The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers started a petition at WhiteHouse.gov to eliminate the “What is your religion?” question from enlistment forms, leaving recruits the option to add their religion on the form at a later date. They also are petitioning to add a “Humanist” option on military entrance processing forms.
Jason Torpy, president of MAAF, explained in an email to The Christian Post that when new low ranking recruits come in and are met with unfamiliar circumstances they experience more pressure to choose a specific religion on the forms.
His organization would prefer that “the information be asked at a later date, if and only if, the individual opts in.” Torpy said this “would eliminate the pressure and institutional bias for choosing some type of religion.”
An article from the MAAF website states: “Our military has a strong cultural bias toward Christianity…. This is mitigated by accommodations for religious freedom, but the cultural bias is known.”
Torpy told CP that the religion question on the forms puts pressure on new recruits to choose Christianity. He said this stems from “the well-known religious nature of the military and of the United States, as well as the institutional pressure to conform to the majority.”
MAAF also wants to change the “No Religious Preference” option to a blank space. Torpy said the problem with having a “no religious preference” option “implies any individual would be ok with any religious practice or faith tradition, whether it’s Wiccan, Buddhist, or Protestant. That is an unreasonable assumption to make because people generally have very strong beliefs about their religious preference, even if that preference is no religion at all.”
Robert W. Flynn, president and CEO of the Christian Military Fellowship, told The Christian Post that religious preference questions simply make it possible for the chaplain corps to provide pastoral support. By knowing the major religions in the military, chaplains can provide the appropriate resources.
Flynn also told CP that the processing documents have a section “that essentially highlights the predominantly Christian religions and other religions represented in the military, as well as no preference. If you don’t see one you like they have a blank [space].”
But MAAF states on its website that the reason for the new religion categories is because some military personnel don’t have an option for their belief system.
“Humanists, for example, are atheist in their beliefs about gods but prefer the more positive expression of ethics, family, and community that ‘humanist’ provides. The military does not currently offer this option,” it states.
The main reason the military takes religious preferences into account is to ensure that a recruit’s preference is printed on ID Tags to inform last rites and burial in combat situations.
The second reason is to provide information for chaplains and the kind of religious services to hold on a base. MAAF states, “Knowing how many personnel desire a certain service, at the unit level and across the military, theoretically helps with funding of religious support activities, including facilities, chaplains, and chaplain materials.”
Changes MAAF is seeking on the entrance processing questions include:
• Eliminate the standard question “what is your religion” in entrance processing
• Change the default entry for religious preference from “No Religious Preference” to blank (no entry)
• Eliminate the “No Religious Preference” option (to facilitate change)
• Add an option for “Humanist”
• Add an option for “Spiritual But Not Religious” aka SBNR, Spiritual or Spiritual BNR
The petition needs 25,000 signatures by Feb. 5. To date, they have 25 signatures.