Atheists Ask Military to Drop 'Religious Expressions' in Suicide Prevention Briefings

The leader of a chaplains alliance group says he hopes the U.S. military will dismiss an atheist group's request to eliminate "personal religious expressions" during a long-standing suicide prevention program that includes chaplains counseling service members.

"Why would anyone not want every resource available to help our military personnel? This press release is one more example of intolerance toward faith that runs counter to everything we hold dear in this nation," Chaplain (Col.) USAR retired Ron Crews, executive director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told The Christian Post on Tuesday. "I sincerely hope that military leaders will not bow toward this intolerance."

Crews responded to the statements of Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers President Jason Torpy by saying that chaplains have been rightly one of the primary resources the military has used in their suicide prevention program.

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"Suicide is a serious problem in the military and those who have studied the issue as to surrounding causes for a service member to consider suicide include loss of a relationship, depression, feelings of aloneness, and many others usually accompanied with alcohol abuse," Crews explained. "Chaplains are trained to help service members deal with these issues. There are testimonies of interventions by chaplains who have helped soldiers turn away from suicidal thoughts."

Torpy stated that last week there was an Army-wide "stand down" to focus on suicide prevention training.

He then wrote, "However, reports are coming in that chaplain-led sessions on 'resilience' showed a priority on religion, prayer, and 'god's plan.' These personal religious expressions may be appropriate in private, optional settings, but they have no place in mandatory settings and even violate the Army's own guidance that its 'spiritual fitness' training be optional.

"Organizations like MAAF and American Atheists are advising soldiers report issues to their command to see if the military can resolve these issues internally," Torpy said.

The mandatory suicide prevention briefings "only serve to ostracize the nonreligious and give the appearance that the chain of command prefers theistic viewpoints and does not accommodate the non-theistic," he stated.

In his statement, Torpy listed quotes allegedly given during the suicide prevention program given by one chaplain that "promote a monotheistic view of the world" and included, "There is a 'God's master plan' for you;" "If you focus on yourself, can you complete God's mission? No, you can not;" and "If you fit into God's plan, then you will fit into the military plan."

Torpy also described a candlelight vigil given at Fort Sam Houston in Texas as reported by an atheist group member that included prayer led by a chaplain before 800 military personnel.

"It shows that religion is creeping more and more out of personal activities and into command-direct training programs," Torpy said. "Again we find suicide prevention and resiliency training confused with a prayer session."

The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty is an organization comprised of veteran service members, primarily chaplains. The group's purpose is to "defend and maintain religious liberty, and freedom of expression and conscience that the Constitution guarantees our chaplains and those whom they serve."

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