Navy Atheist forced to permanently cover up a Bad Religion tattoo

You may remember a few months back when SGT Kloberdanz told us about being kicked out of a Dining Facility for wearing a Bad Religion Shirt.

Well, along these same lines comes a story from Navy Atheist CTR2 Michael Wheeler. I’m so proud of all the military atheists shedding the (often justified) fear of coming out of the atheist closet by name. As you are about to see, Michael Wheeler slammed the atheist closet door shut a long time ago. And he’s pretty funny too.

After reading your article on the soldier that was not allowed in the DFAC with a Bad Religion shirt on, I just have to share my case of Bad Religion discrimination.

I used to be a Master At Arms in the Navy(I am now a CTR) and have been an avid fan of Bad Religion for going on two decades now. As a young third class I decided to get a tattoo of the Bad Religion symbol on the outside of my right forearm.

As an MA I used to spend a lot of time at the main gate of the base I was stationed on directing traffic. One day shortly after I got the tattoo, a LCDR from Medical came through the gate. I gave her my usual warm greeting and checked her ID and she noticed the crossbuster on my arm. Then she got a really disgusted look on her face and asked me if I realized that it could be ”highly offensive” to people.

I told her that yes I did and to have a nice day.

The next day I got called into my Security LCPOs office and was told that there had been a complaint about my tattoo from the LCDR. The Chief took pictures of it and asked me some questions and I explained that the crossbuster was a band symbol and directed the Chief to the Band’s website.

The day after that my chief told me that he had investigated the website and other info about the band and that there would be no further problems because it wasn’t racist or sexist or violent. A week went by and the LCDR came back through the gate and once again made comment on my tattoos and I told her that my dept had cleared it.

I guess that wasn’t a good answer to her because she went to the chaplain and to the Commanding Officer. I was then given an ultimatum: Have the tattoo removed or covered up at my own expense or wear my sleeves down all year (which is not uniform with the rest of the dept, singling me out). I decided to have it covered up, and now I have a big black star looking thing on my arm.

Navy Atheist Michael Wheeler forced to cover up this Bad Religion tattoo

The kicker was after I got it covered up, the same chief that gave me the ultimatum, told me that the Navy would have paid to have it removed. Great… just a couple of weeks too late. I’m not really mad at the chiefs involved in this because they got major pressure from the CO to make me do this, I am really mad at the CO, the chaplain and the LCDR that made a big deal about it.

Do any of them ever stop to think that their crosses might be offensive to me? Probably not. Unfortunately I was not as well informed then or of a rank that I was willing to make an issue out of it.

I ended up getting the last laugh though, I got a giant skull and crossbones Bad Religion tattoo on my back with the crossbuster on the forehead.

Forced to cover up the one on his arm, this navy atheist got a much bigger crossbuster / Bad Religion symbol on his back

I also got a binary tattoo just below the big black star that reads ”God Doesn’t Live Here” in ones and zeros that not only well represents my geeky rate and attitude, but my deeply held personal beliefs.

Navy Atheist forced to remove atheist tattoo, gets one in binary

Keep doing what you’re doing,

CTR2(EXW) Michael G Wheeler

Yeah. You just read that.

Wheeler picked the obligatory Bad Religion song,  “Come Join Us” from 1996’s The Gray Race

Please leave your attaboys here, I’ll make sure he sees them. Also, spread this for great justice. Click those buttons down there, Wheeler deserves it.

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  • CTR2 Michael Wheeler:

    From an ex-army soldier who was too intimidated to answer a drill sergeant when he asked, “Do any of you here not believe in God?” all I can say is, “Well done, and stand strong.” I just regret my lack of spine 25 years ago.

    I’m pleased to see we’re not longer silent. And by “we,” I mean, “you.”

  • Alberto Knox

    Wow, dude, that sucks. I am so glad to have volunteers like you to go into harms way to defend our freedoms. It is so wrong in so many ways that the armed forces should take away YOUR freedom of religion and require you to bow to a false god… so that you don’t accidentally offend someone. What would we ever do if one of our military men (horrors!) Offended someone. It might make Jebus cry…

    Keep up the good fight! Back tat rocks!

    • had3

      While I appreciate his doing the job for which he volunteered, & I think it’s disgraceful that he had to hide his atheism; he’s probably not defending our freedoms. That is, unless our military is helping to thwart our own government’s attempts at curtailing our constitutional liberties. Of course, there may be a freedom that you’re referencing that I missed; however, most people mean our constitutional freedoms when refering to “our freedoms.” Please stop the myth that the military’s job is anything more than what it actually is.

