As the religious right continues to push a fake controversy over a non-existent ban on religious references at military cemetaries, Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers writes about the opposite reality — the unwanted intrusion of religion at the military funerals of atheists.
At the end of July, foxhole atheist and WWII Pilot John Hormuth was interred in a humanist ceremony along with his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately, an Arlington Lady provided verbal blessings and a written religious card officially on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army. This was done against the explicit wishes of the family.
The Arlington Ladies are a good organization. They attend every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, with the goal of ensuring that no soldier is ever buried alone. They provide support for families and their intentions are honorable and laudable. But at least one of them needs to learn that the families of the non-religious need to have their wishes respected just like a Christian family does. Thankfully, the military took this seriously:
After coordination by the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers on behalf of the Hormuth family, Arlington has responded. Col. Ronald Tuggle, Chief of Staff of the Army National Cemeteries Program, called MAAF to address the problem.
After an investigation, Col. Tuggle issued a letter to the family apologizing for the incident.* He conducted group training with cemetery administrators and the Arlington Ladies to reinforce the importance of including religious content only when requested by the family and only in the manner requested by the family. The two individuals involved were also counseled directly. COL Tuggle has also initiated efforts to better standardize and enforce procedures to maintain a line between personal religious statements and official government policies.
That’s the right outcome.