The fear is
So many people have come to thank me for coming out as not only an atheist in the military but an activist as well. I’ve heard harrowing stories about how some people have had their careers completely sidelined due to the fact that they are atheists. I wanted to convey some of those stories now. When I am able and when those people are willing I will divulge that information. However, many of these people are still on active duty and afraid to come out. They fear retribution even more than the harsh and unfair treatment they have already received.
*All Names are made up to protect the innocent victims from further victimization.*
The Marine Corps Pilot
I didn’t get to meet the Marine Corps Pilot. They are too afraid to come out to anyone and so I am with-holding all information about this person, including their rank and sex. In the Marine Corps the air wing side has a lot of work to be done. This pilot is so afraid for their career that they hide their atheism and even pretend to be somewhat religious. I found this out when I began my efforts to put on Rock Beyond Belief 2.
A Humanist Chaplain that worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs (which is entirely different from the DOD – there are currently NO Humanist Chaplains in the DOD) spoke with me about the harrowing situation aboard Marine Corps Air Base Miramar. MIramar is located just south of Camp Pendleton, where I am stationed.
This atheist pilot is subjected to harassment on a constant basis because the officers in his unit are very fundamentalist. The pilot contacted Debbie Allen, who is the leader of the San Diego Coalition of Reason and also qualified as a Humanist Chaplain. She found out just how bad it was and set up a meeting with one of the base chaplains.
Many members within the Chaplaincy don’t actually know how bad it is for us non-believers (or quite simply don’t care because we’re all “going to hell” anyway). This particular chaplain, Rabbi Elson, is known as the “Marine’s Rabbi.” He had made waves within the military representing the Jewish faith and helping to ensure that those of his minority faith receive the care they deserve. When he met with this Marine Pilot, he was shocked at the fear felt from atheists and freethinkers in the military. The Marine refused to meet Rabbi Elson in uniform or to use their last name. So the meeting was conducted on a first-name basis and shattered the false perception of religious tolerance to this Chaplain.
The pilot never did come out and is still hiding the truth of their religious preference. The fear of ruin that comes with being “outed” as an atheist still runs high throughout the air wing. With the knowledge of others who’ve had their careers destroyed they still remain in hiding. It’s an unofficial “don’t ask – don’t tell atheist policy”…
There is some good news
After that meeting I got in contact with Rabbi Elson and had my own meeting with him. My story accompanied with that of the Pilot’s spurred him to action. He jumped on board to help the atheist community. In fact he’s become somewhat of a figurehead for the military atheist community. He is also now the senior ranking Chaplain on the West Coast, and is stationed aboard Camp Pendleton with me. We are currently working on plans to put together an atheist community and he has been instrumental in helping create a sense of acceptance for atheists.
That doesn’t mean the fight is over. There is still this toxic ‘weaponized Christianity’ hard at work in the armed forces. The Marines seem to be the most progressive of the branches with religious tolerance…however, that’s not saying much. The last blog in this series will be introducing a guest blogger that I’m almost positive we’re all familiar with. His story is one to pay attention to!