Army Humanists No Longer Invisible

Disclaimer: All statements in this article reflect the author's position and opinions. They in no way represent the Army's views, concepts, or regulatory guidance.

Someone once asked me how many Humanists there are in the Army. I answered, "None, because the Army doesn't recognize Humanists."

While soldiers can choose what religion appears in their official military records, they are limited to a list of "faith codes" approved by the Army Chaplaincy. Despite repeated requests by me and others, the Army has, for years, resisted adding "Humanist" to that list.

This week, however, "Humanist" will become an officially approved faith code, and I will finally be able to accurately identify my belief preferences on my official records.

The faith codes recognized by the Army include, among others, designations for service members who identify as Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, Jewish, Buddhist, or one of more than 100 Christian denominations. But the options for those who follow non-theistic beliefs systems are decidedly more limited.

Until this week, we could choose between "atheist" or "no religious preference." These codes do not reflect my actual identity as a Humanist. Humanism is a non-theistic, progressive system of beliefs based around the moral values of compassion, pursuit of knowledge, and commitment to human rights. These principles help me through life's challenges and provide me with a sense of purpose to experience life to its fullest in the same way that religious individuals are guided by their faith tenets.

The ability to accurately identify myself in my official Army records as a Humanist is not only a matter of personal integrity and dignity, but it also has important implications for my military service. These records are used by promotion boards, academic selections boards, supervisors, and commanders to see who I am, where I was born, my marital status, and other data. Upon arrival at a new duty station, this data provides key information for assigning a sponsor best suited to assist service members and their families settle into a new community. In addition, with the approval of the Humanist faith code, I and other Humanists can now ask for support from the Army Chaplaincy, including space to gather regularly and to have these meetings advertised as other religious services are.

The road to this victory has been challenging. I first requested that my religious preference be changed to Humanist in September of 2011. For over two years, I was given excuse after (often conflicting) excuse as to why this simple change could not be made. I sought assistance from the Office of the Inspector General and even my U.S. senator, but the stonewalling continued.

Ready to give up, I connected with Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and he put me in touch with the ACLU. Within weeks of receiving a letter from the ACLU, the Army notified me that "Humanist" would indeed be added to the faith-codes list.

Once invisible in the Army, Humanists now have a voice. We can stand up and be counted. Hopefully, this is just the first step in ensuring that Humanists across the military are no longer discriminated against and receive the same respect, benefits, and treatment as those who live by other faiths and belief systems.

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Anonymous

That is wonderful.. I have believed in Humanism since college and learning the Jungian principals. I am glad you have been recognized . It us the core of Being Human... Peace.

Anonymous

I am the mother of an incarcerated son. My son is now 25 he has been in prison for 3 years. He will serve 20 more years for his crime. The time goes very slowly. When I visit all I can think is what a horrible waste of his time . And his life. It makes me incredibly sad.

Ryan Jean

Bravo, Sir!

I'm glad to hear the news, and will go to update my records this week. Meanwhile, I'll keep fighting the Humanist Lay Leader angle, and I'm sure this success will make my job a bit easier.

Vicki B.

Don't even get me STARTED about this. I recently discovered that apparently the Army not only owns their soldiers but also their soldiers' family members.
My brother wrote me a letter saying they "ask us not to make disparaging remarks about the Army...we're not allowed to have an opinion that appears on social media concerning hot button issues like gay marriage or equal pay and they want us to tell our family members to do the same - on social media."
It's sounds dead-ass WRONG if you ask me. They don't pay me a salary, why do they get to tell their soldiers to tell family members we're not allowed to have an opinion that shows up on social media about hot button issues?
And I never made any disparaging remarks about the Army. My brother went to Iraq in 2003 and stayed until 2004. Then he went again in 2009 and stayed until 2010. I never knew a damn thing of what he was experiencing until I decided to find out what my friend did when he worked for ACLU and I discovered this RDI program that soldiers at all levels were supposed to participate in; so I asked my brother in a Personal Message if he had to participate in RDI. He never answered the question. I don't think he ever saw the question but the very next time he wrote me a snail mail letter, he started telling me that his superiors have instructed all of them to tell their family not to talk about controversial issues on social media.
I still think they're dead WRONG to say it. I asked a friend of ours, who was in the Army and is a Vietnam Veteran, why the bleep they're doing that and if they could or not but he didn't know because he left the Army in 1974 "way before Internet existed, much less social media."
He thinks their sense of paranoia is "probably too highly developed. People are going to think what they think about you and you can't really stop them," he said. But he still doesn't know about Internet because he has no social media accounts other than You Tube and Google, and Yahoo sometimes. He has no Facebook or Twitter accounts. He thinks that "allowing you to write 142 letters is ridiculous. Nobody can say ANYthing with 142 letters, which is roughly 10 to 15 words."
He worked in broadcast communications. He went from being an Intelligence officer to working in broadcast communications.

Anonymous

Congratulations! It is a wonderful path to follow (being a Humanist) and I'm thankful the military is willing to recognize it! Linda Day - St. Louis, MO

Anonymous

It's great that Humanists are finally given their proper place in our military's "religious designations".

Battles like this should not have to be fought in the first place - especially as they allow Wican and Druid, two very unusual [as in seldom seen anywhere] groups. If some VERY obscure "christian" groups had no problems being listed, "Humanist" should have been a "no brainer" - instead the military showed THEY had no brains in refusing this group.

WO1 Barnes

Sir,

Thanks for fighting for this. I too have been wanting to have myself be known more for what I believe in as a humanist rather than just an "atheist". Your hard work is truly appreciated. Thank you!

Anonymous

I served from 62 to 65 and 69 to 72 and I fought the battle for 'Pagan' on my dog tags. I managed to get 'No Pref' and then 'None'. In basic training those of us who refused to go to chapel ended up on K.P. on Sundays. Later, the pressure eased because the Army viewed the members of the Army Security Agency(now part of Intelligence) negatively....."like trying to herd cats"....I just became another one of many.

Anonymous

My deep understanding of Humanism as it is practiced lacks, so I will only say that I am happy that a group of people have found liberation.

It is always a troubling matter when one particular faith pushes itself on everyone at the oppression or suppression of spiritual belief and practices. I've seen and experienced enough of that foolishness in America.

So Hooray for the Humanist and perhaps when I get time I will be more able to better define who and what they are and what they profess.

Anonymous

Happy for you. Love your characterization of Humanism " Humanism is a non-theistic, progressive system of beliefs based around the moral values of compassion, pursuit of knowledge, and commitment to human rights. These principles help me through life's challenges and provide me with a sense of purpose to experience life to its fullest in the same way that religious individuals are guided by their faith tenets." and this "The ability to accurately identify myself in my official Army records as a Humanist is not only a matter of personal integrity and dignity..."

Thank you for your efforts and 'coming out'.

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