Army Chaplains Deny Soldier Right to Identify as Humanist
Ray Bradley identifies as humanist, but the Army says atheist is good enough.
Army Major Ray Bradley is currently stationed at Ft Bragg, North Carolina. served in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005, and is a committed humanist. He is an officer on the board of a local humanist group, is active with the local MAAF affiliate, and is recognized as a Humanist Lay Leader by the Humanist Society. His wife, Rene’, and he plans to renew their vows on their 20th anniversary in a humanist ceremony. He has even applied to be an Army-recognized humanist lay leader. Despite all this, he’s not a humanist, at least according to his military identification tags and official records. He isn’t now, and can never be, according to the Army Chaplaincy’s director of personnel, Chaplain Colonel Scottie Lloyd.
MAJ Bradley, speaking only to his own experience and not on behalf of the military, had the following to say:
When I joined the Army 26 years ago, “No Religious Preference” was the only choice available to an atheist like me. Recently I discovered that “Atheist” was now a choice for religious preference and I thought it would be a simple matter to have “Humanist” added to the list as well. As my unit’s Chaplain encouragingly told me, “religious preference is a personal choice after all.” Imagine my surprise when the Chief of Chaplains denied my request stating that Humanism is not an approved religion. And atheism is? It’s sad to think that, even today, one can be sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States while their rights under that very document are denied.
CH Lloyd has a long history with MAAF, having, over the last year. While he has not disavowed the importance of serving all Army soldiers, he has also not put the chaplaincy on the line to do more than have a discussion. The sticking point seems to be that atheists, humanists, and other nontheists don’t believe in a supernatural higher power. It seems more and more as if the chaplains would prefer not to have to serve us because our beliefs are too different from theirs.
In this particular issue CH Lloyd pointed out that humanists don’t have special, required burial rites, so there’s no need to have a special entry. He’s alluding to one of several uses of this information, which is to advise leaders and chaplains on last rites and burial procedures. Preferences currently reported by the Army don’t seem to follow this strict pattern. Independent Fundamental Bible Churches and Independent Fundamental Bible Churches of America (along with about 70 other Protestant denominations) apparently have rites distinct enough to merit separate entries. Hinduism is assumed to be monolithic enough to have only one entry. The core need here is to allow an individual to self-identify according to one’s conscience without exclusion by leaders. The administrative addition of “Humanist” to the list should not require great effort to find a reason why not.
Technically, the stewardship of the religious preference list rests with Personnel/Human Resources and not with chaplains, but chaplains have significant influence especially over matters related to religion, so at least to this point, Personnel leaders have deferred to the chaplaincy.
The atheist and humanist community in the military is rising. Chaplains cannot ignore us for much longer, especially with popular support and requests from active military. Many prefer the atheist label, but many also prefer a positive expression of our values, and humanist provides that positive expression. To help advance those rights, please consider the actions below according to your situation:
- Sign the White House Petition to add “Humanist” and institute other reforms to improve the treatment of religious preference in the military.
- If you are military, request to change your official records to “Humanist” and report your results on the MAAF Facebook page. (If you prefer “Atheist”, then make sure your records reflect that.)
- Participate in or start a local humanist community to show that we deserve recognition.