Can you imagine the sacrifice of someone who gives a portion – or all of – their life, leaves home and family, and risks their life to protect our freedom and serve their country – and then is disrespected because of divisive, discriminatory cultural norms in America and coercive faith practices in the military?
The myths that there are “no Atheists in foxholes” and that “God and Country” is an unseverable conjunction normalize disrespect for patriotic, brave, dedicated Americans who have made equivalent sacrifices to those who claim a faith.
The military has been battling for more than a year to prevent inclusion of the one Humanist Chaplain, Jason Heap, who has applied to serve our military personnel. Six percent of the U.S. population – reflected in the military demographics – identifies as Atheist or Agnostic, 24% identifies as unaffiliated / non-religious, and many individuals of non-faith do not openly identify themselves for fear of consequences. Why the battle to prevent support for men and women who are serving our country?
More than 96% of military chaplains are Christian and they serve less than 70% of the population. Those of non-faith and other minority perspectives are highly underrepresented:
While many non-faith individuals experience passive discrimination or minor brushes with institutionalized religious coercion (“I just ignore it”), some have very negative experiences.
Quotes from the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF):
The individual people in the unit were mostly accepting of, or apathetic about, my atheism. However, there was a lot of overt religious emphasis from the unit command. The hospital chaplain, in particular, was naive to the concepts of religious diversity and freedom. He turned several mandatory “briefings” into a platform for proselytizing and preaching. He even tried to convert or preach to wounded patients, including locals and their families…
Army Major David Schrier
Dates of Service: June 2003 – October 2009
The most common intolerance I got was when I would order dog-tags. For religious preference I would select “Atheist.” But the clerks would give me this dirty look and ask if I wanted “No Preference” instead, as if it was shameful to have Atheist on dog-tags. I would also get the stand-alone basic ignorance questions when someone would find out I was an Atheist. Frankly, I was quite annoyed at how positively I could be viewed as a soldier, but so negatively as an Atheist.
Air Force Staff Sergeant Johnathan Napier
Specialty: Airborne Linguist
Dates of Service: 13 Sep 2005 to 21 Aug 2011
I haven’t served in the military, but i have worked in places where having a different faith perspective from the majority had a serious negative impact on the work environment. It is extremely offensive to have those you need to trust and work with be outwardly disrespectful of something so personal and important. “Just ignoring it” may not be an option.
A supervisor once expressed admiration for my commitment to volunteerism and making a positive difference, but that nothing good i do has meaning because it is not done in the name of their god. Proselytization was woven into professional meetings and micro-aggressions into the workplace. I was asked Pascally if i’m afraid of being “wrong” and warned that i should be concerned about what will happen to my immortal soul since “eternity” is a “long time” to endure suffering. Seeking supervisory counsel became impossible: I never came away from a meeting feeling positive, empowered, or inspired – only deflated and devalued. And concerned about job security.
I understand the inclination to “Save” – they would save my immortal soul; i would save them from their wasteful investment in superstition. We both want for the other the achievement of a positive, ethical, meaningful life that we believe only truly comes with our sincerely-held perspective. But there isn’t space in my personal and professional action plan for engaging in the proverbial blowing of raspberries.
In the workplace we have – and ought focus on – common professional goals. What are we trying to accomplish together and how can we support each other and stand shoulder-to-shoulder working to make the world and this company a better place for those we serve? Well, It would have been nice to have Humanist Chaplain to talk to about THAT. 🙂
As we celebrate today and express gratitude for those who have served our country, honor ALL individuals, regardless of faith or non-faith perspective. In the military and in every workplace, team, family, social group – any microcosm in America – there are persons of all faith and non-faith perspectives. Some are visible, others silent. Be careful who you hate – it could be someone you love.
Value others, find the good in people, be supportive, be grateful and genuinely value the good others do, and focus on uplifting those around you and having a positive impact on the world. We are surrounded every day by people of differing worldviews – diversity makes America beautiful.
Thank you to EVERY veteran for your service and sacrifice to defend our freedom.
Below we leave you with Seth Andrews’ inspiring video, “Something Beautiful”, addressing divisiveness and the positive move toward community and respect for diversity. From Mr. Andrews: “My latest video is for anyone who has ever been called shameful, broken, ugly, or even evil…simply because they are different. Huge thanks to Nathan Phelps for lending his voice to the project.”
- Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF)
- American Atheists – Military Services
- June 18th Update on the lawsuit to bring Jason Heap, a Humanist Chaplain, into the Navy.
- October 6th – unveiling of FFRF monument to nontheist service members.