      • “To serve and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic.”

        This is our promise to America. Part of the oath that we affirm.

        Sometimes this struggle takes place in ways that you don’t hear about on the news. It doesn’t really mean ‘Protect people’s rights with explosions and shit.’

        This can mean ensuring that precedents aren’t set with regards to establishing favoritism of religion over non-religion, and violations of the No Religious Tests clause. I assure you, it is quite scary for most people, even fierce and brave atheists. Not only is this is nearly always a thankless fight, it is also often accompanied by career-impacting / crippling surprises that seem oh so ‘unrelated’.

        I receive a steady trickle of threats from fellow soldiers, veterans, and civilians. I’ve had my street address posted in scary places. But some of us choose to break the cycle of intimidation and fear. Some of us refuse to be a part of that problem.

        You have no idea how much courage it takes to simply ask powerful commanders to ‘please follow existing laws, regulations, guidelines… the constitution too…’ You will never know the vast reaches that these kinds of battlefields in the culture wars play out. Here and there, you’ll hear a peep from someone, if you’re looking. And you aren’t.

  • TheOnlyKarsh

    First off, thank you for your service.

    One of these days by standing up one individual at at time we will become a large enough voice that we cannot be tuned out.


  • ebwachs

    Way to go! and thank you. Love you all!

  • Helene

    Do you have any pictures of your arm tat before it was covered up? Way to stand up for what you believe in, and thanks for what you do.

  • Sorry to hear that they made you cover it up, but that is out of regulation. They cannot single out a soldier for his beliefs. That is a an E.O. Complaint big time.

    Second, I love the binary tattoo, I’m a nerd as well and that is one of the coolest tattoos i have ever seen.

    I make it loud and clear that I am atheist in my unit and I have had some problems, but they were easily put down when i started pulling out regs and mentioned that it was E.O.

    Don’t let them put you down. Stand up for yourself. Speak to E.O. next time this happens.

  • Lois Winkler

    The fact that you are in the military told us you were brave and strong. Now we know you won’t be pushed around.

    Thanks for representing the troops so well.

  • beerslayer

    I wonder if this same tactic would work in reverse – if someone is sporting a crucifix tattoo while in uniform, could they be forced to have it permanently removed or covered up because it’s deeply offensive to some people?

  • Trevor R

    that’s shitty of them, I’m also in the military and my triceps say “atheist peace”.

    honestly you should have fought it instead of covering it up, take it to the supreme court!

    they can’t tell you that you can’t have that tattoo or to cover it up, especially if others are allowed to have jesus tattoos exposed.

    I’d laugh in someone’s face if they told me my tattoos need to be covered up. and then I’d probably go get a cross buster on my forearm.

    that tat on your back is awesome tho.

    off topic, I also complained about the “so help me god” in the enlistment oath, I got permission to line through it every time I sign that contract. HAHA!

  • Hey dude that is the coolest bit of binary I have have ever seen. I am a 1N2 in the Air Force (Same rate!) I say let your nerdy atheism shine on! I can admit even in our field being an out atheist can be strange and a little awkward to say the least but I would not have it any other way. We am able to stand up for those who are not out and voice the opinions of a small, misunderstood minority that would otherwise not have a voice.

  • geocatherder

    Cool binary. Wish they hadn’t made you cover the original tat. We need more like you in the military.

  • Right on bother! Thanks for your service and keep strong in your personal convictions. I spent 4 years in the Army and at the time was a practicing zen Buddhist (my process to non belief). Even that was more accepted by the military than atheism. I’m a outright atheist now and salute you. Double standards are rampant in the military along with apologetically unbalanced “tolerance” that leans towards the side of belief over free thinking. The military doesn’t want free thinkers though do they? Take care and know we are all here! Thanks again.

    – Dennis

    PS. I had heard of Bad Religion before before but now that I hear the music I am a fan. Thanks for opening my musical world to them.

  • Hey Michael,

    Totally digging the tats my man. May I suggest you turn in a bill for the cover-up tat, take that money and use it to get a bigger atheist tat on your other arm. Just a thought. 🙂

    I hope you can make it to the RBB show, I’d love to get a pic with you for my album. Thank you for your service my friend.



  • Phil

    While it’s ok to have your own philosophy, having a philosophy based on ridiculing others philosophies and openly deriding them isn’t anything but rude. Christians may try and push their religion on others from time to time, but that’s only because it has helped them in their lives so greatly that when they see someone hurting, whether or they realize how much damage they’re doing to themselves, their first instinct is to help. Sometimes it’s by providing advice, sometimes by telling how much their religion has done for them.

