US Military Updates Recognized Faith Groups, with Some Controversy

In 2012, then-US Army Major Ray Bradley complained that he was a humanist but was unable to put “humanist” in his military records as his “religion” in his military records (and reflected on his dog tags).

In 2014, the US Army added “humanist” to the list of faith codes.

In a new memo dated 27 March 2017 (PDF), the DoD Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs published a change that established standardized DoD-wide faith codes across the force — including “Humanist.”

For his part, Bradley had originally envisioned the recognition as the first step to achieving “lay leader” status as a humanist (with humanist “chaplain” to follow). That’s the same conclusion for which Jason Torpy pined when his MAAF reported on this new memo.

Kimberly Winston of the Religion News Service — sitting in a seat essentially funded to report on atheist storiesframed this as a significant change to how the military will operate [emphasis added]:

[This] means servicemen and women who are adherents of small faith groups are now guaranteed the same rights, privileges and protections granted to their peers who are members of larger faith groups.

Winston does not cite the source of that conclusion — but it is categorically false. The list of DoD Belief and Faith codes is merely administrative. It does nothing with regard to how anyone will be treated with respect to their “rights, privileges and protections,” which are guaranteed in the military without regard to religious belief (or size thereof). Nor does it have anything to do with who will be a chaplain. (To wit, “atheist” has been a choice for years, yet that has not affected the absence of an atheist “chaplain”.)

Heathens had hopped on the bandwagon after humanists were recognized in 2014, as noted by then-“heathen” Jeremiah McIntyre. Heathen is also on the list — as is Sacred Well — which, for those who don’t know, is an official ecclesiastical endorser for wiccans.

Messianic is also on the list — which begs the question if the military will reconsider its treatment of Chaplain candidate Michael Hiles, a Messianic Jew who wanted to wear the Jewish tablets, rather than a Christian cross, as his service badge. The military refused, and he did not enter the military.

Perhaps one of the most notable changes is the elimination of “No Religious Preference.” That category has been dishonestly used by Jason Torpy for years and the MAAF to claim atheists make up a quarter of the US military. Now, Torpy says he has actually “always derided the nonsensical” category. Apparently, briefing the White House about this large number of “atheists” counts as “deriding.”

Oddly, “Protestant, no denominational preference” — arguably the modern day “evangelical Christian” — has been removed from the DoD list. “No Preference” and “No Religion” have been added.

At the Religion Clause, Howard Friedman accurately noted this “change” was connected to the 2013 NDAA which

called on the military to accommodate the conscience and moral beliefs, as well as religious beliefs, of members of the Armed Forces

This piles the irony on that piece of legislation — as it has now been used to add non-theistic faith groups to the recognized military belief system as well as authorize beards and hijabs — yet, as noted before, it has not prevented attacks on Christians in the military for expressing their religious beliefs on sexuality, the very motivation behind the legislation.

A few advocacy groups (including the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy) have largely focused on the inclusion of non-theistic categories (though, as noted before, this was not necessarily an “addition,” as the Army already recognized “humanist”). With this list in hand, they’ve already started stoking the fires for a non-theist chaplain.

Meanwhile, they missed one of the most obvious examples of an “added” faith code that creates a significant issue of military religious freedom:


There are about a half-dozen observant Sikhs in the US military — all of whom had to obtain a special exception to military policy before they were allowed to serve. There may be other Sikhs who have abandoned the articles of their faith to serve. The fact remains that those who want to put “Sikh” cannot equally serve in the US military — at all. They are unable to exercise their faith while serving their country.

A few non-theists (and anti-theists) seem to be more concerned with undermining the chaplaincy with non-religious religious leaders than focusing on the more important issue of religious freedom for all US troops.