Atheist group seeks to ban “religious preference” from military documentation

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Atheist group seeks to ban “religious preference” from military documentation

 As with most things MAAF does (Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers) this seems to be solution in search of a problem.

Last we heard from MAAF was when they were going after a cross at Camp Pendleton that Marines had put up to honor their fallen brothers.  That effort angered even their fellow atheists:

 I am a fellow atheist and have been for over ten years. I joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and continue to serve today. Never in that time have I been asked to change my beliefs or encouraged to be silent about my religious opinions… I will say that the opposition to that monument by this organization disgusts me and takes away from our brotherhood and all that we stand for.

More than once I’ve wondered if they weren’t secretly a religious group trying to discredit Atheism because the battles they pick to fight seem so utterly ridiculous.

A support group for atheist servicemembers has launched a petition drive to have President Obama end the requirement that the services solicit the religious affiliation of personnel, including recruits.

But a week after the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers submitted the petition on the effort has garnered just 25 of the 25,000 signatures it needs by Feb. 5 to get any kind of response from the White House.

MAAF President Jason Torpy, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, acknowledges there is a long way to go but says he remains “optimistic that we’ll get the signatures once some other groups pick this up.”

As of last time I checked, a few minutes ago, it was all the way up to 30 signatures.  I’m fairly confident I could put up a petition calling on the federal government to indict Spongebob Squarepants for crimes against Starfish and have 50 people sign it by lunch just by putting it on my Facebook page.

Nonetheless, they do have what I consider a legit concern on one thing:

“What MRFF [MAAF allies Military Religious Freedom Foundation] has received complaints about is the fact that a service member's religion is listed on forms where there is no legitimate reason for it to be listed, such as the Army's ORB (Officer Record Brief) … forms whose purpose is to provide a summary of a service member's education, special skills, and service record,” said Chris Rodda, a writer and a researcher for MRFF.

“There is no reason that religion should be a factor in any career or assignment decisions that the information on these forms is used for,” she said.

I honestly didn’t know it was on any of those forms, and I am at a loss to explain why it should be, so I definitely can see their point there.  And if that is what this petition said, I would have pushed it through a few different mediums.  As far as I can tell there is no reason anyone on a promotion board or similar group should know what God or Deity one ascribes to, or chooses to disbelieve.  I just don’t see how it is germane.

But alas, that isn’t what their petition says:

Every new military recruit is asked the question, "What is your religion?" This causes undue stress and pressure to conform as the recruit considers the predominant Christian culture of the military and the US. Having the "right" answer on ID tags and official records might make the difference in peer treatment and in equal opportunity in military assignments and promotions.

That first part seems absurd and insulting.  You mean that our brave men and women signing up today are so susceptible to peer pressure that they would conform to something contrary to their moral underpinning?  Maybe I just served in the most enlightened units of all time, but I never saw even a hint of this.  The guys I served with had WIDELY divergent religious views, and no one had a problem with it, except the one dude who found out that he only had to work certain hours during Ramadan and promptly became a Muslim.  And the only ones truly hostile about that were the other Muslims in my unit who knew the guy was using it as a scam.

In my Infantry Platoon alone we had a Muslim, a Mormon, several Catholics, a ton of Baptists, a Universalist Unitarian, two Buddhists, and atleast one Wiccan.  (I’ve also served with Jewish guys and people who worshipped Odin.)  Most the rest I didn’t know or had no religious affiliation.  None of it mattered, no one cared.  The only time it ever came up was if we were discussing something theological, and that was just for debates.  (We would sometimes put the Muslim, Mormon and Catholic in the same Guard Tower so they could fight it out rhetorically.)  If someone’s religious views are so milquetoast that they would change them because of peer pressure, then they probably weren’t all that devoted to their religion in the first place. 

