Tis the Season to Demand Your Rights

A star might just mean a star, but an angel is a Christian tree.

We’re coming into the <queue scary music> Christmas Season.  All across the United States, government officials are sending out invitations to “holiday parties” when they really mean Christmas parties.  Tis the season to stand up and be counted.  MAAF stands ready to help resolve local violations, so stand up and be counted.  Demand equal treatment.  Go down and update your personnel records.  Ensure your co-workers know that they have a diverse community and that holidays are not exclusively Christian.

Parties are great ways to bring the unit together, and holidays and the winter season are perfectly good reasons to do so.  Leaders should ensure that their “holiday” parties are true holiday parties, not just Christmas parties in holiday clothing.  If there is a nativity scene, sectarian prayers, or religious songs, then those are red flags.  If the party is commonly referred to as a “Christmas” party then the command has put on a “Christmas” party in practice regardless what the name may be.

Non-Christians everywhere everywhere are deciding whether to sit in silence or to brave the backlash of their colleagues by pointing out that government officials should not promote their personal religious beliefs.  Leaders are responsible for equal opportunity and valuing diversity within their units.  When those leaders gather their personnel for a social event that privileges one group over others and possible excludes many members of the unity, they draw divisions and weaken the team.  Take this as motivation to speak up as an atheist in a foxhole.

At Wright-Patterson AFB, a member reported a “holiday” party that had the theme of “Christmas Around the World” that gave the impression that Christians would have a holiday.  MAAF addressed this to the unit commander who immediately recognized the issue, apologized for the oversight, and published a new flyer with a new theme for the party.  This success was made possible by MAAF and a proper command respect for diversity.  The alternative would be for non-Christians to have visited that party, obligated by command influence and social stigma to participate in someone-else’s religious celebration.

MAAF provided a strong base of strength for local personnel to speak up and insist on equal treatment by their chain of command.  MAAF was also able to raise this objection to limit backlash against subordinates who have legitimate objections.  When Christians and Jews and Muslims won’t stand up for government neutrality toward religion, then atheists and humanists must do so.  If your command is promoting a religious holiday party or display, reach out to MAAF for guidance and support.  MAAF answers Frequently Asked Questions on harassment in the workplace that will help in these situations.

In addition, you can speak up on your official records – choose “Atheist” and be counted.  “No-Religious-Preference” can often be confused with “Spiritual but not religious” or other supernatural beliefs. We’d like to have humanist or freethinker or pastafarian, but until those are options – make sure that you can be counted in “Atheist.”  This is also a good opportunity to lodge a formal request through your local personnel channels to have “humanist” added.  Every time a leader prays at an official function, a flyer comes out for the thinly-veiled Christmas party, or a new religious display pops up in your unit area, you can know that you have voted with your religious preference as atheist.  That helps MAAF put together strong demographic proof that we are a significant population within the military, and that we deserve equal rights.

Finally, you can seek out secular holidays in your local community.  Many nontheists enjoy celebrating the secular aspects sometimes associated with Christmas, like charity and family, while leaving aside the religion, consumerism, and binge-eating.  This is possible in a private celebration that is not possible in a work/government forum.  Humanlight is a December holiday celebrating “a Humanist’s vision of a good future. It is a future in which all people can identify with each other, behave with the highest moral standards, and work together toward a happy, just and peaceful world.”  Many humanists also celebrate Winter Solstice, a major astronomical conjunction of the Earth and the Sun creating the shortest day of the year.  It would be no more appropriate to celebrate one of these holidays in lieu of a Christmas party, but humanist may choose to celebrate these events in their local community.

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