Navy atheist came out of the closet on Good Friday

Over the last three weeks I’ve been hammering home the importance of identifying as an atheist on your records. Most atheists in the military are still under the false impression that it’s not allowed. Most of us were told that “No Religious Preference” is all we can get. That hasn’t been true for at least a decade. But worse than that, “NO REL PREF” can lead to seriously fucked up consequences.

Sometime last month in reddit’s atheism comment section, I encountered a reluctant closeted atheist in the Navy. She took some harsh criticism from one of her peers for being scared. She was legitimately afraid, and that guy couldn’t relate.

I gave her some advice and showed her that she could actually do it online and nobody would have to know. But that’s not what happened. She went the direct ‘in person’ route – turning into the fear and dealing with it head on. Look what she posted last night on Reddit. This is beautiful:

Come out, come out wherever you are, indeed. You rock sodiumsilicoalumina!

ALL BRANCHES OF DoD: Click here to fix your own records in two minutes.

NO-REL-PREF has got to go, brothers and sisters. The atheist community doesn’t understand it, civilian and – sadly – military alike. Please spread the following information. We really need massive visibility for this. I’m amazed at how rude and dismissive some of the comments were. But the problem is more rooted in misinformation or lack of familiarity with military culture. This is a huge deal, and here is why.

Here is the debate-ending argument against NO-REL-PREF:

For all of those who still don’t see why this is a big deal:

  • Silence reinforces the culture of shame and fear.
  • We are banned from meeting on posts.
  • We are forced to take spiritual fitness tests (and mandatory remedial training).
  • Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on converting you and your families to Christianity.
  • Many chaplain-endorsing agencies have an official proselytizing policy: “We reserve the right to evangelize the un-churched.”

This list is not even close to exhausting the problems our community faces, yet it represents active discrimination on a massive scale. If nobody calls them on it, the situation festers. You can help at the local level. Stop turning the other cheek. We love the military. It’s our responsibility to make it better. It’s our duty to report violations of law and ethics. Identifying as an atheist and standing up for your rights simply makes the military a better military.

Please spread this far and wide, we’ve got to fix this misconception now.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mike de Fleuriot

    Dumb question, but as a guess, how much would it cost the US military to support your non belief in gods? For example per year, per budget period, etc?

  • physioprof

    [H]ow much would it cost the US military to support your non belief in gods?

    Wouldn’t it *save* the military a fucketonne of money that it currently spends prosyletizing if it would just leave atheists the fucke alone? As far as I can tell, this is the only “support” that atheists are seeking, as opposed to evangelical christians, who are seeking everywhere they can to have the military unconstitutionally devote its authority and resources toward supporting their own particular set of religious delusions.

  • kristenpowell

    It doesn’t cost any money to not send a chaplain.

  • Justin Griffith

    It would cost them a lot more to deny us the rights to the buildings that are supposedly ‘built for all religious preferences’. Litigation = expensive. And it’s a one-inch putt of a case.

    All we want is access to existing buildings and community-support infrastructure (emailing lists, etc.) Our local groups will ‘pass the hat’ to self-sustain, just like all the other groups. Also, 10% of this account would go to the ‘main account’ that pays for upkeep and what-not (existing regulations demand this of all groups).

    And before someone gets this wrong… Atheism is not a religion, but it IS a religious preference.

    And “NO-REL-PREF” doesn’t mean ‘religious preference: no’… it means ‘who cares, you pick which religion proselytizes at my funeral… just pick any old chaplain to convert my grieving and *vulnerable* family…’

  • James

    Non issue, Mike. Facilities are already there, bought and paid for.We don’t need a special chaplain (where would one go to atheist seminary?) and, if I have real mental health problems, learned professionals who are already on the DFAS payroll are standing by as are grief counselors, Family counselors, victim advocates and others.

    I hope you have more to say on this subject. It will be quite interesting to explore and debate the spending of public money to support my “religious preference”.


    Thank you so much, Justin. I’m honored, really. I’m almost in tears.

  • Mickey

    James, I hear where you are coming from. So want to explain how we (as a humanist family) have been helped. A good Unitarian-Universalist minister is worth his or her weight in gold. Ours keeps the praying chalplains away when they want to be a part of our lives while our daughter has been fighting cancer. They know what an atheist needs that other chaplains just don’t (and won’t ever) understand. And there are UU chaplains in the military, but most people are unaware that most atheists will feel perfectly comfortable in their presence. Ours has been a fantastic wingman. Wish I’d known about them when I was in the military.