What the article neglects to mention at all is the actual reason for having a religious preference on military forms.  That was brought home to me last night in a sad story that my friend Amy told me about.  Her son is at Navy Basic Training, and his unit lost a man yesterday:

A recruit at Naval Station Great Lakes died Wednesday morning during a physical training exercise, according to the Lake County coroner.

Christopher Walker, who turned 19 in December, suddenly collapsed on the base near North Chicago, said Lake County coroner Artis Yancey.

He was rushed to James Lovell Federal Health Care Center but was pronounced shortly after at 9:57 a.m., according to Yancey.

Authorities said Walker was a Pennsylvania native.

It seems to me that Mr. Walker’s grieving parents would appreciate that the chaplain that came to the door to pass on this horrific and tragic news would be of the same religious persuasion as Christopher himself.  Sending a Sikh chaplain to inform the parents of a deceased Catholic soldier wouldn’t seem to make much sense would it?

Lastly, the whole doing away with “No Religious Preference” thing seems just politically correct to me.  How does a blank space convey something different than that phrase?  Add “Humanist”, add "Spiritual But Not Religious”, add “First Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster”; it won’t make any difference to me.  When I joined the army I became green.  We may self-identify as white, or Christian, American-Indian or Buddhist, but we identify those around us more easily: because they are all our brothers and sisters, regardless of any other affiliation.


EXIT QUESTION: Someone either below of possibly in an email to me said that the DoD choses what religions it recognizes, and that some people practice ones not recognized by the DoD.  Can someone name me a religion not recognized by the DoD and someone who wishes it were practiced?  An actual religion mind you, not some made up one that is clearly farcical.  I am actually curious, and would like to explore it with the DoD, but I need an actual example.

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This strikes me as yet another ham fisted and idiotic way of taking something that's a legitimate concern (ensuring choice of religion and/or lack thereof is not a decision point in promotions and advancement) and completely invalidating your point by wrapping it in a hand grenade of your overzealous and extremist views. Just because people are bats#!t crazy doesn't mean they don't sometimes have a point.

So yes - keep relgion out of consideration for promotions but you know what - stop getting p!$$ed off at the rights of other people to have a relgion which is right up there with your right to not have one. This is a place (America) where we're supposed to form a whole despite and while recognizing our differences, not where we're supposed to use differences as a wedge to divide us into neat little groups that won't join together as a whole.

Well, if I am not mistaken, Atheism is a religion, so put it on your tag, what the problem?

You are mistaken. Atheism is not a religion, it is absence of religion.

Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby

you are wrong, Atheism is actually the absence of Christ.

Jews are also atheists? Muslims? Buddhists?

Atheism is a religion in that one has FAITH IN and BELIEVES that there is no God. And, actually, there is no such thing as a true atheist because a true atheist could PROVE that there is no God. However, most people who claim to be atheist are really agnostic, which means they don't know and they don't care.

An agnostic is an Aetheist with no guts.

SO? Put "NONE" on the tag!

The Atheist's request to have "religious" preference removed from registration is in direct violation of the vary law that they hide behind, separation of church and state. In the US Constitution this ammendment, among other things, specificaly prohibits the government from siding with a "religious viewpoint" and then forcing it on it's citizens. The atheistic viewpoint on God is a "religious viewpoint"! By preventing the celebration of one's religion, our government is in direct violations of the Constitution. The acknowledgement of a soldiers beliefs, on a dogtag for instance, assures that his body is treated with the practicing policies of his religion upon death, horrific injury, or notification of next of ken. The sacrament of "communion" and the "last rights" of Catholism are perfect examples of this. Additionally, if atheist don't truly believe in "God", why are they so affended by his worshipers. I'm not affended in the least of people that believe aliens brought man to earth. I think the idea is absurb; but, that's their choice. Do atheists think that if they take away all visible forms of religion that everyone will be like them? Is it the childish excuse of "everyone else is doing it"? The Constitution does not garanty the rights of our citezens to "not be offended". It garanties the freedom of people to make their own choices, to be specific, the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. These freedoms aren't garantied in some places. They are garantied everywhere in the US including our government. The only way for our government to be impartial on the subject of "religious beliefs" is to give each and every religious viewpoint to be spread throuoghout our entire country, including our government. As soldiers we are tasked to protect the freedoms of our citizens, not to protect them from being "offended"!

