Atheists and humanists are working hard to gain wider recognition in the United States Military.
At Ft. Meade, an army base in Maryland, Army Reserve Captain Ryan Jean recently submitted a lay leader application with support from The Military Association of Atheists & Free Thinkers (MAAF) and an endorsement from the Humanist Society.
A lay leader in the Army and Air Force is someone appointed by their commanding officer and supervised and trained by the command chaplain. These leaders help with their specific religious group and support or fill in for chaplains when needed.
If Capt. Jean's application is approved, it will allow him to work with chaplains to help out atheists and humanists on his base.
MAAF said in a released statement that "this would help to extend equal recognition and support of humanists and other nontheists at Ft Meade."
The atheist organization has been at the forefront in working to add more diversity within military chaplaincy. Late last year they released a list of simple steps to diversity for military chaplains to implement.
Among the suggestions included: Having chaplains send emails to their units and announcing in unit formations that they are welcoming to atheists and humanists and that they have references and materials for atheists and humanists in their offices.
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But others see this kind of push for atheist recognition as a weakening of the chaplaincy. Kelly Shackelford, president & CEO of the Liberty Institute, told The Christian Post that "chaplains have been under increasing attacks by secularists. Chaplains serve a key role for religious freedom. Some secularists don't understand this and are trying to constantly agitate and weaken the chaplaincy. If they succeed, it will be to our country's detriment as well as to the detriment of our soldiers."
So far Staff Sergeant Dan Rawlings at Travis Air Force Base in California and Sergeant First Class Chris Brown at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida were provided space to meet in Air Force chapel facilities for atheist and humanist matters. Petty Officer Thomas Permuy has also been provided space to meet at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar chapel.
MAAF said in a released statement that "this sort of open-hearted support of those with different beliefs reflects well on the chaplaincy. But with 1000 installations and ships around the world, these few successes show the uphill battle we face."
Shackelford disagrees though. He told CP, "Those seeking non-religious assistance already have that available through psychologists and other non-religious help. Their indirect attacks on the chaplaincy are attacks on religious accommodation, a great American and Constitutional practice."
Former Navy Chaplain James G. Klingenschmitt also noted the availability of psychologists in a previous interview with CP. He said that "there are no atheist seminaries. That's why atheists and agnostics can freely obtain secular counseling from military psychologists, since by definition they don't want religious counseling or services."
The push for wider recognition of atheists and humanists in the military has also extended through another upcoming initiative called "Rock Beyond Belief" set to take place at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.
Atheists in the U.S. military will be holding a public festival and rock concert on March 31 to celebrate "freethought" humanism and skepticism.
Event organizer Justin Griffith, a sergeant in the U.S. Army and an atheist, hopes it will generate more support for nonbelievers serving in the military.