Open Letter: Chaplain Support of Atheists
Open Letter To Military Chaplain Endorsing Agencies and Professional Chaplaincy Organizations
From the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers
As endorsers and related agencies, you oversee and direct chaplains who interact with atheists and humanists daily. They are expected to advocate for us within their roles as command staff members. Every day, chaplains advise about the needs of all service members, to include nontheists, in their direction of policy and preparation of command training and briefings (suicide, deployment, etc). Chaplains are provided resources such as facilities, materials, and advertising that are valuable in helping military personnel to grow in their personal world view and values and to connect to a supportive community of like-minded individuals. We as atheists and humanists are reaching out to help military chaplains to better understand nontheists in uniform.
MAAF seeks full and equal support of nontheists by military chaplains. Support from chaplain endorsers will ensure that serving chaplains feel the freedom to reach out to an underserved community within the military. The primary purpose of this open letter is to invite chaplain endorsing agencies to agree in principle to the Minimum Statement of Support, a basic statement of equal access for nontheists:
Nontheistic service members including atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and others identifying as nontheists serve honorably within our nation’s military. Chaplains should support nontheistic service members with the same enthusiasm, resources, and services that they provide for theistic service members. Leaders should not use their position to influence individuals or the chain of command to adopt the leader’s own personal religion. These are minimum standards of conduct to which all service members, especially chaplains and commanders, should adhere.
This statement is supported by major atheist and humanist organizations as representative of fully equal treatment within the military. Chaplains provide a variety of services, including counseling, materials, meeting space, and advertising. These should all be made equally available to nontheists within the unit.
For the same reasons theistic personnel benefit from chaplain support, atheists and humanists will benefit as well. For every reason the military as a whole benefits from the chaplaincy, the military will benefit from a chaplaincy that provides full and equal support to atheists and humanists. The origin of the chaplaincy lies in Christian ministry in 1775 with the Revolutionary Army, before the Constitution and the 1st Amendment. Today’s military is split among over 100 religious preferences, with less than 70% professing Christianity and less than 50% professing Protestant Christianity. The chaplaincy has recognized this plethora of religious diversity with Buddhist and Hindu Chaplains among others, and has a stated commitment to diversity in the ranks.
All religious preferences deserve chaplain support, and humanists are one of the largest demographics within the pluralistic military community. A survey by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute showed Humanists (3.61%) are behind Catholics, Baptists, and Methodists. Humanists were listed ahead of all non-Christian denominations and the majority of Christian denominations. These survey results are consistent with other Department of Defense data showing atheists ahead of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and others. It is in the best interest of chaplains and the military to better serve the sizable nontheist community.
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers supports chaplains directly by providing coaching and materials of interest to humanists. MAAF provides organizational and informational brochures for placement in chaplain offices. Chaplains should also look to MAAF to augment the command religious program with humanist lay leaders. MAAF can also advise on policy and diversity training related to atheists in the military.
There will be endorsers and individual chaplains that see the role of the military chaplain as purely related to a monotheistic god or supernatural beliefs. This theistic viewpoint is simply not reflective of the diversity of support required within the modern military. Chaplains are given responsibility for morale-building, religious accommodation for all, ethical advice to the command, and a plethora of counseling including deployment, family, and finances. It is impossible to avoid chaplains and chaplain influence, so chaplains must be willing and able to serve all service members. By agreeing in principle to the Minimum Statement of Support, chaplain endorsers can show help all service members grow in their personal values and connect with a community of like-minded individuals. I hope you will consider signing on to officially show your commitment to all who serve.
For more information about this topic, contact Jason Torpy
202-656-6223, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.militaryatheists.org, or view online at http://blog.militaryatheists.org