The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers helps to affirm the values of atheists and humanists in the military, help individuals to develop stronger personal values, and to build a supportive network of atheists in foxholes. This is a goal of positive outreach, but it cannot be successful without pointing out violations and lack of respect that marginalize and ostracize nontheists in the military. The greatest concern MAAF has is the light-of-day violations, which are violations that occur without even a concern that there is an issue. To the extent these go on with no response or even acknowledgement of the damage done to the culture of respect in the military, then atheists and humanists are unlikely to feel like military leaders will afford them equal opportunity in the military.
MAAF encourages service members to report problems both to MAAF and to their local chain of command. These can be resolved sometimes by simple identification of the problem, and sometimes by formal complaints within the military structure. Organizations like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Secular Coalition for America are partners MAAF works with for more serious issues requiring media, legal, and/or Congressional oversight. The issues below constitute a subset of the ongoing issues MAAF is concerned about, along with the ongoing actions MAAF and other organizations are taking to establish equal opportunity for nontheists in the military.
Also see a number of advocacy and outreach activities MAAF has taken to resolve the issues below. MAAF is uniquely positioned to represent the nontheist and humanist perspective to the military in training and cultural reforms. Below are selections of solutions MAAF has provided to show the military what right looks like and to bring solutions to military and civilian leadership.
Watch List for Selected Issues
- Command promotion and endorsement of religion includes the following and discriminates against atheists and often implies command endorsement of Christianity.
- Daily prayer at the US Naval Academy
- Shipboard prayer nightly on most US Navy vessels
- Ceremonial prayer at many mandatory military formations and activities
- Religious unit mottos and logos. In response to pressure from MAAF, the Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office recently changed from “Doing God’s Work With Other People’s Money” to “Doing Miracles with Other People’s Money.” This is thinly-veiled religious speech, but certainly an improvement. There are at least 30 other questionable mottos on the Heraldry site.
- Bibles, though not funded by government money, are regularly printed with unit logos, including Special Forces, thus giving evidence to Muslims insurgents recruiting to fight against a Christian holy war. MRFF has had success in removing Bible logo authorizations for one publisher.
- Christian concerts and events are given strong chaplain and command promotion unavailable to other sectarian or even secular events.
- Spiritual Fitness centers are major, multi-million dollar facilities that are labelled as “multi-faith” but have strong bias to Christianity.
- Religious displays on government land:
- Ongoing repurposing of Christian shrines as ‘war memorials’ effectively co-opting military service to promote Christianity above American diversity and liberty. Examples are in California, North Carolina, Montana, Utah, Maryland, Illinois, Rhode Island, and elsewhere – throughout the nation.
- Soledad Easter Cross attempted by defended with veteran memorial scheme blocked by federal appeals court. The court called the 30-foot cross unconstitutional but did not order its removal, effectively making no decision at all and pushing the case to the supreme court. The cross was originally put up as an Easter Cross in 1913 and veteran’s pictures were added after suit was brought challenging the constitutionality of a Christian monument on government land. Veterans have been co-opted to defend special Christian privileges in the Summum, Mojave cross, Camp Pendleton cross, Utah troopers and other cases as well (also listed).
- Disparagement of atheists in foxholes [ongoing]: Chaplain Report – There is a common statement, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” This statement is not only untrue, it is discriminatory towards atheist service members. Chaplains of all services have perpetuated this prejudice by making statements to the effect that there can be no atheists in wartime.
- View a list of chaplains. To be clear, this list has room for chaplains to be listed in a positive way too, and MAAF will add both sides and hopefully at one point, the report will be overwhelmingly positive. Chaplains who state that there are no atheists in foxholes are committing an injustice no less than if they had said no Muslim is an American. MAAF is asking that senior chaplains publish an official condemnation of this practice. You may contact chaplains at the locations below. Also consider alternate secular counseling. If you are having issues with your chaplain, contact MAAF or refer to our FAQ regarding harassment.
- View a media list
- Military Academy culture: US Air Force Academy collaboration and training has been positive recently, with resolution of issues, training development, plans for improvement, and the active USAFA Freethinkers. previous updates: Clebe McClary evangelical event, Feb 2011, Nov 2010 Religious Respect Conference, Nov 2010
- Religious Counseling and Spiritual Fitness: The military has begun a disturbing trend of mixing religious counseling into deployment, marriage, suicide, and personal counseling sessions. While there may be a benefit in addressing the “spiritual” needs of some service members, these programs go too far. Spirituality is given a core role in programs while those without a “spiritual” viewpoint are marginalized as “unfit.” Spiritual Fitness as well as MAAF’s outreach is covered in-depth on the MAAF spirituality page.
- The Army’s new assessment of spirituality fails to assess what it intends, and rather excludes and belittles nontheists with a religious test. This is one symptom of an overall effort throughout the military to assess and encourage spirituality as a required part of character and leadership development in all branches of service, the DoD, the VA, and related medical activities. (Also see religious branding)
- Strong Bonds spiritual fitness program receives millions and uses the New Testament and Christian textbooks in place of proven secular counseling. This is a primary marriage counseling program featured on the front page of the Army chaplain website.
- In response to a badly-conceived and badly-executed Spiritual Fitness portal of the US Army, MAAF has created (Sep 2011) a constitutional and useful Chaplain Services Portal. The Army has yet to respond (as of Oct 2011).
