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:

  1. Sign the White House Petition to add “Humanist” and institute other reforms to improve the treatment of religious preference in the military.
  2. 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.)
  3. Participate in or start a local humanist community to show that we deserve recognition.


53 Responses to Army Chaplains Deny Soldier Right to Identify as Humanist

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  6. Benjamin T Small

    I want Transhumanist added to that list

  7. In 1961, the Supreme Court acknowledged Secular Humanism as a religion, in terms of functionality and First Amendment protections. So… Not sure why this is such an issue (in terms of why the military hasn’t made “humanism” an option). I’m currently listed as atheist until the “humanist” option becomes available…

  8. Although I no longer have my dog tag, it was imprinted officially as Humanist when I entered the Army on 4/5/1965. I had no trouble doing this. The only trouble I had was when my now wife approached a chaplain at Fort Lewis to marry us. He asked about my religion and she told him she wasn’t sure but that I had “Humanist” on my dog tag. (Wrong answer!)

    Checking my DD214 I see no mention of my then humanist status. It doesn’t seem to have any box for religion. My guess there is a record in the military archives that will confirm that the Army accepted me as a humanist; perhaps before Major Bradley was born.

    Patrick Campbell
    RA 19832551
    Vancouver, WA

    • What you’re asserting is that you personally had one set of dog tags imprinted as humanist and that therefore humanist is an option. I think what happened was that you had a friendly clerk, not “the Army”, who accepted you and had an ability to print humanist but not to enter the official preference.
      Your implication seems to be that this is an option, but the Army has already confirmed that humanist is not an option. While you may have had a positive experience (followed apparently by chaplain discrimination), that doesn’t reflect current or prior policy.

      • Could be, but it was done as I processed into the Army and I have no idea who the clerk was. I had the “Humanist” tags and security clearance for all four years with never a problem.

  9. Pingback: Army Chaplains Deny Soldier Right to Identify as Humanist | Secular News Daily

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  11. ************************RELIGION IS ORGANIZED CRIME

    *******************We are all born “ADIAMORPHIC”—“GODLESS”!


    ************************RELIGION IS ORGANIZED CRIME

  12. The existence of Army chaplains is a violation of the First Amendment! It makes me so sad how our Constitution mandates a secular government, yet we have yet to achieve one!

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  14. jedi is allowed as a religion on dog tags. and how do i know…im in the army and have seen it

    • You can print whatever you want if you buy commercial tags, but Jedi is not an option for officially-printed tags or for official records.

  15. Why is Atheist not considered a positive expression?

  16. You can see why the military would be opposed to recognition of humanism – militaries are only necessary if we are to make war. If we are to make war, we need to separate people into different tribes, usually nations. If people everywhere come to agree that humanity is their tribe, then there is no war and no military.

  17. Does anyone know how I can get in touch with Major Bradley? I have a retirement ceremony this spring that I would like to have him “preside” over if his schedule permits

  18. This has been a huge problem in the military for at least the last decade. Not only are Academy students harassed and punished for not being evangelicals in the Air Force Academy, but they are denied promotions. There have been suicides resulting from religious harassment by officers. The campus is flung wide open to proselytizers to torment them. The MRFF has been working strenuously to protect these cadets, but the problem seems to be exploding throughout the military.

    One issue in the Air Force Academy is that, while the top students deserve flight assignments, they are generally denied to women because God doesn’t want them in that kind of profession, which will interfere with their being in the home.

  19. Pingback: Army Chaplains Deny Soldier Right to Identify as Humanist |

  20. The only problem I have is, Atheist defines someone that doesn’t believe in any gods. When someone says that they are a humanist, it means they don’t believe in any gods, and then they tack on some ideology to it. You are just an Atheist who is sensitive is all, nothing more, nothing less.

  21. The Dept of Veterans Affairs recognizes numerous symbols – religious and non-religious – as acceptable for military headstones. Humanist and Atheist symbols are included. The Wiccan pentacle was recently added. Shouldn’t there be some consistency within the active military as to what people want to call themselves?

    • It’s important to remember that the Defense and Veterans Affairs are different cabinet positions. It seems like they could coordinate, but they’re already massive each in their own right and they do have a very different mission.

  22. It’s odd that you would be asked for a religious preference. If you’re applying for a job or are in a job interview, it would be ILLEGAL for an employer to ask this question.

  23. #437 on the petition.

  24. I served for this? Ti have my worldview without equal representation?

  25. American soldiers calling themselves humanitarians/atheists is the like taliban or iraquis soldiers would call themselves humanitarian/atheists. Both defending religious fundamentalists governments and killing innocent people (which is not humanitarian in anyway). you support government you support religion like it or not. government are religions weapons. soldiers can never ever be humanitarians. educate yourselves what an humanitarian is. humanitarians actually help in cleaning the mess up left by soldiers. (when I say soldiers I mean all soldiers from any country, since americans soldiers are no different than other soldiers).

  26. an american soldier calling himself humanist or atheist is the same as a Taliban or iraqui soldier called himself humanis/atheist. both defending fundamentalist goverment and killing innocent people. you support government, you support religion automathic. govs are religions weapons like it or not

  27. “Recently I discovered that “Atheist” was now a choice for religious preference”

    Atheism is NOT a religion. What is wrong with these people! Atheism is not a “choice” it’s the “lack of belief.” Atheism is the default position for which all humans are born.

  28. America the land of the free? This is about freedom….to have your own beliefs, which should be respected and supported!

  29. This sounds like a job for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! I think I heard somewhere that the traditional funeral for a Pastafarian involves a benediction by a Pirate Captain–or at least a Pastafarian Minister (a Minestrone?) talking like a pirate–and a pasta dinner afterwards. Or something like that–I can’t remember all the details.

