Can I have atheist on my official records, ID tags, and military headstone?

Update: The Army approved “Humanist” on 5/12/2014, and the DoD in March 2017. VA facilities provide the option as well. However, military personnel and veterans are still commonly refused this option by clerks. The Navy and Air Force have not taken necessary steps to implement these options in administrative systems. This FAQ should be obsolete based on the DoD recognition in 2017, but unfortunately, it still largely applies.

Yes. Simply ask for it. Atheist options exist in the system if the clerk chooses to input it. Just go to your local personnal (or S-1) and ask for an update. If your request is refused, escalate the issue to the clerk’s superiors, your superiors, or MAAF. (Also see FAQ regarding dealing with harassment.) For example, Army Regulation 680-29 confirms that code 75 is for atheist. Also consider 00 – blank or 74 – Other. For ID tags in particular, there are a number of online locations to purchase military-spec ID tags, and you can put on them whatever you like or nothing at all, in the religion line at least.

Atheist is a convenient umbrella term, but just like Protestants, many atheists prefer a more specific, positive expression of their values. If, for example, you prefer to identify as Humanists as your alternative to religion, then put in a request. This is currently not an option, but MAAF members should request and insist on their right to self-identify as whatever they want. MAAF will help with EO or IG complaints to secure our rights to our own beliefs. As a note, many atheists like the term Pastafarian and other satire on religion. Unless you really believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, above all others and really practices Pastafarian ways, then do not put in that request. MAAF will not help to have joke entries on your official records. Our beliefs are deeply-held and deserve as much institutional support as Christianity, Judaism, or other traditional faith perspectives. (See the other FAQ entry about having humanist on official records.)

If your preference (Humanist, Ethical Culture, Humanistic Judaism, etc) is not available, start with atheist so you can be counted separately from No-Preference, Jewish, Christian, or whatever your records may currently say. Then we can work to make your specific preference available. If there is room for over 80 Christian denominations, there can be room for a few atheistic preferences.

ID Tags aren’t the only place to have your atheism represented. MAAF encourages all of its members to change your official records to atheist, to update your ID tags to say atheist, and to ensure your will reflects your desire for an atheist funeral and an atheist headstone. Those out of the military should also update their VA hospital records. Atheist is an option there as well. Humanist may not be, but you should ask for what you like. The Veterans Administration provides for “religious” emblems on military grave markers. Currently the American Atheists symbol and the “Happy Human” of humanism are on the list of approved VA grave emblems. You can also contact MAAF or another national organization to have a humanist celebrant provide comments at your ceremony (or a ceremony for a relative).