Atheists in Foxholes: Preventing Religious Discrimination in the Military under an Obama Administration

For Immediate Release

Secular Coalition for America
Contact: 

Anne Singer, Communications Director
Phone: 202-271-4679
E-mail: anne@secular.org www.secular.org

Atheists in Foxholes: Preventing Religious Discrimination in the Military under an Obama Administration

Secular Coalition for America and Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers Unveil Proposal on Religious Accommodation at Pre-Veterans Day Briefing

WASHINGTON - Atheists and others with no religious affiliation make
up 21% of the U.S. Armed Forces, and yet they suffer harassment,
discrimination and proselytizing in a military increasingly dominated by
a powerful minority of evangelical Christians. Other military personnel
who do not hold a born-again Christian belief are similarly marginalized.
The Secular Coalition for America and the Military Association of
Atheists and Freethinkers held a briefing today at the National Press
Club in Washington, DC and proposed a new set of policy recommendations
in a memo to President-elect Obama as he considers staffing and policies
regarding the military.
 
While some existing regulations support the free exercise of religion,
they are silent on accommodating the hundreds of thousands of atheists,
agnostics, humanists and other nontheists currently serving in the U.S.
Armed Forces who have no religion to exercise. “Commanders, chaplains,
and other officials simply interpret nontheists out of the protected
religious categories,” said Jason Torpy, President of the Military
Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.  “What we are asking”
continued Torpy, “is that nontheistic service personnel be extended the
same institutional protections and support that traditional faith groups
enjoy.  That is why we ask for a new directive that explicitly
identifies nontheistic personnel as protected.”
 
The policy recommendations released today focus special attention on the
chaplain corps in the U.S. military. “Not only do chaplains often fail to
intervene when subordinates are harassed, denied promotions, proselytized
or threatened,” observes Lori Lipman Brown, the Secular Coalition’s
director, “they often are the worst offenders.”  Brown explains that
"one of our goals with these new proposals is to make chaplains
accountable for the religious climate on military bases, on ships and
anywhere members of our Armed Forces are serving."

 
Joining Brown and Torpy at today’s press conference were an atheist
veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and an atheist Army intelligence
officer, both in their first public appearances on this subject. 
Former Army First Lieutenant Wayne Adkins resigned his commission as an
officer in the Ohio Army National Guard in 2006 after the Army
systematically thwarted his efforts to lodge a formal complaint against a
general who opined that there are no atheists in foxholes; Adkins
contends this statement qualifies as unlawful discrimination under
current Army regulations.  Army Reserve Major Laurel Williams has
served in Military Intelligence since 1985, both active and reserve,
including a year-long deployment during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Williams is pursuing a complaint against a military chaplain who used a
family counseling event to proselytize.
 
The policy recommendations memo addressed to President-elect Obama,
entitled Secular Coalition Urges Changes To Religious Accommodation
Practices In The Military
, and signed by Lori Lipman Brown contains
an Action Plan to Protect Religious Liberty and Freedom of Conscience
consisting of four detailed sections which are summarized below:
 
Vetting New Appointments and Promotions to ensure that appointees
are committed “to fostering a secular military that protects the
religious liberty and freedom of conscience of our soldiers.”

A Directive from your New Secretary of Defense that would
“demonstrate your administration’s commitment to implement the change we
need” and require all branches to update their regulations with regard to
promoting religion over non-religion, proselytizing, discrimination and
the role and training of chaplains.
Conduct a Survey of Military Personnel “in order to determine the
pervasiveness of the problems of religious discrimination and
proselytizing.”
Establish a Commission for Religious Accommodation charged with,
among other things: creating effective channels for reporting failures to
accommodate religious and nonreligious service members’ beliefs;
investigating such failures and ensuring corrective actions are taken;
reporting annually to Congress on complaints; recommending improvements
in training and regulations; and ensuring diversity among the chaplain
corps that represents the diversity of the military.
 
The complete policy memo can be viewed in PDF form at
www.secular.org.

 

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The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) is a 501(c)3 and member of the Secular Coalition for America. MAAF is a community support network that connects military members from around the world with each other and with local organizations, and takes action to educate and train both the military and civilian community about nontheists in the military and the issues they face. Where necessary, MAAF identifies, examines, and responds to insensitive practices that illegally promote theism over non-theism within the military, or unethically discriminate against minority religions or differing beliefs. MAAF supports Constitutional State-Church Separation and First Amendment rights for all service members. The group's website is http://www.maaf.info/.   The Secular Coalition for America is a 501(c)4 advocacy organization consisting of nine member groups which serve atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheistic Americans. Its purpose is to amplify the diverse and growing voice of the nontheistic community in the United States. The Coalition works to protect the civil rights of nontheists and lobbies the U.S. Congress on issues of concern to its constituents. The group's website is www.secular.org.

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