Here’s a brief list of what to watch for regarding atheists and humanists in the military in the coming year:
- Godless Rallies — The Reason Rally will take place on March 24th in Washington, D.C. This will be the biggest nontheist event in history, with the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) as a sponsor. Bad Religion and Tim Minchin are already confirmed, with many more on the roster. Rock Beyond Belief at Ft. Bragg is scheduled for the following weekend, March 31st. That’s just down the road, and features six bands and major speakers from throughout the atheist community. This and other events are listed at the national events calendar at MAAF.
- Godless Groups — Watch for greater proliferation of local groups on military installations and ships. MAAF has gotten limited support from the military. Neverthless, we still help local groups to form and that shows the increasing need for recognition and support of atheists and humanists.
- Leaders Step Up — Humanist chaplaincies are forming around the country, and MAAF continues to certify military lay leaders (again, with limited military recognition). Maybe 2012 will see the first humanist chaplain in the military. There will definitely be more local leaders to support humanists in ways religious chaplains cannot. Will chaplains help humanists?
- Christmas Miracles — As they often do, Christians were overstepping the law during the Christmas season. Military leaders want to declare a Christmas miracle rather than resolving these issues. They are still out there, and we must keep up the pressure. First is a large Christian shrine at Camp Pendleton posted without authorization and being used for forced Christian prayer. A second issue relates to Walter Reed National Medical center. Visitors are rightfully prohibited from foisting unsolicited Bibles on patients, and we should see if officials backpeddle and open the door to proselytizing.
- Academy Reforms — The US Air Force Academy invited MAAF to collaborate on training throughout 2011 with positive results. However, the Academy has a long way to go in its reforms. All three Academies allowed for atheist/humanist meetings during cadet summer training. The Army (West Point) and Naval Academies have vibrant student groups, but they have yet to extend official recognition or support to them. Will Academies continue their progress or backslide?
- Coming Out 2012 — Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed at the end of 2010 and was implemented in September 2011. From the start, I’ve been dubious about the speed of implementation; it will take years. Same sex family services, state National Guard implementation, residual anti-gay sentiment, and fabricated* controversies will all complicate implementation. The secular community should continue to be vigilant against sectarian bias in military policy. (*Like the fabricated danger of chaplains being forced to do a gay marriage. There are explicit protections that will protect chaplains from such a situation.)
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