier who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, high-ranking Army personnel have also decided to remove a memorial plaque dedicated to fallen Chaplain Gordon Oglesby, who served and died in Kosovo, because it violates a policy against naming a chapel after a soldier.
One person stationed in Kosovo became concerned about freedom of religious expression in the military after WND reported the Army deliberately shut down a chaplain’s Baptist service at Forward Operating Base Loyalty in Iraq. The soldier expressed agitation at a perceived double standard after an American sniper accused of shooting a Quran for target practice faced disciplinary action and removal from Iraq for desecrating the religious property.
“It is very discouraging as a Christian soldier to see our Army punish him for destroying a Quran, but then it pays a private company to destroy some crosses,” the soldier said. “I feel it is a slap in the face to me, my Lord and my freedom.”