VFW and Alabama Town Leave Foxhole Atheists Behind
Adding to a long history of promoting Christianity under the guise of supporting veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans organizations have funded and promoted a monument to “The Glory of God” in Baldwin County, Alabama. Courageous activist Amanda Scott, a student in the area, stood up to speak for atheists in foxholes. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers and the Freedom from Religion Foundation spoke up in support and even offered to design and fund a to fund a monument to stand alongside the proposed Christian shrine, either a monument to equally represent atheists or a secular monument to set aside ideological biases and honor all veterans.
Amanda Scott wrote a stirring plea to the council, reprinted below with her permission. But it was only stirring to those who are not already committed to a Christian Nation. Baldwin County posted an “In God We Trust” sign in the chambers in July to show their evangelistic priorities. And in defense of the council, it must be hard to side with reason, the Constitution, and equality over the please of so many veterans and veterans organizations who are also committed to a Christian Nation.
In truth, government promotion of Christian priorities on the backs of our military men and women is not uncommon. From California to Maryland, military valor is often used to justify Christian shrines on public land. This is why there is sometimes suggestion of an atheist or humanist alternative rather than the best option of an entirely secular monument. As has happened elsewhere, the Commissioners entirely dismissed what she said and pressed ahead to emplace the religious monument on public land. Various organizations are considering litigation, but it must be in the context of many other similar violations nationwide.
Ms Scott’s comments to the Commission:
Good morning, Commissioners. My name is Amanda Scott and I am a paralegal student at Faulkner State Community College.
Today I am here to speak to you about the veteran’s monument outside of the Baldwin County Courthouse in Bay Minette. The monument is inscribed with the words “Dedicated to the Glory of God and in honor of the veterans of all wars” and features the Great Seal of the United States and the Marine Corps seal.
The proposed monument to honor God sends the message that Baldwin County and the City of Bay Minette is choosing to only honor veterans who believe in a monotheistic god, namely, the Christian god.
Though veterans organizations have spoken in support of this and similar Christian monuments, they exclude and dishonor foxhole atheists. I am also submitting a statement from the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, a national organization by and for those many nontheists who serve our country in war. The President of the organization, Jason Torpy, himself a West Point graduate and veteran of the Iraq war adds this comment: “The Council today has the opportunity to show you are not anti-atheist by accepting a monument to atheists alongside a monument honoring theists. Only by adding an atheist monument or removing the religious monument can we honor the Constitution that all military personnel pledge to defend.”
According to the 2012 Department of Defense Religious Preference Study (delete, the DoD conducted it, we just published it.: conducted by the group), more than 23% of active military members identify as having no religious affiliation. That number includes those who identify as being atheist, and there are more self-identified atheists in the military than Jews, Muslims or any non-Christian denomination.
The United States (delete, redundant: federal) government has recognized the service of atheist veterans. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs allows veterans to display the American Atheist atom symbol and the American Humanist Association Happy Human symbol on their grave markers in military cemeteries. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers offers a tour of grave sites for ‘atheists in foxholes’ at the Arlington National Cemetery.
In Talladega overlooking Lake Hypatia, there is a solemn monument dedicated to ‘atheists in foxholes’ and maintained by the Alabama Freethought Association, on private land with private funds just as this religious monument could be removed to private land.
These nonbelieving veterans who sacrificed or risked their lives serving our country deserve to be honored in the same way that believing veterans are. They did not do it because they were glorifying a religious deity. They did not do it because they were expecting to be rewarded in a religious afterlife. They did it because they believed in the principles this country was founded on. Those who worship a god may live to honor that god, but they are likely to serve our nation for the same secular values as nontheists. Only with such a secular monument can the Council honor all veterans.
Since I have raised this issue, I have received numerous supportive messages from atheist veterans and active military members from Alabama, from Mobile to Huntsville. One atheist soldier currently serving in Afghanistan told me that he regretted that he could not be here today. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers has members, current and prior, from Korea to Afghanistan and Diego Garcia to the Persian Gulf. They are watching to see if the Council honors their service.
What I ask of you, Commissioners, is that if you reject you give us permission to erect our own ‘atheists in foxholes’ monument next to the existing veteran’s monument. The Freedom From Religion Foundation have pledged funds for such a monument.
Although the final wording of the monument has not been decided, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has proposed the following:
‘In memory of ATHEISTS IN FOXHOLES and the countless FREETHINKERS who have served this country with honor and distinction. Presented by the national Freedom From Religion Foundation with hope that in the future humankind may learn to avoid all war’.