1- Make answering OPTIONAL.
2- 'Proving a negative' is impossible
3- atheism is not a belief or faith, rather a realization that theism is only a belief & faith with no proof of any kind!

Decline to answer (Constitutional separation). Job applications may not inquire.

Constitutional separation? Could this be in reference to the "separation of church and state" that has many panties in a wad? Do you KNOW what the constitution says? Let me quote the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

In other words, Congress (government) will not establish a state religion, it does NOT say there shall be no religious references on anything that has to do with anything the government may say, do, own or otherwise. It also says it can't prohibit religion, much to the chagrine of this Atheist group. If they don't want to believe, that is their right, but it does NOT give them the right to dictate that there be no references to religion anywhere else.

What that clearly means that government may not give preference of one set of religious beliefs over another. So, if you want to put the 10 commandments in the courthouse foyer, just leave room next to it for whatever equivalent inscriptions the satanists might want to put up. OR... we could do as Thomas Jefferson intended, and keep the separation as deep and clear as possible, for the benefit of both government and religion.
Thomas Jefferson on separation of church and state:

"Our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. In neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg"

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes"

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own"

"The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man"

"The clergy...believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion"


Why further divide people. Haven't we seen enough fighting over religion. Balkans, Middle East, Iraq, Mynmar, etc. Ancient superstitions have no use in this modern world.

@James Elliot - Tho Constitution guarantees the right of EVERYONE to practice their religion as they see fit. Just because you do not believe does not give your the right to put someone else down. Your statement is selfish, elitist and PIG HEADED.

What was that about putting someone else down? Matthew 7:3 has something for you.

This is ridiculous and I don't understand why these clowns would waste time and money on this type of thing. I went into the Navy in 1992 and since I don't have a religious preference, guess what, I chose no religious preference and guess what, that's exactly how it appears on my dog tags. No religious preference. Simple as that. No harm has been done. This is really a pointless argument and issue.

i am an athist but i believe in freedom of choice.we have to much anti,leave it up to individuals to make there own personal choice

Thank you. I respect fact that you are not forcing your beliefs on others!

I think the Atheist augments are ludicrous. Maybe we should leave the identification of religious preference up to the military member, also to include "Undesignated." I can understand a reluctance to designate religious preference if the potential adversary might use that knowledge to the service member's detriment, if captured.

The religous choice (no pref, none, athiest - all legitimate choices, just as is catholic, babtist, ect.) is on the dog tags and in the records because many troops and thier families want the military to know what religous belief the troop has. Should battlefield conditions allow, a Catholic could have last rites, for instance, whereas a jew may not be interested in such. My parents, hard-shells that they were, would have been very uncomfortable if an Episcopalian, for instance, chaplin came to comfort them due to my death.
Put athiest, non-believer, infidel or n/a for religious preference, I don't care. Looks to me like the "free-thinkers" only believe they can be free by denying others their freedom. Maybe they should just drop out of the military and go to work at Berkley.

I think you hit it on the head Jack, the atheist (meaning No God) are a religion just as surely as Christian (Christ follower), Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, etc. etc etc. . . are.
My son was unhappy with his issued Dog Tags because it did not list his preferance, only "Christian"! So where are the people protecting OUR rights to worship as we desire?
The First Ammendment states that the government shall not make a law "establishing religion" - it does not say "seperation of church and state" or "freedom from religion". If you look at most states in Europe and throughout the middle east and much or north Africa, there is a specific religion that is the state religion. In Europe, it is primarily Roman Catholic, Lutheran, or Church of England - NOT "Christian". And throughout the middle east it is "Muslim" with Israel the lone holdout.
Our nations Founding Fathers thought out things very well. They knew that most of the European immigrants had fled their countries because of religious persecution. And this includes many of my ancesters.
My family have been the victims of religious persecution - by atheists. The atheists are just as adamant about killing off the belief in Christ as the radical muslims are! And these terrorists are very open about their intent to take over the world, "converting at the point of a sword, or dieing by it".
I wonder, has anyone heard a single complaint from these atheist groups condeming the islamic terrorists for their abuses? Why is it OK for a muslim to cut the head of a woman off for talking to a man, but not OK for us to talk about God?

