A Humanist Forced Out For Being Out As a Humanist
Anonymous guest post regarding life for nonbelievers in the military.
As I packed my bags for redeployment within theater, I continue to wonder if I’ve been discriminated against for my requests for equality. It probably started when I was in the Custom’s line at Hamad International Airport in Qatar. Another older gentlemen with another middle aged woman had tried to get into a faster line, but were thwarted by Qatari security. “I can usually get in that line,” the man said. “If it wasn’t for the guy in white we could have probably gotten through.”
We exchanged a couple jokes and pleasantries and they asked me where I was headed. It turns out we had the same destination and he offered me a ride. After navigating customs, patiently waiting for each other and helping each other with our bags we were picked up. During the hour-long car ride to base, I learned that I was riding in the Command Chaplain’s car with his Chaplain’s assistant and they had just come from the same place I was deployed. They shared stories of a Christian orphanage and meeting with other Chaplains. When they asked what our denominations were I told them I was a Humanist.
The Chaplain’s assistant was excited to reveal to me that the Dutch Royal Air Force had a Humanist Chaplain an hour away from where I was posted. This excited me and gave me new strength to reach out to this source of potential support and submit my Humanist Lay Leader certificate for official approval as a DFGL (Distinctive Faith Group Leader) to the Chaplain.
At my deployed location the Chaplain and his assistant scheduled multiple trips to nearby Christian holy sites. The chow hall had also been decorated extravagantly for Christmas and Easter. I reasoned that it would be acceptable if I could arrange a few meetings or maybe a trip out to see the Dutch Humanist Chaplain. I submitted my Humanist Lay Leader endorsement to the Chaplain and asked her for recognition and assistance in organizing Humanist events, like placing the events on the religious support calendar.
Waiting for and assuming DFGL status would come quickly, I focused on the mission, occasionally following up with the Chaplain. After the delay became many weeks, I reached out to the Dutch Humanist Chaplain to confirm what kind of support she could provide. The Dutch Humanist Chaplain was surprised by my phone call but very encouraging. Off base travel was restricted for her, but she could possibly make one trip. A week prior to the US Chaplain leaving, she refused my request saying that Humanism is not ‘recognized’ and provided no information or assistance in providing recognition.
I was very disappointed and suspicious at the same time because she did not cite any document, regulation or US law even after multiple verbal and written requests so I could study and cross examine the documents. Humanists and Atheists have often faced discrimination and I did not know the outcome of any course of action that I would take. I decided that the safest course of action I could take would be to file and Equal Opportunity complaint against the Chaplain. Looking back, now I may have been able to bring this to the attention of a couple leaders, but I feared direct discrimination due to the anti-atheist climate leaders had created for me in the past. After a few email exchanges and delays I thought we could no longer afford I agreed to organize my events under MWR instead of the Religious Support Mission that I had requested. The chaplain’s preferred ‘separate but equal’ policy toward humanism was the only option available to me.
I was able to organize a trip to the Dutch installation with 5 others. We were able in a humanist environment to share experiences, emotions and ideas with each other. A few days later I received shocking feedback that I could no longer be trusted and I was to redeploy in theater immediately. My leaders had turned against me and wanted me gone, presumably due to my beliefs about religion.
I felt that I had worked hard and done everything I could to ensure the success of the mission while taking care of the men under my command and others. The fact that my requests for removal and the quiet allegations that came to light was sudden was shocking. Fellow soldiers become unapproachable seemingly due to my willingness to be openly secular.
I was able to invite the Humanist Chaplain to our base once more before I was forced out. Fourteen people showed up over the course of an hour with others interested but unwilling to attend or unable due to lack of command support.
My command promised me if I departed quietly there would be no damage to my career. I have a family to think about. My efforts were never about me. It was about helping others who may have felt afraid, alone or in need. It was about our shared core values, our shared Humanism. I’m sure many Christians and Jews and Hindus and Wiccans feel the same. The difference is they have chaplains who will support them. Maybe one day we Humanists will too.