    Seriously, I’m not even joking here (okay, well partially). The point is simply that being a religion vs. not being a religion is *completely* frigging arbitrary, and the Church of the FSM makes *exactly* as much sense as any of them.

    The original point of the FSM was to challenge intelligent design creationism by embracing an absurd designer–equally as absurd as any other religion’s ‘designer’–to show that if they *insist* on pretending that *only* ‘religion’ has special privileges in society, then they *must* extend those same privileges to any arbitrarily absurd religion out there, including the completely harmless and innocuous belief in FSM.

    Maybe the Chaplains aren’t ready for Humanism yet, because they haven’t seen how absurd their position is. Maybe they need an actual absurd religion to knock on their door and demand equal treatment. Didn’t Justin Griffith manage to get Atheist/FSM on his dog tags? Seems he has set a precedent, perhaps.

    • You can order commercial dogtags with anything you want printed on them. But official dog tags and official records have a protected list, and it’s that list that needs to be updated.
      And humanism is a dedicated life stance with certain beliefs, practices, and ethics that the military should recognize. While the beliefs may not be true, the military is Constitutionally obligated to provide for deeply-held beliefs (even false ones). More importantly, there is value in affirming an individual’s identity and helping them connect with a supportive community. FSM is a funny joke, and a meaningful satire on creationism. However, we do our own convictions a disservice when we invoke the FSM (PBUNA) as a deeply-held belief system or as a representation of core values. In that sense, an individual has value in living the well-examined life and interacting with his/her community. Atheists and humanists should as well. Being apathetic to it all is an option, but it is not a well-examined life.

      • WRONG. FSM is a real religious group. Who are you to say what amounts to a “real” religious group?

        • “we do our own convictions a disservice when we invoke the FSM (PBUNA) as a deeply-held belief system or as a representation of core values” I didn’t say FSM wasn’t a religion. In the end, the Church of the FSM in all its facets is one of my favorite things. I recognize it as an icon of the secular movement. Please don’t take offense.

      • It is a misunderstanding of FSM-ism to think it is *only* a joke. It is not. It is an actual religion, by *any* reasonable standard of definition of ‘religion’. Even if one does not have a literal belief in FSM, there are many Christians who do not have a literal belief in Jesus–or even God!

        And regardless, there are plenty of FSM-ists who claim that they hold a literal belief in FSM. They have just as much reason to back up their belief as *any* other religious believer.

        FSM is not just a joke, unless *all* religions are just jokes, because FSM is just as much a religion as any other religion. (I happen to believe that all religions are just jokes. Dangerous, harmful jokes, but jokes nevertheless. But that’s beside the point.)

        Most importantly, the legitimacy of FSM as a religion is the whole point of the logical argument from absurdity that FSM makes. Whatever special privileges that are afforded to any random religion must also, logically, be afforded to FSM-ism, because FSM-ism fits all the characteristics of the general category of religion. *** If affording such privileges to FSM-ism seems absurd, then the argument from absurdity has done its job: It has shown that affording such privileges to religions is absurd. Formally, this is otherwise known as a proof by contradiction.

        To illustrate the point: If you claim FSM-ism disqualifies as a religion because it lacks feature X, then I will simply reply: “My version of FSM-ism has feature X.” Since such features of religions are rarely — if ever — falsifiable, you would have no way of disputing my claim to FSM-ism, unless you also admit that X is not really a necessary feature of ‘religion’. Whatever your definition of religion, I’ll tailor my absurd religion to fit your definition — precisely *because* I am going to use it as an absurd counter-example to the presumed privileges which are afforded other religions.

        To say that FSM doesn’t count as a religion *because* it is an absurd joke is to entirely miss the point: It is an absurd joke; and, it is also a religion. Absurdity and religion go hand-in-hand rather frequently. That is the point.

  30. Do we really want to add atheist or humanist to religious preference?

    1) There are many religions that are atheistic. For an atheist who is irreligious, the only valid choice under “religious preference” is “none.”

    2) There is no conflict per se between humanism and religion. Many specific faith groups do not agree with humanism, but hardly all of them. Suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive is an equally bad idea as calling atheism a religious preference.

    • Helge,
      1) Atheist is already an option on the list. It’s religious preference, not religion.
      2) If you’re Christian, you’re Christian, not humanist. If you’re humanist, you’re not Christian or Muslim or Buddhist. Humanism a primary life stance. We generally avoid the term “religion” only because a humanist rejects the supernatural and dogmatic faith generally associated with religion. You might be thinking of general good will toward people, which is better labeled “humanitarian”. Certainly there are humanitarian Christians and Muslims and it is a requirement for humanists. When you identify as humanist, that’s exclusive of any additional religious identification (except maybe UU, which is by nature inclusive of other beliefs). That is not to say that a humanist might not prefer many of the rituals and teachings of a certain religious tradition, but they’re still humanist.

      To be clear, the point is not to exclude others, but to let us, who identify as humanist, to identify official just as others can identify officially as others can state their preference.

    • Do we really want to tell people what they can and can’t choose or claim as their religious belief? It’s outrageous to censor it AT ALL.

      I have no axe to grind, and usually put “none,” which seems to rattle officials’ cages less than “atheist.” But I might very well find an axe if I discovered there were people telling me what I could and couldn’t put on my forms–whether or not, in effect, I could tell the truth.

  31. Oddly, in the Canadian Army Humanism is an accepted religious entry, but Atheism isn’t.

  32. Yeah, I’m having similar problems, Betty.

  33. I’ve tried to add my name to the White House petition several times. I’m signed in, but it won’t let me add my name.

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