By Wayne Adkins
On July 18th, 2006 Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, lumped atheists and agnostics together with bigots and in a paraphrase of an old untrue negative stereotype declared that there are no atheists in foxholes. It is ironic that such a bigoted remark would come during his speech about diversity to the NAACP. The National Guard received a number of letters complaining about his remarks and several atheist organizations denounced them. But the Army, despite how it defines unlawful discrimination in its own regulations, has decided that the remarks were not discriminatory. I disagree.
Blum’s remarks are just the tip of the iceberg. Since troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years there have been numerous bigoted remarks made by military chaplains and other officers disparaging atheists and perpetuating the myth that there are no atheists in foxholes. Some have gone as far as claiming that atheists are lesser soldiers than their religious counterparts. Chaplain Scott McCammon said “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”. Chaplain Eric Albertson 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”. But complaints by atheist soldiers are ignored despite the fact that Army regulations prohibit such remarks.
Army Regulation 600-20, section 6-2, paragraph a says “The U.S. Army will provide EO and fair treatment for military personnel and family members without regard to race, color, gender, religion, national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior. They have failed miserably at providing an environment free of offensive behavior for atheists. The regulation defines several terms in these sections which make it clear that the public comments of Blum and others constitute “unlawful discrimination”. Disparaging terms are defined as “Terms used to degrade or connote negative statements pertaining to race, color, gender, national origin, or religion”. Claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes implies that they do not serve at all which is patently false or that they all really do believe something other than what they say. It implies that all atheists are liars and cowards. That fits the definition of making negative statements about an entire group of people based solely on their religious identification.
The first response given when atheists complain is that atheism isn’t an organized or acknowledged religion and therefore atheists are not covered by the regulation. But the regulation defines the term “religion” as “A personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, moral or ethical beliefs and practices held with the strength of traditional views, characterized by ardor and faith, and generally evidenced through specific observances”. The regulation’s definition of religion includes “a personal set” of beliefs and does not require organization or outside acknowledgement. The regulation also defines prejudice as “a negative feeling or dislike based upon a faulty or inflexible generalization (that is, prejudging a person or group without knowledge or facts)”. Claiming that there are no atheists in foxholes is both a “faulty” and “inflexible generalization”.
On August 19th 2006 I submitted a formal Equal Opportunity (EO) complaint on NGB Form 333 to the Ohio National Guard state EO office. It was forwarded to the National Guard Bureau (NGB) EO office and they signed for it on August 22nd. They then sat on it for seven weeks. It was supposed to be forwarded to the Department of the Army Inspector General’s (DAIG) office because it named a general officer. But they sat on it until I called the DAIG office to find out the status of it. They told me they never received it. When they called the state EO office they found it had been sent to NGB EO a few days after I filed it. When they called the NGB EO office, they NGB EO had to contact the state and ask them to send another copy of it. They either lost it or tossed it. This is not how formal EO complaints are supposed to be handled in the military. Not at all.
Once it did reach the DAIG office they tried to dissuade me from going forward with the complaint by asking me to resubmit the complaint if I “still wanted to proceed with this”. They said it was not signed, did not state how I was harmed and did not suggest a remedy, all of which were untrue. I again sent them a copy of the complaint via snail mail to verify that it had been signed and did contain the information requested. They ultimately concluded that Lt. Gen. Blum’s remarks were not discriminatory. Apparently, they have never read Army Regulation 600-20. I had to learn all of this through numerous phone calls that I initiated because they never once initiated contact with me throughout this complaint process. I was even told that to obtain the document which answers the formal complaint I had to request it through the Freedom of Information Act. So it turns out that the problem which I had thought was limited to the unfortunate remarks of a few isolated bigots is really a systemic problem. It’s cultural. It’s institutional. The Army has not only failed at their stated goal of providing an environment free of offensive behavior, they have perpetuated it. They are nurturing it.
The Army uses taxpayer money to publish these bigoted remarks by Army officers in Army publications and Department of Defense websites. They use their Digital Video Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS) to beam remarks from bigoted chaplains back to the US from the front and post them on the DVIDS website so other publications can pick them up.
Worst of all, when soldiers complain about disparaging remarks made about them on the basis of religion, when commissioned officers and supposed leaders call them liars, cowards and lesser soldiers simply because they lack a belief in the supernatural, the Army looks the other way and disregards its own regulations designed to prevent religious discrimination.
I can no longer be a part of an organization that denies my service in combat, ignores discrimination complaints by soldiers, violates its own regulations and protects bigots. This will serve as written notification that I am resigning my commission as an officer in the Ohio Army National Guard effective as soon as possible.
1st Lt. Wayne Adkins
XO, 196th MPAD