Unwanted Religious Intrusions at Military Funerals

As the religious right continues to push a fake controversy over a non-existent ban on religious references at military cemetaries, Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers writes about the opposite reality — the unwanted intrusion of religion at the military funerals of atheists.

At the end of July, foxhole atheist and WWII Pilot John Hormuth was interred in a humanist ceremony along with his wife at Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately, an Arlington Lady provided verbal blessings and a written religious card officially on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army. This was done against the explicit wishes of the family.


The Arlington Ladies are a good organization. They attend every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, with the goal of ensuring that no soldier is ever buried alone. They provide support for families and their intentions are honorable and laudable. But at least one of them needs to learn that the families of the non-religious need to have their wishes respected just like a Christian family does. Thankfully, the military took this seriously:

After coordination by the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers on behalf of the Hormuth family, Arlington has responded. Col. Ronald Tuggle, Chief of Staff of the Army National Cemeteries Program, called MAAF to address the problem.

After an investigation, Col. Tuggle issued a letter to the family apologizing for the incident.* He conducted group training with cemetery administrators and the Arlington Ladies to reinforce the importance of including religious content only when requested by the family and only in the manner requested by the family. The two individuals involved were also counseled directly. COL Tuggle has also initiated efforts to better standardize and enforce procedures to maintain a line between personal religious statements and official government policies.

That’s the right outcome.

Comments

  1. Aquaria says

    I always tell the christards down here in Texas who are going gonzo over this that I’m glad they won’t mind if atheists or other religious clans form a group to give out their messages of condolence and gratitude to christarded families of christarded soldiers?

    Somehow, they think this wouldn’t happen.

    I’d start doing it myself, if I knew that these hypocrites wouldn’t go fucking nuts with their rage.

  2. Doug Little says

    They attend every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, with the goal of ensuring that no soldier is ever buried alone

    Seems like a pretty pointless goal to me. The person is dead after all so has no means of knowing that no one turned up to their funeral.

  3. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Seems like a pretty pointless goal to me. The person is dead after all so has no means of knowing that no one turned up to their funeral.

    Of course, according to their premises the dead person survives in spirit and could, at least in principle, know who’s at the funeral. I’ve been to more than one funeral where reference is made to the deceased “looking down on us” from Heaven.

    Still, even the sentient deceased might not be too comforted to know that the people at their burial were there only because no one else wanted to be.

  4. Doug Little says

    Still, even the sentient deceased might not be too comforted to know that the people at their burial were there only because no one else wanted to be.

    Yeah, way to make a newly departed soul even more depressed by getting their hopes up and then they find out that they don’t know anybody at their own funeral.

  5. evilDoug says

    I’m with Doug (presumably not evil) at #2.
    If someone is so unknown or uncared-for that no one shows up at the funeral, what is the point of people who don’t know them from a hole in the ground being there? Self-serving feel-good “earn some real estate in heaven” bullshit.

    But then I detest having someone I don’t know open a telephone conversation with “how are you”, I hate greeters at stores, and I damned well want to die alone.

  6. Doug Little says

    evilDoug @6,

    Well, that depends on your definition of evil. Don’t know if I fall into the evil category, I think I’m more wicked than downright evil.

  7. Chiroptera says

    He conducted group training with cemetery administrators and the Arlington Ladies to reinforce the importance of including religious content only when requested by the family and only in the manner requested by the family.

    *sigh*

    When will this oppression of Christian ever end?

  8. LightningRose says

    “They attend every funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, with the goal of ensuring that no soldier is ever buried alone.”

    I can assure you that no dead soldier gives a fuck.

  9. D. C. Sessions says

    I can assure you that no dead soldier gives a fuck.

    But a fair number of live ones do. As do quite a few family members who simply may not be able to be there, e.g. for health reasons.

  10. otto says

    You guys really see no value in the Arlington Ladies attending the funerals? Really?

    I agree that funerals are for the living, not the dead. But sometimes people don’t go to funerals because they can’t – health problems, financial limitations (particularly if the deceased is a friend but not a relative, it can be hard to get the money to work), or simply finding the grief (or rage) so unbearable that they can’t physically bring themselves to be there. It’s well within the bounds of reasonable human behavior to find it comforting that the body of your loved one didn’t go into the ground unwitnessed and unnoticed when you couldn’t go.

