Military Atheists Target Fellow Religious Troops. Again.

In what appears to be a trend, a few atheist members of the US military seem to have taken on a “militant” practice of their faith — by aggressively going after their fellow religious troops.

In May 2012, Army Sgt Justin Griffith led his “internet atheists” against a prayer event hosted by the families of his fellow Fort Bragg Soldiers — while those families’ Soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan.

In March 2013, an Air Force Chief Master Sergeant proudly announced that he’d purged his squadron of posters for “Christian” events — even official events sponsored by MWR.

In August 2013, Captain Sara Sharick — an Army recruiter — indicated she might use her Army position to try to steer a potential recruit away from his school of choice, Christian-founded Liberty University, because it was home to “the crazies.”

Later in August, Daniel Smith — a civilian commissary store director — claimed the presence of Gideon Bibles in Air Force Inns was unconstitutional.  He lodged complaints with the intent of removing those Bibles, so traveling active duty Airmen wouldn’t have access to them.

Now, another incident from earlier this year has recently come to light.

It seems another Army atheist took issue with his fellow Soldiers and their families participating in a “prayer walk” around his home post of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

The event was a “prayer walk around Schofield Barracks Garrison,” and was held on a Saturday morning, as was publicly announced on the local chapel’s Facebook page [redacted]:

US Army Specialist Thomas Faulkner, calling himself a “new age atheist,” took issue with the poster, calling the planned event “illegal” and “morally unacceptable:”

Ok, this is [redacted]. Not to mention it is illegal to protest on a military post(silent or not), it is morally and socially unacceptable! How do you claim you are taking back land for YOUR GOD. That is teaching the CHILDREN of this post and the people of the world to “fight” the enemy in the name of CHRISTIANITY!

This is what the Specialist planned to do in response [emphasis added]:

this Saturday, (if i cannot get JAG to back me up and stop this nonsense) I will walk behind them and stand up for the little man. I will be decked out in my Scarlet Red Atheist Hat and my “There is no God” t-shirt

The atheist group’s intent wasn’t to participate, it was to find fault in the religious acts of their fellow Soldiers and their families:

I am going to be out there with them at 0930 tomorrow to see if they are doing anything wrong and take a couple pictures.

The atheist group further called it a “threat to morale” and “an EO violation.”

Faulker did attend the Saturday morning event and was apparently dressed as he described, as were his friends:

Ill be in my blue “Religion: Together we can find a cure.” t-shirt.

Here’s Faulkner’s own description of how his “protest” was received [emphasis added]:

There were no signs so it didn’t violate post regulations, but there was confrontation…We walked up to the group of people gathered at the Main Post Chapel where we were simply observing and taking notes of their actions when a COL approached us with concerns of our presence.

We explained that we are simply here to observe and see if there was any religious discrimination. Needless to say it was not Secular at all. They strictly read from The Bible nor was our presence very welcome. They accepted us to watch but didn’t let us in where they would be. The Christian groups immediately left in their vehicles and took posts.

Our groups couldn’t find any of the walkers but we did make it away with the original poster.

To summarize: An active duty US Army Soldier took issue with an Army chapel group’s religious activity on a weekend, intentionally wore provocative clothing as a protest while he “observed” that religious event, and then he and his group tried to track down those people while they were participating in that religious event.

Somehow a few military atheists think their actions were a good thing. (Infamous atheist Jason Torpy “liked” the summary above.)

In an interesting follow-up, Faulkner is now applying with the Schofield Chaplains to be a humanist “lay leader,” and he appears to be meeting resistance:

I am still catching [redacted] for that prayer walk incident. Every chaplain here knows my face.

The role of the chaplaincy — and the lay leaders who support them — is to protect the religious liberty of US troops and their families.  Thus, “resistance” to his application may be understandable given how he treated the religious liberty of fellow Soldiers and their families.  As it stands, Specialist Faulkner currently leads the Schofield “Military Atheists and Secular Humanists,” an adjunct of atheist Jason Torpy’s MAAF.  If that’s how he acts when he leads an unofficial group of military atheists, what is to be expected if his position is made official?

Religious freedom is generally valued and protected in the US military, in many respects because the military may put troops in places where that freedom is a scarce commodity.  If Faulkner had taken issue with the way the prayer walk was advertised, as he first seemed to, his stance would at least be defensible as not attacking the exercise of faith but merely the communication of the activity.  But for a member of the military to actually harass a group of fellow troops as they try to exercise their faith is virtually unheard of.

It is fortunate that neither Faulkner, the Chief, Capt Sharick, or Sgt Griffith represent all atheists, as several other atheists have strongly insisted.  As has been noted before, most atheists are content to let people of faith exercise their religious liberty — because those atheists realize they have that same religious liberty.

It is unfortunate that these men and women — some of significant rank and position — have decided not to practice their own religious freedom, but instead insist on interfering with the exercise of religious freedom by their fellow troops and their families.

What role does atheism have in the US military if it serves only to denigrate and attack religious faith?  How does their conduct affect morale, good order and discipline — or the trust and confidence the public has in the military?

Given that a seemingly growing group of Christians appears to be claiming the US military is restricting their religious liberty merely because of their beliefs, one would think the conduct of these military atheists would be noteworthy.  Where’s a “military religious freedom” group when you need one?

