Canadian foxhole atheists also have trouble getting accurate dog tags

It’s like the guy at almost every dog tag machine all of a sudden forgets about pluralism when an atheist approaches. Len Blakely wrote to me about his experiences in Canada. It sounds all too familiar.

After trying about 150 times to photograph it I decided it wasn’t working. I managed to cobble together a power cord for my scanner and electrical tape up the usb cable so it worked. At any rate here they are, Atheist dog tags Canadian style. (NRE=No Religion Expressed.)

Canadian dog tags Atheist / NRE

When I first joined at 16 years old, I was dealing with a clerk who never met anyone who wasn’t Catholic until her late teens. Getting dog tags went something like this:

Clerk- What religion are you?

Me- None.

Clerk- Well, what church does your family go to?

Me- None.

Clerk- Okay then, what religion were you baptized in?

Me- None.

Clerk- So are you neither Catholic or Orthodox then?

Me- No

Clerk- Okay, then you’re Protestant.

Me- No I’m not.

Clerk- Well what church do your parents attend then?

Me- None.

Clerk- What Church did they used to attend.

Me- I think one of my grandfathers was Catholic and the other was Protestant but I couldn’t say for sure.

[....wait for it...]

Clerk- [Shocked look of horror] Well I -have- to put something. Since you’re not Catholic or Orthodox I’ll put um… Lutheran.

No. Put ATHEIST, you bastard clerk!

[read more...]

This is a very real problem in the US Military too. We are extremely under represented, and the stigma starts before we even get in processed. NO-REL-PREF is similar to our Canadian friend’s NRE above.

We are at war, and it comes up. Chaplains have vocally been seeking out NO-REL-PREF’s as ‘unchurched’ as they feel entitled to evangelize them. It has come up at funerals of atheists who wanted ‘ATHEIST’ on their records and dog tags, but were denied for whatever reason.

Many people – whether intentional or not – are helping to contribute to this problem.

It’s been my experience that a majority of ‘proper’ atheists in the US Military have had to correct their official records and dog tags. Some have had a pretty tough fight for what amounts to very simple paperwork. Despite all this, ‘atheist’ is the 3rd most common religious preference after Christianity, and then NO-REL-PREF.

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About Justin Griffith
  • steve welsh

    Read more link doesn’t work (and I really wanted to too.)

  • Jeff Johnson

    Funny thing is I had a friend who was an officer who had no problem getting his done as “Druid”. Then again, this was in the mid ’90s, lil different environment back then it seems.

  • Steve

    @Jeff Johnson

    There is a difference between dog tags and your official paperwork. If you want Druid/Jedi/Satanist/whatever dog tags, you can just get them made unofficially. But having that documented in your file is something else

  • Len Blakely

    Keep in mind that this was 21 years ago in the reserves in a city of 17,000 people. This particular clerk was the only one in the unit and just didn’t know about NRE and was a bit sheltered in matters of religion. Once I found out there was a NRE option getting it changed was as simple as asking the clerk in the next unit I went to. I don’t have a problem at all with NRE as it states explicitly in the Canadian Forces Administrative Orders (CFAO’s) that this covers “Atheist, Agnostic, or no religion”

    For the record, in my 21 year career, I have never been subjected to religious pressure, discrimination or evangelizing directly from my chain of command or clergy. A handful of times over the last 2 decades few other soldiers have tried to convince me that “God had a plan for me” or that I should go to their church with them. Usually they gave up in rather short order. The only time I ever had a problem with a Padre was when my catholic wife wanted to have our children baptized. The catholic padre didn’t want to do it until we had “regularized” our civil marriage. I didn’t want to, so we just went into town and dealt with someone else.

    As a rule, the Padres in the Canadian Forces are a good lot and quite progressive. They are well versed in the types of services and support available to soldiers from financial counseling to counselors and do a good job of connecting soldiers with someone who can help them. On tour I was quite happy to see the Padre come out and see us.

  • Dale

    I had NRE on my ID disks (we don’t call them dog tags) back in 83 or so when I joined. I was a pretty apathetic atheist back then so it didn’t bother me.

    When I moved to the states I became much more militant. If I felt the same way when I was still in Canada I would have insisted on Atheist on the disks.

    Other than the name those are identical to mine as I also have B+ blood. Brings back memories of putting the ice cold things on in winter mornings.

  • Dan Rawlings

    @ Dale – Why the change in heart when you moved?

    Is it due to the different environments, or just a coincidence?

  • Len Blakely

    Dale, a piece of Gun Tape on the back of them does wonders..

  • Jafafa Hots

    When my dad joined the National Guard in college he was an atheist but my dad is not one to want to stand out, especially as a young guy in the 50s, so he didn’t say that.

    His family were technically Episcopalian but my dad, while very smart, could never spell well so he just put down “Methodist” because he knew how to spell that.

    His dog tags saying “Methodist” are still kicking around. I get a kick out of them.

  • Wilson

    Just wanna say that I got my ID tags to say Atheist without issue though they now say Pastafarian. I still have one of the Atheist tags left but I wear the Pastafarian ones I ordered from Ranger Joes.

  • anthonyallen

    I was in the Canadian military, and I’m sorry to say that I caved on the religion thing at the time.

    The guy in front of me was Muslim, and when they asked his religion, and when they asked his religion, he told them. Their next question was “Would that be Catholic Muslim, or Protestant Muslim?” I saw the rather heated exchange between him and the ADM clerk, and since my parents were Catholic, I just went with it.

    I wish I had had the courage to speak up back then, but it was a different world 25 years ago, and I was a scared little boy.



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