Are you a nonbeliever in the US Army or know someone who is? Let them know you can now identify as “humanist” on dog tags and military records. Unfortunately the other four services still don’t allow this (absurdly), but you have a chance to change that if you or someone you know are serving in the other forces, because they can now make a request and cite the Army as precedent. And maybe those forces will change to recognize that humanists exist, too, and have the same rights as Christians, Jews, Muslims, or anyone else.
This is a major accomplishment by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (in coordination with the ACLU). An official “Religious Preference” is important to military personnel not only because it allows their beliefs to be recognized on equality with any other belief system (and be counted in military statistics), but also because it can affect which chaplaincies get created and funded (and other related rights, such as access to chapel facilities, and everything else the religious get in the military), which is crucial for men and women in the service, who need these things in ways ordinary civilians do not.
The religious have the right to counsel from a chaplain, for example, to discuss problems or seek moral advice, and this comes with several privileges–such as, conversations with a chaplain are confidential (whereas, for example, albeit perversely, conversations with a psychotherapist often are not, even though that increasing lack of confidentiality destroys the medical efficacy of therapy). Chaplains can also act as advocates throughout the chain of command (most important for adherents of minority belief-systems facing discrimination or being ignored, but again just to be on equality with believers: believers can avail themselves of chaplain advocacy; atheists and humanists should have that same right). Chaplains can also facilitate requests for access to literature or family communications on the front lines. Everything they do for Christians can and should be available equally to atheists and humanists. And getting humanism recognized is the first crucial step toward that goal.
The MAAF is working to have a humanist chaplaincy finally created in the military to serve the military atheist and humanist community. There is no reason for the military not to do this, other than prejudice and immoral opposition from religious leaders. In other words, discrimination. One way to ensure the military cannot claim to be a religious body is if it officially recognizes non-religious chaplaincies. That’s precisely why religious leaders oppose this. Even though it would be an expression of fairness and equality under the law. So this recent victory with the Army, getting humanism to be a recognized religious preference, is a major step toward that important goal. For more information on why we need a humanist chaplaincy in the military, and resources for making that happen (and for existing chaplaincy support for nonbelievers), see the MAAF Chaplaincy Page and Chris Stedman’s article at the Huffington Post.
On at least getting “humanist” recognized as a religious preference, the MAAF reports:
This resolves, at least in the Army, one of the most obvious examples of discrimination in the military. The MAAF worked with Major Ray Bradley and the ACLU to push the system from inside and outside to make this change happen. Now, humanists for the first time can can be recognized for what they DO believe and not just what they don’t believe. There are non-religious entries already on the Army’s list, like atheist, agnostic, and no-religious-preference, so this doesn’t label humanism a ‘religion’, but we now have an equal and positive option [to religion].
Take a personal role in this victory:
- If you are in the Army, go update your records TODAY!
- If you are in the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, humanist is still not an option for you. Put in the request with your human resources personnel and contact MAAF for support.
- If you are a veteran, the Veterans Administration should have this option as well. They already provide a humanist emblem after death; there should be recognition while alive as well.
There is still a long way to go. The Army deserves recognition for their willingness to make this change. But it took senior officer objections, MAAF, the ACLU, and two years to make a simple administrative adjustment. We all need to work together to ensure equality across all branches of service, at the DoD level, and in the Veterans Administration.
An article on this development was also written by Major Ray Bradley for the ACLU, which you can read here, to learn more about the importance of what has just happened. There he writes, among other things:
Until this week, we could choose between “atheist” or “no religious preference.” These codes do not reflect my actual identity as a Humanist. Humanism is a non-theistic, progressive system of beliefs based around the moral values of compassion, pursuit of knowledge, and commitment to human rights. These principles help me through life’s challenges and provide me with a sense of purpose to experience life to its fullest in the same way that religious individuals are guided by their faith tenets.
The ability to accurately identify myself in my official Army records as a Humanist is not only a matter of personal integrity and dignity, but it also has important implications for my military service. These records are used by promotion boards, academic selections boards, supervisors, and commanders to see who I am, where I was born, my marital status, and other data. Upon arrival at a new duty station, this data provides key information for assigning a sponsor best suited to assist service members and their families settle into a new community. In addition, with the approval of the Humanist faith code, I and other Humanists can now ask for support from the Army Chaplaincy, including space to gather regularly and to have these meetings advertised as other religious services are.
If you want to see more gains like this, donate to the MAAF today, and tell them you support this mission goal.