Humanist literature now available for new enlistees
New enlistees are exposed to an imposing new culture as they enter the military. For decades, the Gideons have been treating them to a good Christian introduction. Good for the Gideons for taking care of their people. For the first time, enlistees will see that it’s ok if you’re not Christian. Humanist enlistees now have access to “Living Well Through Secular Humanism”, a publication of MAAF introducing humanism as a positive, science-based, and ethical life stance for nontheists.
Military Enlistment Processing Stations, MEPS, are locations where new recruits, often barely 18 years old and on their first trip away from home, are introduced to military life. This involves initial signing of contracts, physical exams, job selections, and final processing before going to basic training. There are 65 stations around the country and, as part of the Deployment Support Program, MAAF plans to help stock all of them. The brochure is “Living Well Through Secular Humanism” [pdf], which helps humanists to connect to a supportive community. MAAF is committed to ensuring a positive experience for humanists in the military even before day one.
This program began when Gretchen Mann, an employee at the office, noticed that there were no materials for humanists and contacted MAAF to initiate and fund the program. She felt that direct involvement on her part would be a conflict of interest due to her position, so she referred MAAF to the local community.
Joining Gretchen in supporting this program are two local volunteers, Emmett Fields (bankofwisdom.com) and Frank Lovell as well as Ed Hensley in his position as head of the Louisville Atheists & Freethinkers. The Kentucky Secular Society has also provided support. Contact MAAF or donate to help get materials to the MEPS in your area. Emmett and Frank agreed to be the local points of contact to physically bring the materials to the station, and MAAF agreed to provide the materials and initiate contact with the MEPS.
MAAF contacted the station commander in August with the proper request form. It took about four months of persistent follow-ups and a few escalations to higher authority to secure approval. The first brochures were placed in January, and overnight, they disappeared, with Gideon Bibles being left in their place. Our display was temporarily removed again in February. Employees or recruits may be removing materials, but the command is committed to protecting our rights along with other NFEs. MAAF had some setbacks as well, posting photos and sometimes placing the materials without first checking in, but this has been addressed and won’t happen again. Despite these setbacks, the brochures now sit alongside the Bibles, managing not to catch each other on fire.
This issue of diversity in MEPS materials has history. Dr Mann had always noticed Gideons with essentially unfettered access to enlistment processing stations, and she was aware of this being a common practice through her conversations with other MEPS personnel. They did not simply leave materials for potential enlistees to take, but actively offered them and had discussions with members. They essentially exploited the new recruits as an opportunity to proselytize at a government activity. The ACLU stepped in and the national MEPS command created a standard policy for the placement and distribution of materials from “Non-Federal Entities”. This eliminated any bias for or against religion and also eliminated the personal interaction (e.g., evangelizing) by non-federal employees of new recruits. Now MAAF is doing our part to participate in the new and inclusive policy of the MEPS.
The Gideons still have boxes of Bibles and a large stand saying, “Take It. Carry It. Read It.” Although it includes their logo, there is no other religious qualifier. This may confuse a recruit into thinking this is a MEPS display as opposed to a religious display, but MAAF has every authorization to emplace a display of equal size with the same message if we choose.
This new outreach to fellow atheists and humanists in the military has been made possible by just a few individuals in the area who saw a way to help. It was also made possible by the MEPS command that, eventually, provided equal support to all without prejudice.
Gretchen, who works at the station, was concerned at being “outed” as a part of this process. She says:
It’s actually a very good thing and a relief. My co-workers and I get along very well, and there have been no negative repercussions from my immediate staff and just one minor negative comment from a member of the military who also works in our department.
Hopefully others will be inspired to participate in this program and to benefit from the positive experience Louisville volunteers have enjoyed. Contact MAAF or donate to help get materials to the MEPS in your area.