Mackenzie Agee believes her infant son was the victim of prejudice in the Army against Muslims like her and her soldier-husband. The baby’s death is an issue for a group accusing the military of religious intolerance in a federal lawsuit in Kansas.
Mackenzie Agee believes her infant son was the victim of prejudice in the Army against Muslims like her and her soldier-husband. The baby’s death is an issue for a group accusing the military of religious intolerance in a federal lawsuit in Kansas.Eight-month-old Lachlan Agee died at Fort Bragg, where his father, Pfc. Eli Agee, is stationed, and officials there suspect sudden infant death syndrome as the cause. Mackenzie Agee said she tried and failed repeatedly to get routine medical appointments for the baby, even though he was born premature. Fort Bragg officials say the post doesn’t condone discrimination, and the base’s Muslim chaplain said the Islamic community there generally hasn’t experienced significant tension. A medical inspector general is reviewing a complaint but wouldn’t comment further because of federal privacy laws. Mackenzie Agee has consulted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and its leader said the family’s case represents important evidence as the group pursues a lawsuit against the military in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. It alleges persistent violations of soldiers’ religious freedoms, which the military denies. The family buried the linen-wrapped baby themselves, following Islamic rites, on May 4, but without his brain and other internal organs. Because of an autopsy, they expect to have two more services, one for his internal organs and another for tissue samples. “Can you imagine,” Mackenzie Agee said in a telephone interview from Fort Bragg, “having to handle your son’s brain?” Chaplain Capt. Mohammed Khan, Imam for Fort Bragg, acknowledged that while he and others have offered their support, no words provide ultimate comfort for the Agees. “Any father would be devastated,” he said. “We all want to help.” The Agees were living in northwestern Idaho when Eli Agee joined the Army in April 2007. They already had two young children when Lachlan was born 13 weeks premature in September 2007. The new baby spent 10 weeks in a hospital in Spokane, Wash. Two weeks after his release, the family joined Eli Agee at Fort Bragg. There, the military assigned the family to the Robinson Health Clinic, part of the Womack Army Medical Center. Mackenzie Agee said doctors in Spokane told her that Lachlan had a heart murmur. She said because of that and his premature birth, they said he should have checkups at 3 1/2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age. She said she was able to get an emergency, same-day appointment once when the baby had what appeared to her to be a bad cold. But she said she was never able to get other, routine appointments. Mackenzie Agee also said she repeatedly asked for permission to see a private pediatrician or switch to using the Womack center but was told she couldn’t. She said she’s also had the same problems trying to get routine appointments for her other two children. She provided records to The Associated Press showing at least 34 calls from her or her husband’s cell phone to the clinic, on 20 separate days from Dec. 11, 2007, through April 4. “You have to wonder: Would they have found something?” she said. “Could this had been avoided, if he had been seen?” She said she and her husband also have felt additional grief because of the autopsy and how their son’s remains have been handled. Post officials have said an autopsy is necessary to confirm a cause of death. She believes her Muslim faith is a key factor in how the family was treated even though, she acknowledged, the medical personnel with whom she dealt didn’t mention it. She said other non-Muslim families she knows on base didn’t have the same problems. “It’s not happening to anybody else,” she said. Shannon Lynch, a spokeswoman for the Womack center, said all its clinics are busy but families are able to get same-day appointments when medical issues warrant it. She said Womack’s inspector general had received a complaint about the Agees’ case but couldn’t comment because of a federal law protecting patients’ privacy. Khan, who considers the Agees family friends, said about 150 of Fort Bragg’s 51,000 soldiers are Muslim and have a “good interaction” with the surrounding community. “They are compatible and getting along very well,” he said. “I don’t see any friction.” And when questions first arose this month about how the baby’s autopsy was handled, a Fort Bragg spokeswoman said: “We do not tolerate discrimination in any form.” But Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military and Religious Freedom Foundation, argued that the Agees’ case and other events help demonstrate a problem within the armed forces. He contends the military condones aggressive actions by evangelicals who see their mission as converting the world to Christianity. His group’s Kansas lawsuit also involves an atheist soldier at Fort Riley who alleges he has been harassed over his beliefs. Defendants include Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Military officials deny the allegations and have until July 8 to respond to the lawsuit. Four weeks ago, Weinstein said his lawsuit also will cover the promotion of an Army general who was reprimanded last year for helping a Christian group produce a fundraising video. The Army said the promotion reflected the general’s entire career. Weinstein also noted news reports this week that Muslims in Iraq said U.S. Marines were handing out coins promoting Christianity. The U.S. military said there was an isolated incident and that it had removed a trooper from duty. Weinstein said such incidents represent “a mastadon in the living room” affecting the Agees. ——— Associated Press writer John Milburn in Topeka contributed to this report. ——— On the Net: Fort Bragg: http://www.bragg.army.mil/ Military Religious Freedom Foundation: http://militaryreligiousfreedom.org/