Air Force atheist refuses to bow her head for Jesus

This message made me extremely happy. So many of us are ordered to stand and bow our heads for Jesus on a disturbingly frequent basis. I’m glad that there are so many of us that are this feisty.

NAME/RANK/DUTY LOCATION WITHHELD

The topic of prayer or invocations during official military functions has always been a touchy subject with me. I believe that prayer is a personal matter and should not be part of any military function. Chaplains will mostly say that they try to keep it “neutral” but it always ends up leaning sharply towards Christianity.

I do not bow my head, stand at attention, or even parade rest when the invocation is being read by the chaplain during official military events. I dare anyone to come and say anything about this to me; I would love to give them my explanation. I always look around to see who else is doing this. I can usually find five or six other individuals looking as annoyed as me. 

Last week I had to attend an awards breakfast since I was nominated for NCO of the quarter at my unit. I was honestly dreading the whole thing because of the invocation. It literally makes my blood boil every time I have to stand there listening to it. The chaplain that gave the invocation at this event did not even attempt to keep it neutral. He mentioned Jesus several times and closed the prayer with “in Jesus’ holy name we pray, Amen.” It made me pretty upset.

Awesome.

I’ve written before about the myth of ‘non-sectarian prayer’. That simply doesn’t exist. If you’re confused as to whether or not prayer should be a part of these incredibly frequent and often mandatory ceremonies, awards breakfasts, change of commands, etc… just read that link at the top of this paragraph. (especially the last half).

Even weirder, I recently detected a liar for Jesus in the form of a civilian preacher. He was pretending to be responding to a chaplain who was not sure how he should pray at events. It was for a major news source, and it was dishonest and disgusting.

Stay tuned, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve for this very situation. Sorry to be cryptic for now, but I’ve got a new strategy – and it’s hilarious.

About Justin Griffith
  • StarScream

    In Army BCT at Ft. Jackson this spring the chaplain would come around periodically and have a prayer with the company. I would never bow my head or close my eyes. Strangely, the only others that I saw when looking around that didn’t have their heads bowed or eyes closed either were the drill sergeants. I don’t know if that was because they were keeping a watch out for shenanigans or that we had a bunch of non-religious DS’s.

    Nothing was ever said even though they obviously did notice me doing this.

    The prayers didn’t make me angry. What did make me angry was at the first chaplain’s brief the following was said (verbatim – I wrote it down): “If you don’t fear God you will live your life in a terrible way.”

    • Len Blakely

      I’ve taught a few dozen courses. Probably a bit of both.

  • Justin Griffith

    @StarScream #1 And you just earned yourself your own post!

  • magistramarla

    I’m a long-time military wife, and my husband and I also simply look around or at each other during these events.

    I’ve noticed that several of the civilian spouses and guests can be seen doing likewise.

  • http://www.MelanieInMiami.com MelanieDawn

    I have never been in the military, but I run into this sort of thing in business and social situations all the time too. I will always be the one looking around or standing in the back continuing to munch on the hors d’oeuvres. This was how I discovered the only other atheist in my office!

    I know of a couple that were arrested at a government function (school board meeting, iirc) for continuing their conversation during the prayer. Long story short, they had previously protested the prayer taking place at the official start of the meeting, so the school board tried to be cute by conducting the prayer before the gavel came down to signal the start of official business. Since the meeting had not started, this couple continued chatting and walking around the room. They were arrested for disrupting official business (even though the meeting had not started). The court case hasn’t been heard yet.

  • Justin Griffith

    @Melanie, I’ve been covering John Kieffer and also even EllenBeth’s plights here on the blog. Thank you for speaking out and mentioning them! (For fucks sake, I hope you were referring to them)

    Sadly, John got in a huge car accident on his way to RBB a few months back. He’s active as hell in our facebook group, so I know he’s still fighting the good fight!

  • steve B

    I am not any stripe of believer. I do have a certain sympathy though for Soldiers who use their religion to help them get on when they’re deployed. Being downrange sucks, you do what you can to get through. That said, mission comes first. I’d rather get to business when we’re having briefs, ceremonies etc. Invocations cut into business time, and they’re particularly annoying when they’re as blatantly slanted to one religion as this example was. I don’t really voice my objection though.

    I’ve been meaning to put this out for a long time: Justin you obviously are not shy about expressing your atheism, and I’d imagine most of your fellows know where you stand. I’m very hesitant to express myself as candidly as you. I worry that if people of faith were to find out, that they might think I would weigh it against them when it came time to evaluate them. In actuality, in many cases I don’t know what people’s religions are, and if I did I regard them all the same (equally false), so it’s a complete non-factor in my view. The bottom line if I’m evaluating someone is whether they get the job done. But I worry if I openly aired my atheist views someone would get the impression that I weighed faith as a negative factor. Has anything I’ve said ever been a concern in your mind?

  • danalog

    Good on her. I know of a couple atheists that still bow their heads, me not being one of them.

    I know an atheist who was asked to give an invocation at a going-away cookout, because “it’s the right thing to do.” She was asked since she was in charge of the cookout. She told them, “Someone else is going to have to do it because I don’t pray.” No invocation happened and it never came up again.