  • left0ver1under

    Sending a chaplain to the funeral and family of someone with “NO REL PREF” is like sending a mormon to convert dead jews.

    It takes an incredible level of hypocrisy to say the second is “offensive” but that the first is not.

  • Efogoto

    Good for you, sodiumsilicoalumina! And good for us as more of us identify openly as atheists.

  • Mundania_express

    Maybe the argument needs to be put into terms they understand. Back in Iraq the command chaplain used to come by for coffee in our office. So we used to mess with him by pretending to be the chaplain for an un or underrepresented group, such as wiccans or atheists for that week. We messed with his head so badly that he even sponsored the base Pagan Yule celebration. But, it does drive home a point. Perhaps the US military needs to be hoisted on their own yardarm and be forced to accept an Atheist “chaplain” just as the Dutch and Belgian militaries have humanist chaplains. Have a national organization endorse a freethinker and have them affirm on a book of Nietzsche or something. But then force the military to provide the equal time/equal access under the auspices of an official atheist chaplain.

  • KevinAcosta

    How does a veteran change his/her religious preference records? The above link is for active-duty and I can’t find out where to update my file. I was regular Army and then Air National Guard so any direction to the proper channels would be appreciated. I’m making my final plans (cuz you never know) and want to be inurned at Arlington National when the time comes. I want to make sure that USVA emblem 16 will be placed on my Niche Cover.

  • James

    I’m glad you’ve been able to find some solace in what must surely be trying times, Mickey. Had that chaplain not been there, would you have required his services? (If the preying* chaplains could have respectfully kept their distance?) There are many secular and humanist support systems available. I confess to not knowing much about UU, but to me it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. If it’s a church, with ordained clergy, then it should’t be funded by public funds regardless of its tenents. Not even if it was my flavor. That’s my argument.

    *not a typo

  • James

    Good question, Kevin. I’m at HRC right now, but not in the records branch. I’ll try to find out and get it to Justin. Maybe he’ll post an update.

    Meanwhile, make those final plans because we do indeed know: we’re all going to need them someday.

  • I’ll start compiling a list for veterans too. Seriously, need a walkthrough for the coast guard, and a more specific version for Marines.

  • Kimberly Dutton

    My husband’s ‘dog tags’ say ATHEIST. He’s in the Army with 4 Tours to Iraq and I love my Foxhole Atheist. You can most certainly get ATHEIST on your tags and on your military records … BTW … the percentage of Atheists, Agnostic, and No Religious Presence is growing in the military.

  • Tmadison

    When I entered the Navy 25 years ago, they “tried” to convince me to put NRP on my records and dogtags, but I thought that was misleading. Back then, I didn’t want “atheist” listed either, if they had had that option, due to the ostracism and discrimmination that might cause. So they actually allowed me to leave a blank space instead of entering any religion. My dogtags also have no religion listed, just a blank line.

  • Childermass

    I think I have an invention that will solve the problem. I call it the “Last Will and Testament” or “Will” for short. A Will is a document that a person describes his wishes for after he is dead.

    So when PFC Jane Doe is killed, the military brass first checks to see if a Will was filed by Pvt. Doe and if it has funeral preferences. If so, they will be complied with. Otherwise the decision should be given to Doe’s spouse. Otherwise to the standard service listed for the religious preference.

    (Actually, the system of a religious preference can be just as discriminating against Baptists as well. I have a hard time believing that all Baptists want their funerals handled in the same way. A system that ignores both what the deceased and the family wants is bad for everyone. I am sure everyone would want to decide for themselves how funerals are to be handled.)

  • Ted H.


    Thanks for the link above to show how easy this was to change.

    When I joined the Navy back in the ’90s ‘NO-REL-PREF’ was the only choice I recall having. When an actual listing for atheist became available, I never changed it because I thought it would take a time-consuming trip to PSD.

    As soon as I found out I could change it myself online, it was taken care of in less than two minutes. Thanks again.

  • I appreciate you sharing this blog post.Really thank you! Really Cool.

  • Ginger Bear

    I’m not in the military but I have a relative who is in the military and I’m extremely proud of him for standing up for his belief that America should be a land free from tyranny and religious persecution. He believes that as a country, if any of our freedoms are being threatened, then his job in the military is to fight for those freedoms. I’ve often wished for the U.S. to be more tolerant of other beliefs other than Christianity. I can’t believe the political pressure on our troops to adhere to a God that may or may not exist. As outspoken, judgmental and hateful as Christians are in this country, it’s time for the silent majority of this country’s population to stand up for its freedoms. I’m not afraid to take a stand anymore.