Army Won’t Allow ‘Humanist’ on Dog Tags

Every soldier gets a set of dog tags and one of the things that goes on them is one’s religious viewpoint. The soldier can choose from a list, and they can choose “atheist” or “no religious pref,” but Major Ray Bradley wanted to list himself as “humanist.” He had the support of his unit chaplain, but the Army chaplain’s office refuses to allow him to do so. Jason Torpy has the details, including this statement from Bradley:

When I joined the Army 26 years ago, “No Religious Preference” was the only choice available to an atheist like me. Recently I discovered that “Atheist” was now a choice for religious preference and I thought it would be a simple matter to have “Humanist” added to the list as well. As my unit’s Chaplain encouragingly told me, “religious preference is a personal choice after all.” Imagine my surprise when the Chief of Chaplains denied my request stating that Humanism is not an approved religion. And atheism is? It’s sad to think that, even today, one can be sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States while their rights under that very document are denied.

Torpy’s reaction is spot on:

In this particular issue CH Lloyd pointed out that humanists don’t have special, required burial rites, so there’s no need to have a special entry. He’s alluding to one of several uses of this information, which is to advise leaders and chaplains on last rites and burial procedures. Preferences currently reported by the Army don’t seem to follow this strict pattern. Independent Fundamental Bible Churches and Independent Fundamental Bible Churches of America (along with about 70 other Protestant denominations) apparently have rites distinct enough to merit separate entries. Hinduism is assumed to be monolithic enough to have only one entry. The core need here is to allow an individual to self-identify according to one’s conscience without exclusion by leaders. The administrative addition of “Humanist” to the list should not require great effort to find a reason why not.

Quite so. I hope my friends at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation get involved in this and help change the situation.

17 comments on this post.
  1. anandine:

    When I joined the navy in 1965, I wrote “atheist,” but my dog tags came back saying “Prot.”

  2. Assassin Actual:

    Thanks Army, I would advise the MAJ to get some Jedi Dog tags. Many Soldiers I know get their tags made at private companies such as militiary supply shops.

    Best Dog Tags i’ve seen recently listed faith as “First Come, First Serve” and “Stop Pray’n & get a Medic”

  3. Doubting Thomas:

    What next, dog tags with ‘Pastafarian’ on them? ;-)

  4. dingojack:

    Doubting Thomas asked: “What next, dog tags with ‘Pastafarian’ on them?

    Presumably, ‘Cynic‘ (they are dog tags after all).

    Dingo

  5. Phillip IV:

    I think the most logical thing to have on a dog tag under ‘religious preference’ would be something like “Right at the moment Protestant, but if you’re reading this likely atheist.”

  6. matty1:

    I’d just put “I aten’t dead”

  7. ewanmacdonald:

    There are no chaplains in foxholes.

  8. Raging Bee:

    Best Dog Tags i’ve seen recently listed faith as “First Come, First Serve” and “Stop Pray’n & get a Medic”

    Assassin Actual wins the thread. (We’ll just deliver the eleventy-one tubes to your doorstep; but you’ll have to be home to sign for them.)

    Seriously, those are perfect answers to the most irrelevant question you could ask of a soldier who’s just been shot on a battlefield.

  9. lordshipmayhem:

    Bet they won’t allow “malamute” on the dog tags either. Speciesists.

  10. bahrfeldt:

    As noted above, not only soldiers are issued dogtags. Mine, from the Navy forty plus years ago and one of which is still on my key chain which had secured a signal flag, says “NO PREF”, they would not accept Atheist.

  11. michaelcrichton:

    Weird, I had no problem getting “SubGenius” put on mine in 2003. I guess they’ve changed the policy since then.

  12. Ryan Jean:

    I think it’s important to point out that the headline is wrong. The “Dog Tags” are not a problem. It’s the official administrative records that are the problem. Heck, on Justin’s own page there’s a post with a picture of MY tags, which currently say “Humanist” on them, the very thing that is supposedly blocked according to this version of the story.

    The dog tags are governed by a 1960′s reg that designates the format that each branch of service requires, but not the content. So it specifies line 5 as “religion” but there’s no official rule for what you can/can’t put as long as it fits in the 18 character spaces and isn’t an expletive. You can even leave it blank. Now, it’s true that when the service makes the tags for you there is a common problem with the machine operator inappropriately modifying your actual choice, but not all do and you can always appeal it (and you will win if you appeal right away) or buy your own from a separate source. This needs to change to make it clear that nobody but the member should decide what goes on the tags, but it isn’t the problem many think it is.

    The official records, however, are limited to a long drop-down list of religious choices. “Atheist” is in there (which is what my records say), but Humanist is not. There are about 200 choices, but at most ten are anything other than explicitly Christian. This badly needs immediate fixing, as does the fact that some of the places your religious entry appears are inappropriate, such as the version of your records that goes before promotion boards.

  13. BobApril:

    Just to be contrary – the admin people and even CH Lloyd are quite correct to tell MAJ Bradley “no.” There is a list of approved entries, and Humanism isn’t on it.

    The proper fix is not to add Humanism to the list, but to change the rules entirely so that military personnel are not restricted to choosing their personal beliefs off of a menu.

  14. Johnny Vector:

    ObXKCD:

    The proper fix is not to add Humanism to the list, but to change the rules entirely so that military personnel are not restricted to choosing their personal beliefs off of a menu.

    But then they’d have to change that ENUM to a VARCHAR. Which sounds easy enough, until little Bobby Tables enlists and tells them his religion is Humanist’);DROP TABLE `Soldiers`;. What then, mister smarty-pants humanist?

  15. Aquaria:

    Best Dog Tags i’ve seen recently listed faith as “First Come, First Serve” and “Stop Pray’n & get a Medic”

    I need a new monitor, Assassin. Those are priceless!

  16. weaver:

    Yet another example that, to most of the Army, “Freedom of Religion” means you get to pick which sort of Protestant you want to be.

    I had to make my own Atheist tags, and I’ve had a friend’s request to have “Jedi” on his tags refused recently. It is absurd that there should even be a “permitted list” – this is at the very heart of Government-established religion, and the prohibition of free exercise.

  17. NoVaRunner:

    When I was in the Air Force, I was standing in front of the guy who made the dog tags most of the time because they were done in the personnel office. He put whatever I wanted on them, from “Secular Humanist” to “No Rel Pref” to “Celtic Wicca” (I have long since recovered from that latter affliction).

    “Stop Pray’n & get a Medic” made me bust a gut! I wish I’d have thought of that back then.

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