  • Justin Griffith

    I’ve been meaning to put this out for a long time: Justin you obviously are not shy about expressing your atheism, and I’d imagine most of your fellows know where you stand. I’m very hesitant to express myself as candidly as you. I worry that if people of faith were to find out, that they might think I would weigh it against them when it came time to evaluate them. In actuality, in many cases I don’t know what people’s religions are, and if I did I regard them all the same (equally false), so it’s a complete non-factor in my view. The bottom line if I’m evaluating someone is whether they get the job done. But I worry if I openly aired my atheist views someone would get the impression that I weighed faith as a negative factor. Has anything I’ve said ever been a concern in your mind?

    Yes, this has weighed on my mind before. Different areas of leadership require different approaches. Officers probably should approach enlisted members with differing (or potentially differing) viewpoints with extreme care to clarify this exact sentiment.

    For the most part though, this movement takes all kinds of strategies and approaches in general (even beyond the military). Some are accommodationist, some are shit-kickers, and some refuse to check one box (me). I’m glad you framed the question so delicately, because sometimes atheists get entrenched along these lines and don’t even realize that ‘both’ styles can be ‘right’ or effective.

    I take care to mitigate my outspoken viewpoints by extending the same level of respect that I am demanding. On Christmas, I volunteer for 24 hour staff duty (if the person stuck with it is a Christian). I helped my Catholic soldier set up a bible study, and was one of the only two attendees at the first meeting. I tell my born-again soldier that I have her back no matter what, and that I’d never try to de-convert her. I had a full-bird chaplain do my re-enlistment ceremony (and he graciously omitted ‘so help me god’ as requested).

    Part of me wants to tell you “it’s not that hard to strike the right balance and get your peers to still like you.” But that would be a lie. It’s hard as fuck for some people. Some people aren’t quick-witted, affable, and consistent enough for the task. I’ve seen some bitter foxhole atheists reinforce all sorts of negative stereotypes… but really that was pretty rare too. The vast majority of atheists are simply silent, and a little scared. They’d probably be fine if they chose to an out-spoken path at the unit-level. As far as taking it to the media / lawyers… I wouldn’t recommend taking such a public-facing and relentless stance as me, or Paul Loebe (USMC), or Dan Rawlings(USAF), unless you have exactly the right mix of personality traits / skills / determination.

    I’ve met many that have the skillset for national activism, but very few have the perfect storm of will, time, family/career situation, etc.

  • Ned Champlain

    I never did understand, nor do I believe, that an invocation would grant some devine intervention in the thought processes for a meeting. I usually just try to stay awake.

  • Gregory in Seattle

    It would seem to me that ordering someone to bow their head in prayer is illegal. And as I recall, one of the general standing orders — which take precedent over everything else — forbids a servicemember from acting on an illegal order (one of the side effects of the Nuremburg Trials after WW II.)

  • F

    There is no god yet I must pray!

  • Sarah

    I was never in the military, but I was in JROTC in high school. At our change of commands and award banquets, we would always do the invocation. It doesn’t make me angry, it just annoys me. I don’t stand at attention or parade rest, I’d simply just stay quiet and look around. In fact, this past year, our group commander was an atheist, so we just kind of looked at each other while the invocation was being read. I really wish they’d stop doing this, especially in JROTC where our events are at a public school.

    • Justin Griffith

      Sarah, please send me an email immediately. We can have that stopped right away. jgriffith@atheists.org

  • Sir Craig

    Oh, the number of times I had to deal with religious nonsense when I was in the service. I can recall far too many incidents when my rights as an atheist were challenged by those who couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact I not only didn’t believe but didn’t feel a need to go along with the crowd and bow my head to preserve a false sense of cohesion within my unit.

    I hope the young atheists entering the service remember to stay strong. I lasted 25 years in a service that barely tolerated atheists, but if you face down any idiot who dares challenge your right to NOT BELIEVE you will succeed. If nothing else, report any incident that violates your rights to the IG and make sure you let them know you will be informing your congressperson, the ACLU, and whatever news agency you can locate about your rights being violated. If there is one thing the military is deathly afraid of, it’s a bad image, no matter whose rights are being violated.

  • Kim

    My unit tended to jump straight into “OH JESUS HALLELUJAH!” invocations, but now they add a nice (albeit worthless) PC plug to the beginning of the invocation stating that you can pray to your dude and they’ll pray to theirs, or stand in “respectful silence”. I like to think that my EO complaint letter during the annual command climate survey had anything to do with it, since I’m one of the few outspoken atheists in my unit, but I doubt it.

    • Justin Griffith

      It may very well be, Kim. Before I went ‘full-activist’, I dropped a few letters, spoke out at sensing sessions, and stared down those who challenged me on religion (never starting shit though, only reply / react to coercion and other unconstitutional madness). Every once in a while some E-8 would come over right before a prayer and whisper (hey… you can walk away). Given, this was only opt-out in the most informal of situations. I’m talking pot-luck lunches with our families for our section (20 or so people). Formal situations (IE vast majority) = no opt-out ‘kindness’.

  • Non believer

    Just came across this post. I have nothing got to do with the military infact i’m still in school. Im an atheist, the only non-believer in my family. At the start of some classes the teachers make us stand up and pray. So I just stand up, hands by my side. I go to a school full of different religions. Though it is a religious school, it used to be a convent run by nuns. When I just stand up sometimes the teachers look at me as if i’m an alien. I don’t want to stand up while they pray, I don’t want to be disrespectful but i’m basically just following them. I have to do religion as a subject but I don’t put much effort in, like if there’s questions about how good god is or how I see him I don’t answer them. Do you think I should just stand up for the prayer? I don’t really want to draw attention to myself but I really hate it, I feel like i’m being pressured by them? What do you guys think?


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