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.)
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?
Clerk- Well, what church does your family go to?
Clerk- Okay then, what religion were you baptized in?
Clerk- So are you neither Catholic or Orthodox then?
Clerk- Okay, then you’re Protestant.
Me- No I’m not.
Clerk- Well what church do your parents attend then?
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!
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.