    When people find issue with Christianity it’s because they aren’t open to the experience it is intended to provide, citing it’s occasional negative effects on the world. They don’t see what it does for believers and how much brighter the world is for them. While this man does have a right to express himself in his apparel and his ink, it’s bad form, and rude, to do so, just like it’s not acceptable to go around wearing a t-shirt saying “fuck blacks.” He’s entitled to his opinion, but if the shirt had said “bad color” with Africa in the circle no one would bitch about his treatment.

    It’s the same thing. He can think Christianity is bad, he can think blacks are bad, but when one goes around openly deriding either they should and do expect people to talk to them about it. His shirt and tattoos were an open invitation, a challenge, both to Christians any religious people to disagree with him because he is looking for someone to give him an opportunity to belittle them. The Navy acted responsibly by demanding he cover up the challenges he was issuing.

    Dude’s a dick, Fuck him and fuck anyone who feels the need to declare that there are groups of people they detest. The Nazi’s did it, the KKK does it, so do neo-Nazis, anti-immigrants, racists, elitists, and gay-bashers. Groups of Christians do it, like the Westboro Baptist Church, but this says more about the individuals and their levels of education than their religion, few a Islamic groups do it like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and the same is true for them as it is for Christians. The vast majority of religious people of any creed you meet are good people trying to be better and trying to help themselves and the world, and believing otherwise is nothing but willful ignorance.

    • Doug Hayden

      Phil, lemme call the WAAAAHHHhhhhh-mbulace for you.

      Race is not a choice, religion is….and religion is a STUPID choice.

      If you don’t like that, too bad. Prove we’re wrong, and we’ll listen. Based on what passes for ‘proof’ in apologetics, don’t expect too many converts.

    • ema

      When people find issue with Christianity it’s because they aren’t open to the experience it is intended to provide…

      Dude, are not aware that this is a reality-based blog? Now, go stand in a corner and reflect on, you know, the rudeness and willful ignorance of your comment.

    • Didaktylos

      Dunk your head in a bucket of water three times and take it out twice.

    • Don

      “The Nazi’s did it, the KKK does it, so do neo-Nazis, anti-immigrants, racists, elitists, and gay-bashers. Groups of Christians do it.”

      Um, Phil? Why the unnecessary comment at the end?

      All of those groups you named ARE Christian groups…Nazis, KKK, neo-Nazis, racists, gay-bashers…you DID know that, right?

      On and Phil? You’re a douchebag.

      • Jaben

        “All of those groups you named ARE Christian groups…Nazis, KKK, neo-Nazis, racists, gay-bashers…you DID know that, right?”

        While those groups may have claimed to be based on Christian Morales, they certainly dont act that way. In that sense they are simply twisting the “Morales” and “Commandments” to their own purposes.

        I dont know if you’ve noticed, but THAT is exactly what Bad Religion is against. They fight people who twist and manipulate religion for their own (often hateful or violent) means. And it’s not just Religious people who do this, in a sense Atheists can also use their belief that there is n God as a way to vent their own issues.

        Now you guys know that this isn’t all of you but a small minority. the same goes for christians. We’re not all like the Westboro Baptist Church.

        Im just saying, before posting hateful comments and lumping all religious people together, just remember we’re not all like the outspokem minorities that stan on the road throwing rocks at homosexuals.

        And for the record, i do not agree that he should have had to cover up his tattoo… being a christian i’m not going to go get the crossbuster tattooed on myself (For obvious reasons) but i see no reason why he should have had to cover it up.

    • @Phil

      Whine-one-one, please hold while we find someone who cares….

    • Aquaria

      When people find issue with Christianity it’s because they aren’t open to the experience it is intended to provide, citing it’s occasional negative effects on the world.

      You know, you could try ASKING atheists why they don’t believe in your emo whiner deity and his genocidal scumbag of a parent.

      Instead you pulled out this bullshit lie, to make yourself feel better about believing in a Bronze Age goatherder lie.

      Pulling self-serving bullshit out of your ass is called LYING, you disgusting piece of shit.

      Fuck off, and take your genocidal bigot delusion and shove it up your ass.

    • Dan L.

      Hey, Phil.

      1. Atheism isn’t all about ridiculing other philosophies. We only go out of our way to ridicule other philosophies when other people try to push them on us or try to get us to take them really seriously when it’s simply not something we care about.

      2. I have no doubt that many Christians’ lives are improved by their Christianity. But many atheists say the same thing. From my own perspective, I was born into the Catholic faith but I always found it confusing and never helpful at all. Then I found out that grownups don’t know everything and that there isn’t necessarily a God and the world made a lot more sense to me. So when you accuse us of not seeing the good in Christianity, we can turn it right around. Maybe you’re just not seeing the good in atheism.

