Robert Farley of Lawyers, Guns, and Money treats Hall's primarily as a matter of religious freedom:
I really can't imagine a better case than this for a strictly observed separation between church and state. Religious pluralism in the military forces of the United States in inevitable, and every soldier will have a particular understanding of the interaction between religious responsibility (often none) and patriotic duty. The identification of patriotism and military service with any specific understanding of faith is, for reasons that should be obvious, enormously destructive. The idea of browbeating atheists into compliance is appalling in its own right, but is particularly troubling in the context of the War on Terror, which even the President has stressed is not, primarily, a religious war.
Actually, the agenda of the officers who were threatening Spc Hall was broader than that. They were trying to define the United States as a "Christian nation" and Hall's atheism as a kind of dereliction of duty.
When Hall organized a meeting for military atheists in Iraq, Major Freddy J. Welborn started to threaten Hall and the other atheists with rejection for re-enlistment and other penalties. But he also viewed Hall and the others as failing to uphold the Constitution.
“People like you are not holding up the Constitution and are going against what the founding fathers, who were Christians, wanted for America!” Major Welborn said, according to the statement.
Of course, liberals emphasize that the Constitution makes no mention of Christianity at all and that the authors of the Constitution were emphatic about not setting up an official American religion. What Major Welborn was doing was taking the right-wing/evangelical perspective in the national debate over whether idea of the American nation has a Christian base and thereby opposing liberal views on church/state relations. Welborn was not only violating the wall between church and state, he was using his position in the military to promote his right-wing view of religion and punish enlisted men who didn't share that view.
Moreover, there's a chance that Welborn's views are shared more generally within the military. First in Iraq and then back in the U. S., Spc Hall received a number of threats in relation to his views on religion and seemed to believe that he was the target of a general religious hostility.
But why the hostility? Why the threats? Why the warnings from officers? I haven't seen any studies of religious culture within the military, but would like to offer up some speculations.
1. A Bastian of Right-Wing Culture. One possibility is that the right has succeeded in converting the American military apparatus into a bastion of conservative religious culture and hostility to liberal secularism. Given the size and power of the American military, I view the prospect of an aggressively conservative military as a great deal more troubling than violations of the separation between church and state. The perspective of a Francoist American military is frightening in any case and especially frightening if the U. S. withdraws from Iraq.
2. Small Unit Loyalty. I also wonder if officers and enlisted men view religious uniformity as one of the lynchpins of the small unit loyalty that enables soldiers to maintain their morale in depressing and futile situations like Iraq. According to CNN, one commander thought the religious question was so important that he wanted to know Hall's religious views right after a firefight.
Hall was a gunner on a Humvee, which took several bullets in its protective shield. Afterward, his commander asked whether he believed in God, Hall said. "I said, 'No, but I believe in Plexiglas,' " Hall said. "I've never believed I was going to a happy place. You get one life. When I die, I'm worm food."
3. Religion as a Potential Control on Misbehavior. Perhaps officers believe that piety among American soldiers makes them more pliable to commanders. I've seen a lot of reports concerning how angry American soldiers get at Iraqi civilians. Perhaps religion is viewed one way to discourage soldiers from acting on that anger through either killing civilians or fragging officers. Conversely, officers might also think that religious soldiers would be less likely to be paralyzed with guilt over the things they do. If people know they're "right with god," they might not worry so much about the right or wrong of last night's patrol.
4. The Rightness of the Mission. Christianity is a very flexible religion in the sense that it's possible to identify with God the father, Jesus and his self-sacrifice, the forgiveness of sins, the Virgin Mary, any number of Saints, and various kinds of Italian, Irish, German, or Hispanic ethnicities. It's a potent brew. The military is just as loathe to associate itself with Jesus' demands that people "turn the other cheek" and "resist not evil" as the corporate world is to remind us that Jesus hated wealth. But Christianity provides a powerful and comforting rationalizations for "the mission" in relation to ideas of God's will, human rights, and forgiveness for sins. It appears that lower level commanders don't want to do without those rationalizations.