It’s mid-summer so Congress is focusing on defense policy for a week. The House and Senate are both considering their annual defense authorization bills which set policy on how many ships the Navy needs, what aircraft to buy, how many troops we need, and many, many smaller decisions as well. With 1.4 million active duty personnel, religion and the nonreligious are going to come up somewhere too.
Congratulations to our coalition member the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers for its work in getting an amendment added to the House bill that requires the Pentagon to publish the latest list of chaplain endorsements, which are similar to recommendations from many different churches and denominations. This is the first step to getting the chaplain corps to better reflect the religious (and nonreligious) makeup of the military; make public the data on which chaplains get the jobs now. Eventually there will be more chaplains for minority religions and for the nonreligious troops.
The amendment benefited from an under-the-radar effort by Congressmen Huffman and Raskin to get it accepted without a vote. More than a few conservatives would not see the need for humanist chaplains if they had to vote. The Secular Coalition did ask some Congressional Freethought Caucus members to sign on as cosponsors.
The House bill has a requirement that the Pentagon report on a program from 2020 to inform all military members of their “religious liberty” rights. I’ll be interested to see how this program turned out and how many troops were informed.
One provision in the House bill we have to fight against is the one that would defund the Pentagon’s Countering Extremism Work Group. It provides training for unit commanders on how to identify and reduce extremism, including Christian nationalism, in the ranks. The Senate bill does not eliminate this Work Group so we will ask the Senate conferees not to agree to include the House provision in the final bill. Christian nationalism in the military is a growing problem that affects troop readiness and discipline. It also strengthens the militias that focus on recruiting former military members, people who would know what they’re doing in a militia. And speaking of Christian nationalists in the military….
Regular readers will recall that in May Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama complained about efforts to remove white Christian nationalists from the military. He basically said he thinks white nationalists are just good Americans. We set up an Action Alert for people who wanted to let him know he’s wrong. Two months later he was still being asked about that conversation and whether white nationalists should be in the military. He came around to saying that if white nationalists happen to be racists they should not be in the military. After more questions about that statement last week, he finally agreed that white nationalists are racists. It’s always good to agree on the definitions.
Regular readers also recall that Donald Trump recently said in a campaign speech that “Together, we’re warriors in a righteous crusade to stop the arsonists, the atheists, globalists and the Marxists.” The Secular Coalition wrote to him that there was no need to protect America from atheists because rather than being the enemy of the people, we are more and more a significant portion of the people. We have not received a response.
Trump gave another big speech last weekend at Turning Point Action (impressionable college students) so just out of curiosity I checked to see who he talked about. He said the country is “ruled by censors, perverts, criminals, and thugs.” He said we need to liberate the country from “communists, fascists, Marxists, globalists, and warmongers.” He said he would “order our country to deny entry to all communists and Marxists as required by law.” You know who he didn’t talk about once, in an hour and a half? Atheists. Not once. Hour and a half. We’re counting this as a win.