      3. Your “fuck blacks” example isn’t really comparable. Black people don’t choose to be black and if they find out being black isn’t as fun as they thought it might be they can’t magically become white. On the other hand, Christians choose to believe, to go to church, and, in some cases, to bother the shit out of people who don’t care about their stupid religion — and furthermore can choose to stop any of these things any time they like.

      4. I don’t think anyone disagrees that most Christians have good intentions. But then we all know the famous truism about good intentions. You must realize that a lot of Christians are offended just because atheists don’t agree with them. Maybe you’re the live-and-let-live type, but there’s others who aren’t that way. The default assumption in a lot of cases is that if you don’t believe in God there’s something wrong with you. We’re trying to fight that perception by making a case that not believing in God is a completely reasonable position.

      The thing is, there’s some things about Christianity that offend atheists, too. The difference is that we’re not part of a privileged majority — the things we’re offended by just seem “normal” to a lot of people. That puts us at a disadvantage — not in some contest to win the most converts, but at a disadvantage just to be able to believe what we believe and talk about it without being shunned or punished for it. It’s normal and acceptable to offend atheists, but when atheists are offensive you’d think the rocky mountains were tumbling down. Respect is a two-way street and it’s Christians who are driving eastbound down both lanes.

  • melior

    Rock on.

  • danielq

    As I sit here reading this story wearing the same Bad Religion t shirt that got me kick out of the DFAC at Camp Carrol Korea, I just have to think that this dude rocks. The reason I am an atheist now is because of Bad Religion. I had listened to Bad Religion for years, but it wasn’t until I was really struggling with the questions of faith and belief, that I had finally realized just what they were talking about. When I really opened my ears to their songs, my greatest epiphany came while listening to We’re Only Gonna Die. I realized that there was no need to struggle, because the truth was always there right in front of me, and it was like I had shed a mountain of grief.

    So for all of those like this great man who have your Cross Busters ready to bare, go forth to the DFACs, the PXs, the Commisaries, and even the chapels and stand up for the truth. We have come along way, all of us, let’s not allow ourselves to be censored anymore. We have the right to remain proud and vocal, screw the silence. We not here to destroy religion, just to keep it from ruining the world.

  • Dan L.

    Do any of them ever stop to think that their crosses might be offensive to me? Probably not. Unfortunately I was not as well informed then or of a rank that I was willing to make an issue out of it.

    This times a million. You’re awesome. And thank you for your service.

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  • Michael Wheeler

    Thanks for all the support guys. The incident in question happened about 6 years ago, so it is long past time for any monetary refund. I don’t hate anyone and the crossbuster isn’t about hate or even directly against a specific religion even though the cross is a christian symbol, it was chosen as the most recognized religious symbol to represent all religion and to make people question the dogmas and forced morals many people just blindly follow. And to piss off the band members parents as 15 year old kids!

    A short word on faith from Greg Graffin, lead singer of Bad Religion:

    Faith in your partner, your fellow men, your friends, is very important, because without it there’s no mutual component to your relationship, and relationships are important. So, faith plays an important role, but faith in people you don’t know, faith in religious or political leaders or even people on stages, people who are popular in the public eye, you shouldn’t have faith in those people. You should listen to what they have to say and use it.

    — Greg Graffin

  • Jen

    I see this is a pretty old thread but I was doing some research so that I could respond to an incident that happened at to my 13 yr old daughter this past Friday. They school she goes to normally has a pretty strict dress code, collared shirts, solid colored pants ect. On Friday they had a dress down day. She wore a Bad Religion shirt. A bunch of the school super christians went to the school and complained that her shirt was offensive to them and so she was told she had to put her hoodie on to cover it up. Let me also say we are Fl where it has been unseasonably warm for this time of year and it was around 88 degrees and they were outdoors for the spring carnival at the school. She complied with what they told her although normally she would not and request that the school call me. Ill be at the school the day they reopen from spring break. I feel that my daughter was wrongly discriminated against since the school allows jesus on a cross t-shirts (with is a little violent isnt it?) and christian jewelry and such. By telling my daughter she had to cover it up they were reinforcing to the kids that were “offended” that its ok to take away someones freedom of expression. I feel that as educators the administration should have taken this as a teachable moment regarding tolerance of others and their beliefs. In the real world these right wing super christian kids are going to have to interact with people from all walks of life and for adults to continually reinforce their intolerance and inflexibilty is a travesty.

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