(Photo: MAAF/Cliff Andrew)
The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is offering "alternatives to church" programs and meetings during summer training at U.S. military academies in an attempt to gain official recognition for similar secular programs during the school year.
"Having summer programs available at each Academy for the second year in a row is a big step forward in creating a more welcoming command religious climate in the military," stated MAAF president Jason Torpy on Monday.
"This is recognition of nontheists that we should expect from the Academies in the future. It is a credit to the senior cadets and local volunteers that this has happened, and it is encouraging and appropriate that the military leaders have recognized the atheists in their ranks after not having done so for so many decades," Torpy wrote in the group's blog, "Atheists in Foxholes News."
Although cadets and midshipmen have the opportunity to meet in humanist and secular alternative programs during summer training as do faith groups, Torpy questions whether the academies will give "equal support to atheists, humanists, and other nontheists" during the academic year.
The MAAF has been attempting to gain official status within the U.S. military for atheist and humanist groups for several years by saying there is a religious diversity problem.
Chaplain (Col.) Ron Crews, executive director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said the problem with groups such as Torpy's organization is that they want to have chaplains with no religious affiliation.
"People of no faith, or those who hold humanist views have constitutional rights as well as believers," Crews told The Christian Post. "It is fine that they can meet and have their 'non-worship' events. However, these same groups are also asking to have 'chaplains' from their non-faith perspectives to be allowed on active duty. I believe this is inconsistent with what chaplains are about.
"The military can provide counselors to meet these needs. The very purpose of chaplains is to provide for the spiritual needs of those they serve. One cannot provide for spiritual needs without acknowledging there is a spiritual dimension," he said.
Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain with a 16-year military career, said he sees another motive behind MAAF's campaign. He told CP earlier this year that this call for diversity is really an attempt by atheists to terminate Christian chaplains.
"If they had their way all chaplains would be fired. But the courts have decided our troops have a first amendment right to be accompanied by a chaplain who represents their faith, so the atheists must attempt another method," Klingenschmitt said.
When asked on Monday for a response to the MAAF's summer campaign, he said, "I think it's sad how atheists are using a government forum and resources to openly recruit Christian cadets into atheism or secular humanism. What should Christian parents think, when their 18-year-old son or daughter is promised donuts, but gets a lecture about 'letting go of God' and proselytizing into rejecting their parents' faith? Atheists define themselves by what they are against (God), not by any good they stand for. But the Bible says 'the fool says in his heart, there is no God.'"
Torpy previously told CP that "the point is not to have equal diversity. It's to have equal treatment of diverse groups. The first step is education, or more specifically, acceptance."
At the Naval Academy, the local Unitarian Universalist Humanists support Midshipmen trainees who are interested in their group, offering "Doughnuts, Downtime, and DVDs," Sunday mornings, according to Torpy. Last Sunday, 40 trainees attended for support and fellowship, he said.
"The lack of official recognition during the academic year continues to be problematic, and we hope that in the upcoming year, the Academies will do the right thing and extend support to the USAFA Freethinkers, Naval Academy Freethinkers and Atheists, the West Point Secular Student Alliance, and the Coast Guard Academy Secular Student Alliance," he states. "The national Secular Student Alliance and MAAF have filled in to give support." A series of reports on the cadet and midshipmen activities and the need for official recognition has also been offered, he said.
Torpy adds, "Each of these groups of cadets deserves to have the opportunity to meet, have access to cadet funding and fundraising, and to have approved trip sections just as Christians, Jews, and even sports teams do."