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Military Personnel Can Officially be Humanist

In the military, each soldier is allowed to specify a religious identification on their dog tags and in official records, but their choices are limited to a list of approved designations. For a long time, one could only identify as “no religious preference” if they were an atheist or humanist, but that is finally changing.

While soldiers can choose what religion appears in their official military records, they are limited to a list of “faith codes” approved by the Army Chaplaincy. Despite repeated requests by me and others, the Army has, for years, resisted adding “Humanist” to that list.

This week, however, “Humanist” will become an officially approved faith code, and I will finally be able to accurately identify my belief preferences on my official records.

The faith codes recognized by the Army include, among others, designations for service members who identify as Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, Jewish, Buddhist, or one of more than 100 Christian denominations. But the options for those who follow non-theistic beliefs systems are decidedly more limited…

The road to this victory has been challenging. I first requested that my religious preference be changed to Humanist in September of 2011. For over two years, I was given excuse after (often conflicting) excuse as to why this simple change could not be made. I sought assistance from the Office of the Inspector General and even my U.S. senator, but the stonewalling continued.

Ready to give up, I connected with Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and he put me in touch with the ACLU. Within weeks of receiving a letter from the ACLU, the Army notified me that “Humanist” would indeed be added to the faith-codes list.

Once invisible in the Army, Humanists now have a voice. We can stand up and be counted. Hopefully, this is just the first step in ensuring that Humanists across the military are no longer discriminated against and receive the same respect, benefits, and treatment as those who live by other faiths and belief systems.

Terrific news. A major victory for humanists.

Comments

  1. jenny6833a says

    That’s progress, I suppose, but it’s nowhere near enough. The only accurate answer for many in the military is “None.”

  2. Menyambal says

    Congratulations! Good work, all.

    I ran across my old dog tags a few years back, and couldn’t figure out why the words “No Preference” were on there. I mean, that doesn’t immediately suggest religion or the moral equivalent thereof. I realized after a bit that it must be the religion slot, and yeah, wondered why there was no better choice. And then I realized that even at age nineteen, on my own, in the military, I had been atheist enough to say so. (It’s been decades, folks, and a lot has happened. The memories aren’t all there.)

    Thanks to all.

  3. says

    While a positive victory, it does strike me as a bit odd: my understanding of “humanism” is not compatible with military service. Then again, if there are Buddhists in the Army…. *shrug*

  4. dickspringer says

    The job is not finished. Other services need to get on board with the army, and ‘atheist’ has to be another option.

    When I was in the army (Korean War) the dog tag options were ‘P,’ ‘C,’ ‘H,’ ‘X,’ and ‘Y.’ These stood for ‘Protestant,’ ‘Catholic,’ ‘Hebrew,’ ‘Other,’ and ‘None.’ I had a ‘Y’ on my dog tag.

  5. says

    My “class of 1981″ tags say “no preference” — I asked when I was at the enlistment station and was told that if you had “no preference” it means they’d stick a cross over you.

  6. Trebuchet says

    My dog tags said “A Negative Presbyterian”. Which was quite apt, though not what they meant.

  7. Synfandel says

    I’ve never been crazy about the term “humanist”. It seems to suggests a perspective or a philosophy that might not apply. And to label your religion as “humanism” is to imply that you have a religion.

    My military days (in Canada) are long past and I never did manage to get the religion matter sorted out. I met the same sort of stonewalling that Major Bradley describes. What I wanted back then on my file and on my identification tags in the religion category was either “none” or, better still, “none of your business”.

  8. Crimson Clupeidae says

    So, 100+ varieties of xian, but no atheist? We’re still in the 17th century……

  9. lochaber says

    Huh. When I was in the USMC, I don’t really remember there being much of a fuss about setting/changing religion. I went in ‘No Preference’ at first, but quickly learned that meant they would sign me up for any old religious service instead of just leaving me out. I changed it to ‘Atheist’ pretty soon after that.

    All I can remember is we periodically did record checks/updates, and I stated ‘Atheist’ and didn’t get any argument. We all had to buy our own dog tags, so I have no idea what actually ended up on my official paperwork. Within the last unit I was in, I know at least one guy was ‘Occult Philosophy’ and another ‘Satanist’, so…

  10. Michael Heath says

    Ready to give up, I connected with Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers . . .

    I hadn’t encountered this group until now. It’s nice to know there’s more than one organized group out there protecting the conscience rights of people in the military.

  11. dfarmer1584 says

    I enlisted in the US Army in 1987 at age 17. My skepticism was in its infancy back then–very much present, but raw and unschooled. I was, however, already definitely a budding antitheist. During induction processing I remember being a little started by the religion question. I hadn’t much considered it. When I was hit with it (and that’s how it felt) I blurted out defiantly to the sergeant typing my answer onto the form that I was an “Evolutionist.” I didn’t feel comfortable with claiming “atheist” at that moment, but I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t a god-smacked. Anyway, the sergeant took it in stride. He typed it into the form with only the comment “that’s fine,” and for a fleeting moment he showed a little grin. I think he enjoyed the change of pace. I don’t know if he was violating an Army regulation, but my dog tags read “evolutionist” for my entire army career.

  12. says

    @12:

    Baby steps, Michael Heath, baby steps. “Humanist” is not as good as “Atheist” but it’s better than “none” (which is one of the options I had in AF). For many years I was a subhumanist and then I went the Full Monty and became an atheist.

  13. sabrekgb says

    As of about 3 years ago (the last time i got my dog tags redone), i recall Atheist being a choice on the Air Force’s list, though not Humanist. Sadly, my first choice. Pastafarian, was rejected by the system. No beer volcanoes for me… :/

    Of course, i was forced to beg for the assistance of god in carrying out my oath when i first got in, too…not sure how the FSM would look upon that, but i hope he’d be a little less than aldente with the rules.

  14. Matrim says

    The last year I was in the AF my tags said Atheist, and that was back in ’08. So it’s been around a while.

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