by Wayne Adkins
The United States military has gone to great lengths to accommodate soldiers from a variety of religious backgrounds. They provide dietary alternatives, a variety of chaplains and printed materials from every major religion. They have gone as far as accommodating Wiccan rituals and allowing open Satan worship on military bases and ships. But there is one group of soldiers that the military has turned its back on.
Atheists are still openly disparaged by chaplains in today’s military. Chaplains continue to perpetuate the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes despite the fact that atheists are serving honorably right now in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The military’s response has been to simply ignore it.
Some chaplains, like Captain Scott McCammon and Major Eric Albertson, have gone as far as saying that atheists are less qualified as soldiers than their religious counterparts. McCammon said in an interview "You can know how to dig a foxhole, but unless you are spiritually fit, you won't have the courage to stick your head out of the hole. I remind them of the old saying, 'There are no atheists in foxholes,' and encourage them not to wait until they get into one to start praying.” Albertson has said “commanders recognize that spiritually fit soldiers are better fighters, and can bring a spirit of determination to the mission that is courageous and heroic,"
They are not alone in their efforts to disparage atheists in the military. They are joined by other chaplains like LTC Herbert Heavner, National Guard, COL Joel Cocklin, Army, CPT James Covey, Army, LTJG Irving Elson, Navy, CMDR Kal McAlexander, Navy, LT Jeff Wheeland, Army, Lt Col Jacqueline Alexander, Army, CPT Bob Hart, Army, Cmdr Charles Kessler, Navy, MAJ Juan Borges, Army, LT Jose Molina, Army, MAJ Reese Friedman, Air Force, LTC Mitchell Ackerson, Army, COL Charles Clanton, Army, CPT Michael Lozano, Army, CPT Matthew Kreider, Army, CPT Jason Peters, Air Force, MAJ John Paul Echert, Air Force and CPT Sam Bowersock, Army. In fact, all these chaplains and more have been identified by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers on their website at http://www.maaf.info/rptchap.html as chaplains who have perpetuated the untrue stereotype that atheists either don’t serve at all or abandon their beliefs as soon as the bullets start flying.
What happens to chaplains who disparage atheist soldiers during interviews with the media? Nothing happens despite the complaints of atheist soldiers. Imagine what would happen if a chaplain said “Jewish soldiers really do believe in the divinity of Jesus when the enemy attacks”. The military wouldn’t wait for Jewish soldiers to complain. They would reprimand that chaplain quickly and publicly. The implication is exactly the same; that they really believe the same truth that “the rest of us” believe and as soon as they get good and scared they will admit it.
The overt discrimination doesn’t end there. Atheists are not allowed to put atheist on their ID tags as a religious preference. Soldiers must put “no preference” or pay to have their own ID tags made if they want them to say atheist. There is a world of difference between having no religious preference and being an atheist. Often soldiers must choose between religious services and work details. Twice in my career I was told to either go to church or pick up trash. Soldiers are often captive audiences for chaplains as well. The first thing that happened when my plane landed after returning from Iraq was a chaplain boarded and held a ten minute devotional on the PA system before soldiers had an opportunity to get off the plane.
Chaplains are allowed to be dogmatic in their sermons. They can state their beliefs from the pulpit even if they contradict other soldier’s beliefs. They wouldn’t be able to do their job if they couldn’t do that. But when chaplains are speaking to the press and representing the military as an officer, they have absolutely no business singling out a particular group of soldiers and disparaging them because of their beliefs. That is pure and simple bigotry and apparently the senior leadership in the military condones it as they continue to do nothing about it. It’s an easy fix. Unlike other religious groups, atheists need no special accommodation. We don’t need time for services. We don’t need religious literature paid for by taxpayers. We don’t need dietary accommodations. We would just like the military to stop denying that we serve and stop disparaging us in the press.
I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with any other American and fight for their religious freedom. I’ll also stand toe to toe with any American and fight for my own. Enough is enough.