Incorrect, to state "Atheism is a religion" is like saying "Not collecting stamps is a hobby"

The atheism is a religion "argument" is just a strawman anyways.

I agree with Paul Johnson on this subject.

Religious preference is a private matter and has no place in our national policy.

Religious preference is a private matter and has no place in our national policy.

Ignorance has no place in our national policy. The concept of dog tags are to identify those who are injured or dead. Some religions have very specific beliefs and/or rituals for the dead and dying. Dog tags list religious preference so that the service member's wishes will be carried out in accordance with his or her beliefs. Denying those beliefs is violating the service members' rights. Denying those beliefs just because YOU don't believe the same way is FORCING YOUR BELIEFS on everyone else. This is arrogant, self=centered and pig-headed.

I did not see where the article mentioned not putting one's religious pref (or lack thereof) on dog tags... One's faith should not be indicated on personnel/performance-related files that may be reviewed for consideration for promotion or awards.

On another side of the issue, invocations and other forms of religious expression should be banned from all military ceremonies (with exceptions for funerals), in order to respect the separation of church and state. No one should be forced/coerced to bow their head (or be threatened/harassed for not 'complying').

I agree with Neils comments. I am a Vietnam Era veteran and chose to have this information on my dog tags and in my military records. This is nothing more than a group of people trying to force there beliefs on everyone else. It desplays there arrogant additude and a total lack of respect for the rights of others. This is not broken and does not need to be fixed.

Ignorance has no place in our national policy. The concept of dog tags are to identify those who are injured or dead. Some religions have very specific beliefs and/or rituals for the dead and dying. Dog tags list religious preference so that the service member's wishes will be carried out in accordance with his or her beliefs. Denying those beliefs is violating the service members' rights. Denying those beliefs just because YOU don't believe the same way is FORCING YOUR BELIEFS on everyone else. This is arrogant, self-centered and pig-headed.

Publishing inane views of a few braindead failures violates the sensitivities of a huge population of Judaeo Christian military heroes. The subject is not worthy of dicussion.

Spoken like a privileged religious bigot. Any subject that disagrees with your worldview means you don't want to talk of it. I guess it's okay to piss on our military heroes who aren't Judeo-Christian in your eyes?

It would seem that the intent of this Atheist group is to simply justify their own innadequacies of feeling they just might be wrong with their dissbelief that there is something mightier than they that actually owns the resultant dosposition of their dissembodied souls. Rather than face the probability that they are wrong, they simply want everyone to walk to the hanging tree with them carrying their own ropes. Is it too much for an individual to simply accept the fract that some people don't feel or thing or believe the same that you do? is it too much to ask that my dog tags reflect what minister, imam, priest or rabbi will tend to my needs upon my demise in combat? If they want to leave theirs blank or simply state "no preference" it's perfectly acceptable. These same Atheists that would have everyone remove any visible sign of any religion from any business, school, park, building, or home, so as not to impose religion on childrens minds that may not want to acceot that thinking, and forego the possibility that maybe they aren't the only ones with "rights" to freedom from Atheist terror tactics? Attacking a free people with law under loose and ambiguos lawsuits is nothing short of terror acts aimed at scaring the free people into cowering from the possible threats they, the Atheists, pose by their frivelous lawsuits and attacks on social and religious freedoms. Where are the lawyers protecting the rights of us, the cistizens, from these terrorists?

