Two Atheist Organizations Suggest Military Policy Recommendations for Barack Obama

We all know there is a serious problem for atheists in the military. From Jeremy Hall to Dustin Chalker to the Free Day Away program to the Christian Embassy videos to the many cases that never get reported at all, military atheists are subject to proselytization, denied promotions, and belittled by their superiors.

Today, the Secular Coalition for America and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers are issuing policy recommendations for president-elect Barack Obama so he can help fix the problems.

(My block-quotations are coming from a earlier draft of the press release. There may be some changes in the most current version.)

Is all this necessary? Yes, and not just for the atheists:

… since 2005, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has received over 9,000 complaints from active and retired military personnel who witnessed and/or experienced harassment, persecution or employment discrimination based on religious beliefs or lack thereof; of these complaints 96% were from Christians.

One particular highlight from the report says this:

… The military command structure gives officers, including chaplains, wide latitude in defining insubordination, determining punishment and recommending promotions. It is our belief that service members in all branches learn early, from the moment they begin the enlistment process which includes establishing religious affiliation, that open nontheism is discouraged by the military hierarchy. We also know of cases in which attempts to report violations are met with bureaucratic runarounds and top-down pressure to abandon the complaint. Therefore, among our first policy recommendations is the establishment of effective mechanisms for reporting discrimination, harassment and proselytizing.

Also included in the report are directives for the future Secretary of Defense:

  • Prohibit any official statement or action that endorses any particular faith, or even the idea of religion over non-religion.
  • Remind commanders and civilian leaders of the plural nature of our society and military, and that bigoted remarks and religious discrimination will not be tolerated.
  • Explicitly prohibit all military personnel, including chaplains, from proselytizing.
  • Reiterate that chaplains provide ministry to those of their own faith, facilitate ministry to those of other faiths, and provide care for all service members, including those of no religious faith.
  • Require an expansion of chaplain school training programs to ensure that new chaplains prepared to support service members of various religions, including those of no religious faith.
  • Require that chaplains have easy access to relevant religious materials that represent the full spectrum of all service members’ belief systems under their command.
  • Order that public prayers will not be included in mandatory-attendance settings such as staff meetings, office meetings, classes, or officially sanctioned activities.
  • Reaffirm that chaplains and the chaplain corps are accountable for the unit command climate with respect to religious liberty and freedom of conscience.

Finally, SCA and MAAF suggest the creation of a Commission for Religious Accommodation to “protect service members’ freedom of conscience.” The Commission would be tasked with the following:

  • Creating effective channels for service members to report instances of religious discrimination, proselytizing, or other failures to provide religious accommodation.
  • Monitoring and investigating instances of proselytizing, religious discrimination, or other attempts to deny religious accommodation by chaplains and/or commanding officers.
  • Ensuring enforcement, corrective action, and/or appropriate punishment of violations of religious accommodation.
  • Reporting to Congress annually on the number, types, and outcomes of complaints received.
  • Making recommendations for the improvement of regulations and trainings to ensure the protection of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
  • Monitoring diversity within the chaplains’ corps, especially at high levels, and working to ensure this diversity represents the composition of the military.

It would be wonderful if the patriotic and numerous military atheists could defend our country without having to worry about being shunned or punished for their rational beliefs.

  • Tolga K.

    I plan on becoming an Marine or Navy aviator after graduating from college. Considering that pilots are some of the most conservative people around (in both military and civilian life), I wouldn’t dream of doing it unless I know I didn’t worry about having to act religious.

    Obama publicly announced his views on religion in the US, and because of his speech I’m sure that he will pay attention to this.

  • Gabriel

    This stuff always freaks me out. My time in the Navy Reserve and my time on active duty with the Navy was one of the few times in my life that I felt safe in being totally open about my atheism. I thought that was great and now I read artivle like these and it just pisses me off to no end. I had no problem getting Atheist on my dog tags.

  • Randy

    I mention before that during my time in the Navy no issue of religion came up UNTIL I was stationed at an Air Force base. It was Air Force personnel that were annoying.

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com arkonbey

    I spent nine years in the USCG (half in aviation) and my lack of religion was never an issue, except in lively debate.

    Even at Airstation Traverse City which had a remarkably high ration of evangelical xtian Coasties.

    Interesting that you squids encountered the same lack of problems. I wonder why.

  • TXatheist

    Tolga, ex-Navy guy here stationed at a training squadron where I got to be a crew member for training pilots. I’d recommend you be subtle until you get your “wings” because one of our best pilots got along horribly with his old CO and was not allowed to reinlist after making it to O-3 but not being promoted to 0-4. If my jargin is confusing I apologize and feel free to ask for clarification :) md457@hotmail.com

  • Dan C.

    I’m in Army Aviation and I’ve never had any problem with this kind of thing. I’ve spoken to the chaplain before and he didn’t do or say anything that I thought was inappropriate.

    I can only speak for the units I’ve been in, but in my experience the duties of a chaplain are only superficially religious in nature. I’ve always seen them used as a sort of “psychologist lite”. That is, someone you can talk to confidentially about family, emotional and (if you have them) spiritual issues, without the stigma of seeing an actual psychologist.


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