Atheists Complain of 'Spirituality' in Army's Mental Health Program

Atheist organization Freedom from Religion Foundation demanded the Army halt a spiritual fitness program designed to combat stress because its diagnostic tool allegedly promotes religion.

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote a letter to Army Secretary John McHugh Wednesday to protest the "spiritual fitness" assessment of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. The co-presidents say statements in the mandatory "spiritual fitness" evaluation tramples on the freedoms of nonbelievers.

The spiritual statements include: "I am a spiritual person;" "My life has lasting meaning;" and "I believe there is a purpose for my life."

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Barker and Gaylor called the assessment of nonspiritual soliders "deeply offensive and inappropriate."

"By definition, nontheists do not believe in deities, spirits, or the supernatural. The Army may not send the morale-deflating message to nonbelievers that they are lesser soldiers, much less imply they are somehow incomplete, purposeless or empty," stated the letter.

The Army established CSF to address the increased stress induced by sustained combat. The program is meant to enhance the resilience, readiness and potential of soldiers, family members and Army civilians.

The CSF uses Global Assessment Test to diagnose the soldiers' overall level of physical and mental fitness. The assessment has a section titled "Spiritual Fitness" that questions soldiers on their personal support systems, motivation, and methods of dealing with stress, among other things.

Besides the survey itself, FFRF also criticizes the curriculum for those who score low in the spiritual fitness as overtly religious. Soldiers in the programs are told that "prayer is for all individuals" and to seek out chaplain guidance, according to the group of freethinkers.

Yet contrary to FFRF's claims, the program does attempt to acknowledge and cater to the beliefs of secular soldiers. According to the training manual, spirituality and the human spirit is defined, for the program purposes, as "the essential core of the person."

The manual does make mention of religious practices such as prayer and talking with a chaplain. However, it emphasizes that prayer can be quiet thinking time. It also emphasizes that soldiers can talk with a fellow soldier for support rather than chaplains.

Army chaplains trained last month to participate in the CSF's spiritual fitness initiative say it is about protecting soldiers' mental health in the event of a traumatic experience, not conversion.

"Most traumatic events have an element of soul wounding," said the Rev. Dr. Chrys Parker, an Army chaplain, in a statement about the training.

Parker asserts that chaplains are best equipped to deal with issues involving the soul.

"Quite frankly, the chaplains have the expertise on how to deal with the spiritual damage that is inherent in trauma," he said.

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