The purpose of dog tags is to speak for those no longer able to. I spent 20 years in the military and I was asked what preference I wanted. I could have said none or whatever. But some prefer their remains be accorded treatment in respect to their religion. What you put on your dog tag is your choice. I resent their insistence to deny those who wish their religious preference to be shown. I think they should get a life and leave the afterlife to individual preference and belief

Help me here! Give me the number of 'Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers' that stood up in a foxhole and demanded that the person shooting at them have no religious identity?
Just saying.

How about the number of the religious "thinkers" who stood up in a foxhole because they really had faith in their god to keep the bullets away?

Are dog tags marked with the religious preference? I've wondered about the wisdom of stamping ID tags with a religious preference. In the areas of the world where our servicemen and women are active, that information could be viewed as cause for harm.

Bonnie, obviously you have never served in the military, because you have absolutely NO CONCEPT of what this subject is all about.

Dog tags are used to identify injured and dead service members. Religion is put on the dog tags to ensure that the appropriate rituals are performed when the service member is unable to to request it themselves.

Do we only put the dog-tags on when we get injured or dead? I wore mine 24x7...

This group need another pet project. Please leave this issue alone. Nothing is more personal than for one to maintian their freedom to practice a religion or no religion ay all. a matter of choice. If the forms ask for the information, one can respond with a simple "N/A" .

If a member of the military wishes to have his preference known, isn't that a free exercise protected under the 1st Amendment? If I were killed in combat, I would want a Christian burial, and I suppose an Atheist can list his preference to be simply stuck in a hole. Why should we yield our beliefs to a minority, or worse yet, to those wishing us harm? Should an atheist have a head stone with a name inscribed, or just a plane old rock signifying that a dead human is under it? Would they be "offended" if we, believers, insisted that they occupy unmarked graves???

Go look up "Majority Tyranny." Try and remember how the Romans treated Christians next time you go to the zoo and visit the lion exhibit. Remove the plank from thine eye.

I for one am fed up with all of the individuals and groups that are trying to undermine one of the basic foundations on which this country was founded. If you don't like IN GOD WE TRUST on our money then don't use it. If you don't like a cross on or in front of a city, state or government building or private property don't look at it. If you are so narrow minded move to a country that does not have any of those things if they will have you. You should focus on things that really matter like the homeless, family's without enough food or the lack of jobs so they can support them selves or just the poor state of the economy in general.

You seem to have the power to get your comment published, most of the rest of us can't get anything published other tan ouir user name.

Again we have a classic example of gross stupidity. People joiniong the Armed Forces are simply asked about THIER religious preference. They do not HAVE to fill in ANYTHING or can enter any Damn thing that they wish. Maybe an anti-sexist group will petion the question MALE or FEMALE checkboxes, Or anothetr group protesting having to fill out BIRTHDATE line. WHERE WILL THE IDIOCITY END?

Check the ORB. Right above religion is a block for sex and race. To the left is how many adult and child dependents you have. Below it is the birth place of your spouse. Clearly this form is used for much more than promotions and assignments. One obvious reason it to allow the soldier to review his/her data recorded in the personnel management system - people here may remember the requirement to do that annually, or at least this Jason Torpy person should. I assume the data is also used for statistical reasons, for example to determine how many chaplains of various faiths the Army needs, as well as personal reasons, such as having the info on dog tags to ensure someone gets their last rites in the proper tradition of their faith.

If Torpy wants to pick a fight, he should at least pick a well considered one.

While engageing in military action in Islamic countries it might be advisable not to list religion on dog tags.

Clem, GET A CLUE!! The religious preference is up to the individual service member to ensure that their remains are treated in accordance with their preferences. Any service member can put "NO RELIGIOUS PREFERENCE", "ATHEIST" or even have that line completely blank. IT IS A PERSONAL CHOICE.


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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.