A Merry Christmas From Military Atheists at Travis AFB

At Travis Air Force Base, the local affiliate of MAAF, North Bay Military Atheists & Secular Humanists, has posted an inclusive holiday greeting, wishing all on the installation a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Solstice, and Happy HumanLight. The local local group discussed the proper approach and wanted to make sure to maximize the diversity and inclusion of the message they sent. Group organizer Dan Rawlings said “We want to show Travis (Air Force Base) that the idea that there is a war on Christmas is ridiculous! Say Merry Christmas – but if you get angry when I say Happy HumanLight who is discriminating? You or me?” He expresses the truth that there are differences of ideology, but that in time, we can come together with communication and acceptance of each other as we are.

This humanist display is part of about 50 holiday themed “cards” that provide all comers (within reason of course) the opportunity to display their messages. This approach is generally called a “free speech zone” which, by opening a government-owner area to many voices, mitigates the appearance of government endorsement of any one message. Also included is a Christian nativity scene. The Nativity has been inappropriately placed on government property in the past as the sole display. Travis AFB officials deserve praise for having now provided an opportunity to display the Nativity, which some want, while also avoiding the appearance that Christianity is privileged, endorsed, or expected of Travis AFB personnel. The majority of other cards are similar to the North Bay MASH card, with general messages of season’s greetings and happy holidays.

Last year, Rawlings and North Bay MASH had a difficult time posting their message alongside the Nativity. American Atheists donated a sign and facilitated a review of the situation. The sign had a positive message – “Have a Safe Holiday Season”. In addition, the sign featured a Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was seen by some, including those in North Bay MASH, as something that may unnecessarily cause discomfort to religious viewers in the context of a holiday display. It took several contacts to get approval to post the message along with the Nativity, but the officials on the installation made the right decision to accept the display. The sign was later vandalized with a Christian message, but it was a good step forward. Hopefully religious passers-by will be more accommodating to this year’s sign.

As local groups like North Bay MASH come together and leaders like Dan Rawlings step up, it will become the norm to have diverse holiday messages posted. Christians may have a Nativity up, and Jews a menorah, but Humanists will have HumanLight, pagans (and others) the Solstice, and atheists a general message of goodwill to all. And there should be other religious and secular messages as well to celebrate charity and family through December (and hopefully year-round).

Christmas Day arrives, as always, on December 25th. Even here at the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, we can’t help but notice. This article is one of a series throughout the holiday season. The first article “A Tale of Three Christmases” provided a policy review of three Christmas events around the military, including a military detail for a Christmas parade (which was appropriately handled) and a 40-day Advent celebration and chapel-based kids ministry at Ft Meade (which seems problematic but has not been addressed). Also covered in the article was a Live Nativity at Naval Support Activity Bahrain in the Middle East. MAAF was able to have the event relocated away from an official, command-endorsed holiday tree lighting. The event was instead held alongside a more appropriate chapel event on December 24th so Christians could celebrate without the appearance of command endorsement. MAAF also covered two service events – Toys for Tots and food distribution for those in need – that were conducted by MASH Hawaii. Realistically, there are issues of sectarian prayer, lack of support for nontheists, and intrusion of religion into military policy. But this holiday season, we atheists and humanists at MAAF are have reason to celebrate diversity in holiday displays at Travis AFB, appropriate but not mandatory religious displays at NSA Bahrain, and service projects for our local groups at MASH Hawaii.

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