A new study by the Department of Defense shows that atheists and humanists make up a significant group in the military. These records also that the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) show support for a religious preference and chaplains in all branches of the military, as well as find that atheists outnumber other non-Christians in the military.
Over 0.5% of the military self-identified as atheist. While this may seem low, the atheist religious preference was ahead of all responses except Christian or undetermined groups (No Pref & Unknown).
Allegedly, the Air Force stated that they do not know which organizations endorse chaplains, but because of the study, the Air Force promised to reform the endorsing of chaplains.
However, no one has made an effort to reach out to atheists and humanists in the military and top-level chaplains in the military declined any formal outreach to the MAAF. Humanists still have no opportunity to state their religious preference, other than to mark “No Religious Preference” and some individuals are denied the right to identify as a humanist.
Major Ray Bradley was shocked when he heard that humanism is not an approved religious choice, but atheism is.
“When I joined the Army 26 years ago, “No Religious Preference” was the only choice available to an atheist like me. Recently I discovered that “Atheist” was now a choice for religious preference and I thought it would be a simple matter to have “Humanist” added to the list as well. As my unit’s Chaplain encouragingly told me, “religious preference is a personal choice after all.” Imagine my surprise when the Chief of Chaplains denied my request stating that Humanism is not an approved religion. And atheism is? It’s sad to think that, even today, one can be sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States while their rights under that very document are denied.”
According to the MAAF, there are 88 religious choices listed as options in the list, with 73 Christian denominations listed as options. The other 15 options are non-Christian religions with atheism in the #15 position, but the list does not breakdown the various atheistic groups. Despite diversity, Christians fill 97% of the chaplain billets, as well as enjoy special privileges, while other groups do not. Other groups, such as Wiccans and Hindus, have also approached the MAAF to assist them in getting recognized and receiving their own chaplains.
There are military personnel, families, patients, and inmates who need support for their overall well-being, be that from a spiritual or naturalistic perspective. People, military or civilian, theistic or nontheistic, struggle with questions of ultimate concern about life, death, tragedy, meaning, and other areas.
Along with officers unable to choose humanism as their religious choice, some humanist lay applications have been pushed aside for at least year, despite support for humanist chaplains and lay leaders.
Regardless of the large number of atheists and humanists in the military, they receive no chaplain support or attention in chaplain training.
For more on the study, the MAAF posted the full study on their website.