    And, of course, it may be comforting to living soldiers who aren’t sure if anyone would go to their funerals to know that at least someone would, even if it’s because of their job rather than who they are.

    Most of peoples’ reactions to death are useless in one way or another. We do the best we can.

  11. marymallone says

    Seems like things worked well all around. The family may have been miffed, or upset, by the religious intrusion. However, it seems like an honest mistake made by someone who works with an otherwise (according to the post, anyway) laudable organization, and thoughtful apologies were made afterwards.

  12. geocatherder says

    I suspect the error was not an intentional insult to the family. I had a mostly secular funeral for my father (my mother had died three years earlier) because I’m an atheist. The funeral director, a powerfully persuasive man, talked me into giving the eulogy, which had a total of one mention of God in it; I added that for the benefit of most of the other mourners, who were Christians. But I worked VERY hard on that eulogy, and I think I did right by Daddy, who was non-religious.

    By contrast, we arranged a Catholic service for my mother, who was Catholic. The priest officiating at the service said a lot of things that, if we were in private, I might have punched him for; he attributed a lot of virtues to my mother without knowing if they were truly hers, missed several that were authentic, and painted a picture of a humble sinner grudgingly accepted into Heaven. Talk about NOT celebrating a person’s life!

    So, the Christian ladies mean well… but as my mother used to say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” In this case, it’s a private hell for the family paved with the good intentions of the Christians.

  13. gridlore says

    As a former member of the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard) who did innumerable funerals at Arlington, I can assure you that no one is buried alone. Every internment is handled by the service members fellow soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, or coast guardsmen. It doesn’t matter who they were or how many people show up. That casket holds one of our own, and we are trusted with the responsibility of treating their final journey with the utmost respect and professionalism.

    Busybodies like the Arlington Ladies just get in the way. I remember getting briefed on the bus (no seats, that would ruin the creases in our dress blues) if the soldier being buried was a member of a more obscure religion, so we’d know what to expect and not react to graveside ceremonies. Most of the time the services were very religion-light.

  14. marymallone says

    gridlore, thanks for the alternative perspective. At first I thought Arlington was a nice enough idea; although they don’t know the soldier, they respect him or her and what he or she has done and they want to show their appreciation or admiration by making sure that the person isn’t alone when he or she is being buried. Yes, I know that it doesn’t *really* matter who’s around when the corpse in a box is put in the ground, but there are numerous social mores surrounding burials, granting a certain significance to who is attending the dead person’s final ‘above-ground’ moments. I thought that a person being buried all alone was sort of – well, sad, I suppose. It’s irrational, and I can’t begin to explain why I feel that way. Hoever, in retrospect I realize that because of the ceremonies acompanying soldiers’ burials it is highly unlikely that they will be alone when buried, so I see your point.

  15. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    How is it possible for someone to go into the ground unwitnessed?

    Are we burying people via robot now?

    Seems like there’s some serious class crud going on with this “unwitnessed” thing. “What, you? You don’t count – your hands are dirty!”

  16. Aquaria says

    Seems like things worked well all around. The family may have been miffed, or upset, by the religious intrusion. However, it seems like an honest mistake

    No, it’s not a mistake, and it’s not honest. It’s typical christard ARROGANCE and PRESUMPTION that thinks their scumbag delusion is welcome everywhere, that everyone wants to hear it and never mind asking if the dead want that vomit spewed on them. Of course they don’t need to ask.

    That’s not an honest mistake anymore than serving a black person fried chicken and watermelon at a public function is.

  17. Aquaria says

    I suspect the error was not an intentional insult to the family.

    The insult is in the arrogance and presumption that their delusion is welcome everywhere, and that they don’t have to ask if they can inflict their nonsense on the rest of us. They think everybody wants the bullshit they’re selling.

    It’s insulting that these Arlington twits are so stupid and selfish that they can’t even bother to learn anything about other peoples, cultures or beliefs. To them, the “other” doesn’t matter. Only their beliefs do. What else can they be saying when they can’t even ask what people want, and just assume everyone is like them?

    What a bunch of narrow-minded, bigoted busybodies.

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