- The military commander at Ft Hood, TX, unveils new Spiritual Fitness Center. This is joined by another center at Ft Sill, OK.
- [Aug 2010, Ft Meade, MD] Chaplains using Christianity, or faith specifically as a cure for PTSD. alternet report
- Evangelical Christian Concerts: A massive evangelical event at Ft Bragg further establishes the military as a primary recruiting tool for evangelical Christian organizations. This duplicates a similar violation at Ft Leonard Wood in 2009. In Aug 2010, the Army reprimanded a non-commissioned officer for forcing soldiers to attend an evangelical Christian concert. The Army failed to address that endorsement of this concert by the commander (Also see command religion and spiritual fitness). References: Truthout, HuffPo/MRFF, ABC/AP, Science Blogs
- Mass-baptism of troops: “Crusaders Baptized Before Leaving for Afghanistan” is what our enemies look for to show Mulsims in Afghanistan that our military is indeed controlled by Christian evangelicals and motivated by Christian evangelical interests. While terrorists will grab onto anything, the presence of the battalion commander, the location off a major Marine base, and the stated purpose to prepare for deployment is inexcusable for those of us who promote a secular military to defend the Constitution and to promote stability and liberty in the world. Chaplains should be able to provide baptisms, but chaplains must not promote their particular faith or evangelize. Every baptism indicates chaplains are illegally abusing their position and power to promote Christianity. This incident is just one in a long line of baptisms; here are just a few examples: 2009 Baptism and how Chaplains convert soldiers in Mosul, 2004 Baptism and Roman Games in Fallujah, 2003 CH Llano selling cool water in return for baptisms in Iraq, MAAF press release regarding Llano
- Religion promotion in initial training [ongoing]: Basic trainees are in a vulnerable position and are commonly subjected to religious pressure including Sunday worship services, prayer at graduation, personal peer pressure, official programs, and in general the provision of benefits in return for opting into religious activities.
- Cadence International Retreat: Reports from 2011 graduates from the Army’s 91B (Mechanic) training at Ft Jackson, SC indicate that new traineese at their most vulnerable have one and only one opportunity to enjoy civilian clothes, relaxation, and outdoor activities. That opportunity is provided only in return for evangelism from Cadence International. This amounts to government promotion of Christianity through a strong incentive in a stressful environment. Cadence itself lays out the opportunity for proselytism that lies at the heart of these centers: “These people are displaced… providing the vibrant Christian with choice opportunities to influence others for Christ.”
- Free Day Away [RESOLVED 2010]: Basic Trainees at Ft Leonard Wood, MO were afforded the opportunity to have fun, food, and freedom in return for a Fire and Brimstone sermon. This went on for 40 years. A few months after MAAF delivered a report to the Armed Services Committee the program was shut down for basic trainees thanks to then Maj Gen Mark Hertling, head of all Army training.
- Proselytism in the Combat theater: Military personnel in combat build strong community connections as the level of discipline and separation from family members rises. More importantly, our interaction with local citizens in the current conflict puts local Muslim traditions in direct conflict with a majority Christian military. The military has written into its command directives explicit prohibitions against proselytism. Violations do occur, often through the lack of definition of ‘proselytism’.
- Service members in Bagram, Afghanistan encouraged to proselytize with local language Bibles
- Christian Coins distributed for proselytism by service members in Iraq. One soldier was suspended, but there seems to have been little follow-up.
- Donald Rumsfeld used Bible verses on strategic briefings for the Iraq war to help inspire national leaders to action. Unfortunately, this is another piece of evidence used to show that the interests of Christianity rather than national security or liberty sent US troops to Iraq. Most disturbing was Isaiah 6:8 “Here I am Lord, send me.” God responds personally with a violent and tragic order to ravage a foreign land. Many have said that the US carried out the orders of Isaiah 6 to the letter, according to Rumsfeld’s briefing.
- Weapon sight manufacturer Trijicon printed Bible verses on its products and sold them to the US military. The US military then used these rifles in combat in predominantly Muslim areas, giving credence to the allegation that the US military is enforcing Christianity. Despite being immediately obvious to all users and procurement personnel, this problem was not resolved until being identified and reported by ABC. After public visibility, the military required Trijicon to end the practice and Trijicon provided maintenance kits to allow for the existing verses to be removed from sights already in use. Although Trijicon is a private company entitled to a faith message, the military has rightly ensured Church-State separation. We should hope for relatively quick and proper resolution of future issues like this. Related reports: ABC News initial report, Al Jazeera report, Christian Science Monitor follow-up, Marine Corps Report (As of Jan 2010)
- Lack of enforcement of establishment protections: This page lists many violations, few of which have any response at all. Many responses are hung on one particular individual or a low-level actor. Actions must be taken systematically and at high levels to ensure that protections are not only on paper but felt in reality. Only with clear rules and enforcement of rules, including public reprimands and dismissal from leadership positions, will military professionalism take precedence over the urge to proselytize through military programs and units.
- Christian Embassy Promotions: A DoD investigation into the Christian Embassy video – proselytism at the Pentagon – found several leaders were involved. Of six named culprits, three went to comfortable retirements at their current rank and three were promoted and continue to be.
- Promotions: Senior military leaders consistently promoted despite proselytizing in uniform. Military advancement need not be stopped based on one instance, but a trend of overlooking major transgressions by senior leaders is an indicator of a systematic issue. officer promotions