Military atheists seek rights – Stars and Stripes

Stars & Stripes has featured MAAF and its members in a front page article - Military atheists seeking the rights and benefits offered to religious groups .  MAAF has provided follow-up and commentary here.

The article talks about the struggles and success of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF) in seeking recognition and rights from military leadership and chaplains.  Featured are local groups at Ft Meade, MD, and Kaiserslautern, Germany.  Clint Rasic, President of the Kaiserslautern, Germany chapter of MAAF speaks in a video about his hopes for the group and challenges as an atheist in the military.

“ATOM [at Ft Meade] and nearly 20 other unofficial atheist fellowship groups have sprung up in … part of a coordinated effort to bring atheists out of the shadows.”  Ryan Jean at Ft Meade is one of several MAAF members seeking out official recognition by the chaplains as a humanist representative.  This would provide the opportunity for the local groups’ activities to be supported and advertised by the chaplains, just as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Wiccan activities are.  A MAAF member in Incirlik Airbase, Turkey explained, “the insularity of being stationed overseas heightens both religious involvement and the a sense of isolation for non-religious people.”

“Because of the ubiquity of chaplains, Torpy said, (chaplains support) is the only way to ensure that nonbelievers’ perspectives are understood and respected.”  CH Carleton Birch, who would try to convert a dying soldier to Christianity, focused on the privileges his religion enjoys with the chaplaincy, and the Army chaplain motto “for God and country.” MAAF has no problem with the traditional religious components of the chaplaincy, so long as that does not cause chaplains to discriminate on the basis of religion.  If the motto prevents respectful treatment of all service members, the Army might consider a more apt motto like “for soldiers and country” to better represent the diversity of the military and the unbiased care the chaplains are expected to provide.

Major General Cecil Richardson, head of the Air Force chaplaincy, painted a very positive picture, stating, as he has to MAAF in personal meetings, that the chaplaincy is open to all and all are welcome to seek chaplain care.  MAAF asks what training chaplains have on the nontheist perspective, why no Air Force chaplain has ever contacted MAAF for materials, and whether MG Richardson expects chaplains to serve airmen on the chaplain’s terms or on the airman’s terms.

MG Richardson continued, “The Chaplain Corps is faith-based, but it should be remembered that there are lots of non-faith-based helping agencies.”  If MG Richardson intends for the chaplains only to provide faith-based services, then no Air Force chaplain should ever find themselves in front of an airman who holds a different faith.  Chaplains, if they are to discriminate on the basis of religious preference, should be removed from command staff and all general training, and provide faith-based services only to those that choose to seek out the chaplains.  Then the military will have to find some other non-discriminatory way to do the ethical advisement and informal coaching that the chaplains now, supposedly, provide to all.  MAAF hopes that the chaplains will simply open up to atheists as they have to other non Judeo-Christian minority groups.

The article continues with additional stories, some inspiring and some shocking.  In the end, the article strongly implies a legal strategy for MAAF.  This is certainly a possibility, but it is inconsistent with the direction of MAAF.  In truth, the legal and media advocacy already exists through organizations like the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, and American Atheists.  MAAF will continue to focus on community development and positive outreach to those military leaders and chaplains who are willing to take the radical step of supporting a patriot who happens to be atheist.  For every obstacle, challenge, and delay that is placed in the path of MAAF and its members, the military only succeeds in empowering legal and media advocates to continue their attacks with stronger evidence attempts to “Christianize the US military.”  MAAF hopes that military chaplains and leaders will reach out and show their support for all who serve.

 

KMC-MAAF Meeting

KMC-MAAF local members meet with MAAF President (S&S cover story, 8/24/2011)

  • Chrystal

    As my husband just took over command in June, I’m still so afraid of looking for outreach from other atheist groups could really damage his career. I would love nothing more than have “fellowship” with other nontheists, but I think there is still a long LONG way to go before it can become mainstream. At this moment, when the chaplain says “We will now bow our heads to pray” I feel like I’m being such a rebel by holding my head high and looking around to see if there is anyone else like me. So far, I’ve never seen one head up but mine. Oh well. I applaud what you’re doing and wish I had the courage to join you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasontorpy Jason Torpy

    Thanks for being involved. I hope you’re both MAAF members to start with. That is a private action, so it’s a good place to start. I’d be happy to help out, especially with suggestions for the command chaplain. Also reference http://militaryatheists.org/faq.html#prayer about mandatory prayer. Looking around to connect with other people is a humanist thing to do, not just a defiance against government religion. Find others, connect, and show that we are not second-class citizens.