Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers briefing to White House Officials

Jason Torpy, President of MAAFTestimony to the Obama Administration, February 26, 2010

Presented by Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) is here today to request Executive mandated chain teaching sessions supporting nontheists in the military. A new MAAF study of Defense Manpower Data Agency religious preferences shows that Nontheists and other “Nones” represent nearly one-quarter of the military, or over 500,000 service members. Even self-identified Atheists outnumber Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews. Despite our significant numbers within the military, MAAF members continue to see a religious climate, created by commanders and chaplains, that shows little support and sometimes outright exclusion of nontheists.

As nontheists in the military seek morale and welfare support as well as a supportive community, they come to MAAF rather than to their unit chaplains. They come to MAAF with stories about discriminatory statements and exclusively religious or Christian focus within their units. MAAF operates a Chaplain Outreach program that has received few inquiries from chaplains over a period of years. Of those who have responded, we have had chaplains confide anonymously to us that they are afraid to be openly supportive of nontheists for fear of retribution from their commanders and/or Chaplains Corps leadership.

MAAF envisions a military where chaplains are focused on complex and challenging secular duties more than ministry to their own faith group. Joint Publication 1-05 on Religious Affairs lays out a complex array of religious affairs responsibilities a chaplain must attend to, including advisement of the command and support of service members. DoD Directive 1350-2 governs Equal Opportunity and defines religion as, “a personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, moral or ethical beliefs, and practices that are held with the strength of traditional religious views, characterized by ardor and faith, and generally evidenced through specific religious observances.” While this is entirely compatible with nontheistic ideologies, it is often misinterpreted and explicit action is necessary to ensure no loophole for discrimination exists.

MAAF envisions a military that recognizes that nontheistic ideologies deserve and need the same protection and support as more traditional religions are already provided. MAAF has invited chaplains to publicly commit to the following Minimum Statement of Support:

"Nontheistic service members, including atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers, and those holding other nontheistic designations, serve honorably within our nation's military. I pledge to support nontheistic service members as strongly as I support theistic service members. I further pledge not to use my position to influence individuals or the chain of command to adopt the principles or practices of my own personal religion. I concur that these statements are minimum standards of conduct to which all service members, especially chaplains and commanders, should adhere."

To ensure that all service members, especially commanders and chaplains, understand that nontheistic philosophies deserve the same respect as other traditional religious beliefs, chain-teaching sessions down to the Battalion, Group, or Navy Unit level should be given by chaplains with the explicit support of the unit commander to ensure that there is a consistent message from the chain of  command that nontheistic service members are part of the unit and welcome. These teaching sessions will highlight possible areas of conflict and stereotypes that need to be rejected to foster unit cohesion.

Your briefing packet includes information supporting the data we’ve provided, stories from members providing perspective on our issues, and sample instructional programs for the chain teaching sessions that we request. MAAF and other nontheists in our military community would appreciate any feedback you can give us on the chaplain outreach program and briefing plans.

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