When the US Air Force Academy “Falcon Circle” chapel facility went through its various controversies over the past year, one group was oddly silent: atheists. There were no loud cries from atheists over the US military’s waste of money to create yet another religious facility, nor were there any over the fact military atheists can’t even use the facility.
Like many US military bases, USAFA restricts the use of chapel facilities to religious gatherings:
All services held at the Cadet Chapel must be religious in nature and be conducted by a clergyperson or led by a lay-leader approved by the Cadet Wing Chaplain or designee.
Thus, unless an atheist group can sincerely say it is “religious in nature,” it can’t use the Falcon Circle as a barbecue pit this summer, while every religious group can use it for their sacred fellowships, with scheduling priority given to those of the ‘earth-centered’ faith system. (Notably, some atheist groups want to be, or have been, declared “religious in nature,” but that’s a topic for another time.)
This leads to a discussion of the running complaints of “discrimination” by atheists within the US military. A frequent canard of atheists has been their claim they are “banned” from holding meetings on US military facilities. While they give few details other than an impassioned statement on their incessant persecution, they most often reference the refusal or inability of US chaplains to approve their status, meaning the atheists are using chapel processes, and chapel facilities, to promote their cause.
If that’s the case, atheists are being treated like every other secular group on the base: Just as the chapel declines to host Toastmasters, Chess Club, and spelunkers, the chapel does the same for atheists. Those groups are instead encouraged to use other base facilities intended for those purposes. For example, Toastmasters often meets at the base library, while other groups may meet at the Community Center or conference rooms in the local Officer’s Club.
Thus, atheists aren’t banned from base, as they claim: They’re simply not sponsored by the chapel. While each military service may have slightly different regulations, the atheists likely just need to use the non-religious process for their non-religious group, and they’d be able to do exactly what they say they want. Shocking, isn’t it?
For example, within the Air Force, AFI 34-223 tells them exactly what they need to do to gain official recognition, use military facilities, raise money, advertise their meetings, etc — all of which they currently claim they cannot do. If they are denied under the procedures outlined under AFI 34-223, it has nothing to do with religion.
Where’s the discrimination, then?
Simple. Atheists are being treated like non-religious groups, instead of religious groups, which is what some of them would prefer. (“Some” is important, because even other atheists often take atheists to task for trying to be equated to religion.) In fact, they even admit as much — and acknowledge they’re not actually “banned” from military bases. While explaining the chapel had declined to let them use their facilities, one military atheist said:
They are not supporting us the same way a religious group would be supported. I was told that if I wanted to meet on base, I could try the community center, or the [officer's] club…
If atheists really want to do nothing more than meet together, this military atheist just proved they’re perfectly able to do so — but that’s not what they want. They’re goal isn’t to celebrate among themselves, it is to tag along with whatever the Christians are doing. After all, if they’re not sponsored within the chapel they’re unable to continue their status as an asterisk on Christianity.
Christians celebrating Christmas with a nativity? Atheists demand to put up an FSM.
Christians had a rock concert? Atheists demand their “festival.”
Christians get to meet at the chapel? Atheists want that, too.
It isn’t shocking atheists would want to emulate Christianity, as millions around the world have attested to the virtue of the Christian faith. What is rather surprising is their total dependence on Christianity.
When was the last time you heard of a military atheist event that wasn’t somehow predicated on a religious (more likely, Christian) one? Where is the independent (“free”) thought?
Still, if they don’t get what they want, history has shown they’ll likely cry “persecution.” However, since they can get what they want if they just used the correct process, their cries end up sounding foolish. It’s like threatening a lawsuit because you can’t get a Big Mac in the Burger King drive-thru.
Ultimately, it seems some atheists are intent on denigrating the US military to make a political point. Despite the US military’s fairly forceful stance on religious freedom and its protection of religious liberty, they’re creating a claim of discrimination where it does not exist to achieve something beyond the fellowship with those of like faith they can already have.
Contrary to their manufactured claims, the US military generally does an admirable job of protecting the religious freedom of the troops. Those who are in the military, or who may wish to join it, can take solace in knowing their liberty will be upheld — whether they adhere to a religious belief or not.