After years of trying to get the military to formally recognize and support atheist groups equally, an answer may be forthcoming. It’s a no-brainer from a legal standpoint. Establishment Clause, EEO, Limited Public Forum… pick your poison. Unfortunately, it really could go either way – potentially begging a massive lawsuit.
I have it on good authority that after over a year of stalling, the Armed Forces Chaplains Board finally discussed the issue. It’s still not even clear if they’ve made a final decision. The chaplaincy’s entire legal justification for existing depends upon the notion that they are indeed ‘advocates for everyone’.
Screenshot from the MANDATORY Spiritual Fitness testing and training… I guess we’re about to find out if it’s true.
No individual chaplain needs to be an atheist in any manner. No Christian chaplain is expected to perform Muslim prayer, and all the atheists want is to have a volunteer lay-leader that chaplains can simply point to or direct phone calls. This is what the Wiccans currently do, as they have no Wiccan chaplains, but are meeting on many bases with chaplain endorsement.
The last snag in the path to finally being allowed to meet on post in a meaningful way was the path to establishing a chaplain-endorsed ‘atheist Lay Leader’, or Distinctive Faith Group Leader (DFGL). Until they finally stamp ‘yes’ on one of our packets, we are forbidden from meeting anywhere on any posts by chaplain regulations.
At Fort Bragg, I’ve been specifically warned not to meet on post, even near a gazebo or even behind some dumpster! All because of one obscure sentence in the Army Regulations that guide the Chaplaincy.
“DFGLs will not conduct services before approval by the IMCOM or MEDCOM Command Chaplains.” – AR 165-1
I was the first to attempt this strategy, and they dismissed my massive packet (with glowing recommendations from several chaplains and all of my commanders and supervisors, and even Fort Bragg’s most powerful chaplain, the Garrison Chaplain). A 2 star general who had no requirement to submit anything took it upon himself to submit this letter:
I first saw this right after I got back from my last deployment – sometime in early December. They had been sitting on since April, stringing me along as I kept inquiring for status updates. I’m not really able to say much more about how I feel about this. Read my book in 20 years, I suppose.
They can’t stop us all… can they?
Maybe we’re about to find out.
In my wake, several other DFGL candidates stepped forward. The strongest of the remaining packets seem to be Maj. Ray Bradley (Fort Bragg) and Capt. Ryan Jean (Fort Meade). It would be difficult for a similar ‘nonconcur letter’ to come forth stating that company and field grade officers are too immature.
Jason Torpy over at Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is sponsoring those DFGL packets, and I expect him to be delivering the news as soon as he gets it. Keep an eye on the MAAF website for more information.