Why Are Atheists in the Military Still Denied This Valuable Resource?

It wasn’t until this past April when the U.S. military finally approved “Humanist” as an acceptable religious designation. But despite the number of non-religious members of the Armed Forces — a number that more-than-defies the canard of there being “no atheists in foxholes” — we have yet to see a single Humanist chaplain.

The Navy even rejected a highly-qualified Humanist applicant in May.

Ronit Y. Stahl, writing for Religion & Politics, has a fascinating history of the fight to get non-Christian chaplains in the military, specifically non-theistic ones:

A 2012 Pentagon survey found more than 13,000 atheist or agnostic personnel, along with 276,000 troops (nearly a fourth of all personnel) who claimed no religious preference — a proportion of whom may also be non-theist. Since 1993, the chaplaincy has welcomed Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist chaplains, but Christians still comprise more than 90 percent of the current chaplain corps. For humanists, atheists, and their allies, the absence of any representative leaders within the chaplaincy remains a significant problem as it leaves them without any official support.

If there seems to be a stalemate about how to respond to the prospect of humanist and atheist chaplains, it’s because there is. But it’s clear that the experience of atheists and humanists in the military follows historic patterns of resistance and accommodation experienced by other minority and marginalized groups. And, unlike in previous eras, there is a significant and growing population of non-theists in the armed forces. Whether the chaplaincy extends its mottos of “unity without uniformity” and “cooperation without compromise” to include non-believers remains to be seen.

It’s absolutely unacceptable at this point for the military to deny this resource from non-theistic soldiers. If there were good reasons for it, at least we could tackle those arguments, but there aren’t. There’s just an aversion to change in the military, especially when it means opening the door to a group that’s not Christian. As Stahl’s article note, religious minorities with far fewer numbers eventually got their own chaplains; it’s about time we did, too.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

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