About 289,000 military personnel – one fifth of our military forces – are either atheist or have no religious preference. Atheists in the military are not getting the support they need. And they have said they want the support.
The military needs atheist and humanist chaplains. Firstly, for all those service personnel who don’t belong to a church and don’t want to. Second, a soldier who wants to talk privately about mental health problems must go to a chaplain, because a mental health professional must report such conversations up the chain of command: so a nonbeliever in that situation must choose between a doctor who will expose his problem, or a Christian chaplain who doesn’t share his beliefs. Third, with LGBT couples now trying to tackle the military bureaucracy regarding benefits and fight on other issues, it would be easier for them if they didn’t have to go to a possibly-homophobic Christian military chaplain for support.
The opposition to this idea is, of course, widespread. The existing Christian chaplains don’t want competition from the atheists, and Tony Perkins and the far-right Family Research Council is among the rightwing fringe groups battling to stamp out atheism in the military, insisting, with fantastic illogic, that any measure to play nice with the atheists is an infringement upon the religious liberty of Christians. 2800 chaplains, not one open atheist or humanist.
The House just approved an amendment affirming that all military chaplains must be approved by one of two hundred religious groups on the Pentagon’s approved list – all of them based on belief in God. The current sacrificial lamb is Jason Heap, a graduate of the divinity school at Texas Christian University, who was endorsed by the Humanist Society, and humanists want that society added to the Pentagon’s list of two hundred “approvers”. Two other humanist chaplains already serve, but only because they have endorsements from Christian groups, and they are anonymous for fear of losing their jobs; a chaplain who tried to openly switch from Pentecostal to Wiccan was fired. Heap doesn’t want to pretend to be a Christian – he wants out of the closet.
The VA has been dragged into all this stuff too. Non-Christians have succeeded in winning rules changes for headstones in cemeteries. If you’re a pagan and die in battle, you can actually have a headstone with the Mjolnir, the Hammer of Thor on it. The approved headstone for an atheist veteran is the atomic symbol of the three ellipses, with the A in the middle. In other words, Uncle Sam will finally treat you like a human being with full equal rights, once you’re already dead and don’t need it.
PS here’s a handy link -- http://militaryatheists.org/