Maybe you should ask Faulkner.

One his group’s Facebook “likes” is Michael Weinstein.



  • Priscilla Parker

    It’s unfortunate, as you said, but his packet won’t go anywhere and none of them ever stop to think they’re doing it to them-selves. On the flip side, Faulkner is attempting to hold classes about Humanism and thus far has received the full support of the Chaplaincy which only goes to show who is adverse to whose presence on military installations. Any applicant that goes through MAAF is going to be turned down for several reasons but primarily because they are not recognized as an official endorsing agency and don’t even meet the criteria for it.

    I think a better thing for Faulkner and MASH-Hawaii to do is to ask if they can participate in the outreach programs the chapel has (supporting hungry children, etc.) They already tried gathering volunteers for the Special Olympics, which didn’t really get much track, so they might as well just work WITH the church group. At least that will build rapport. I think the whole movement is new and in its infancy so it’s easiest for new atheist activists that come out to simply mimic their predecessors but that often leads to a narrow and recurring approach and it comes across as group think which taints the entire atheist community.

    Faulkner has some credibility because he is ordained and is published which is more than any of the other previous lay leaders have and he seems to be motivated but, again, I think he has to distance him-self from that ‘in-your-face’ approach and work with the Chaplaincy and other religious groups if he really wants his candidacy as a lay leader to be taken seriously.

  • The article is very one sided. I spoke with CH Todd and his family and asked to attend the meeting. I did not want to pursue with the formal complaint at IG, I wanted to settle the problem in house. I treated everyone there with the utmost respect and we stayed our distance. My only concern about the poster was the threatening message it advertised. When I spoke to both CH Molina and CH Todd, I asked them to change the words because it could be considered discriminatory to other religious groups. You cannot take this article for face value. Consider changing the words from “take this land back for Allah” and “fight the infedels”, and we can clearly see that there is a religious discrimination case. This was not a fight for atheists, but a violation of post policy and religious discrimination, according to the 25ID Inspector General. Anyone with any questions can contact me through our website’s page for the full story. Enjoy your day!

    • @Thomas Faulkner

      I treated everyone there with the utmost respect

      You wore a shirt saying “There is no God” to someone else’s church event out of respect?

      I asked them to change the words because it could be considered discriminatory…

      You need to look up the definition of “discriminatory.” To borrow a movie quote, “you keep using that word…”

      Consider changing the words from “take this land back for Allah”

      Are you saying you also find the Arabic language “discriminatory?”

      The event itself was no more “discriminatory” than a Bible study or church service. If you have evidence to the contrary, feel free to provide it. If not, take this as a learning opportunity to grow in your tolerance for the religious liberties of your fellow troops and their families. That religious liberty is a hallmark of freedom in America — and its the same religious liberty that you have.

      Just because you do not agree with or like something does not mean it is wrong. Their religious exercise neither picked your pocket nor broke your leg.

      Granted, building such respect for others beliefs can take time, but there’s never a better time to start than now.

      Take your time.

  • Seems to me you need a lesson in the establishment clause instead of cry ing about those trying to uphold the first amendment. Sounds like you’re doing a piss poor job defending the U.S. Constitution. Wait, I forgot, Christians are above the law.

    • The first amendment also guarantees the freedom of speech, the right to assemble and the free exercise clause. YOU can’t just be selective in YOUR citing of the 1 amendment to suite your views and opinions.

  • This is an interesting discussion and being conducted with good respect for all. Is the key point really whether or not the army base is the right place to be expressing your religious beliefs? And if it is then would you all be supportive of a prayer walk for Allah, Buddha, Rah, Zeus, etc etc? What is the real purpose of such a walk? Could you maybe have a walk with everyone included without any reference to any faith?

    • Priscilla Parker

      Your point is moot. The question of whether there would be equal support is irrelevant because no other faith has yet to organize one and the Christian Right to assemble is not dependent on whether or not other groups do the same. The right to peacefully assemble, for whatever cause, is guaranteed under the first amendment.

      Instead of approaching this by questioning whether the walk was violating some post reg (it wasn’t), Faulkner and MASH should continue to focus on building up the group and working with other groups to establish repoire.

  • I’m confused about your issue with Thomas Faulkner is. You are criticizing him for wearing a t-shirt you don’t agree with, showing up at a decidedly Christian event on base to make sure it was following the rules, not showing what you consider the proper deference to your brand of imaginary friend? Did he use as much tact as he should have in the situation? I don’t know, but you obviously think he did not. The hardest part of being an atheist in the military (I’m Air Force) is the assumption that everyone must have some sort of faith in an imaginary friend, or they cannot be “spiritually healthy”. How many official military functions have you been to that begin with prayer? How many of those “non-denominational” prayers ended “in Christ’s name we pray”? There is an assumption in the military that everyone is Chrstian, and those that are not are a fringe group. Anyone who stands up to the Christian monopoly is trying to take something away from those poor persecuted Christans, not protect themselves from a constant barrage of assumptions and influence in our everyday life in the military. Any Athiest who stands up is automatically a troublemaker trying to infringe on your rights, because it could never be that they were standing up to keep you from infringing on theirs.