One of my priorities as Military Director for American Atheists is to speak out as an Atheist and active duty serviceman, and to help our military and veteran members gain access to resources specifically tailored to their needs when they need to network with other military atheists or they experience discrimination.
"Atheists have served in the military proudly and with distinction and Atheist military members and veterans refute the lie that there "are no atheists in foxholes." - Kathleen Johnson, former Military Director and current Board Member for American Atheists.
ROCK BEYOND BELIEF!
Visit the Rock Beyond Belief web page!
Rock Beyond Belief is an ambitious project that will be putting on a free festival consisting of secular speakers and musicians, both big name and small. We are a small grass-roots outfit, but we have the backing of many major secular and military foundations. Currently we are focusing on a large-scale event that will be on the main post parade field on Fort Bragg. Eventually Rock Beyond Belief wants to spread the message to many other military installations.
Thank you, Colonel Sicinski: Rock Beyond Belief’s earliest attempts were not taken seriously by Fort Bragg. The situation has changed drastically in the months since our first approach fell through. Fort Bragg’s Garrison Commander, Colonel Sicinski has made the right call, and has now approved our event with the full support and government co-sponsorship that was promised.
More Shipboard Shenanigans: In the below section concerning prayers on Naval ships, I have included a position letter from the Department of the Navy in which they explain their position that prayers on ships are necessary. However, there can be no possible explanation for this next issue on at least one Naval ship.
An active duty member of the Navy, who is currently at sea, reported that the only available meal on a particular day during the holiday season contained a program and menu that specifically included a sectarian prayer as part of the meal. According to our informant, who must remain anonymous in order to safeguard his career, the menu included this prayer:
"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Eternal God, this joyful day is radiant with the brilliance of your one true light. May that light illuminate our hearts and shine in our words and deeds. May the hope, the peace, the joy, and the love represented by the birth in Bethlehem fill our lives and become part of all that we say and do. May we share in the divine life of your son Jesus Christ, even as he humbled himself to share our humanity. Bless us and the feast that you have provided for us, let us be thankful for the true gift of Christmas, Your Son. Amen."
You can see the actual menu here.
I wonder what form of mental gymnastics the Navy would use to explain this?
Army Discriminates Against Atheists
American Atheists has learned that the United States Army is discriminating against atheists by making all soldiers take an assessment that measures their "spiritual fitness." Responses that fail to indicate an appropriate level of spirituality cause the responder to fail the test and to be advised to seek further training and counseling. Further, although individual names are allegedly stripped from responses, commanders receive aggregated reports of the responses within their units so that they can "fix" issues through unspecified means.
On 23 Dec 2010, American Atheists forwarded a letter to the Secretary of the Army alleging the test discriminates against atheists and demanded use of the test be ceased until such time as the discriminatory elements can be addressed and removed. Clickhere (PDF) and here (PDF) to see the original letter.
More details can be viewed on the NoGodBlog: Army Requires Spiritual Fitness: Discriminates Against Atheists.
UPDATE: In response to the letter sent by American Atheists, we received a written response. In summary, it consists of two pages of mental gymnastics trying to explain how the word spiritual isn't religious and how mandating Army personnel take a religious test and receive religious training isn't a violation of equal opportunity polices. Read the letter here (PDF).
UPDATE:In response to the overwhelming criticism the Department of the Army received in mandating Army personnel complete a Spiritual Fitness Assessment and mandatory training if deemed "spiritually unfit," the Army issued an order making the Spiritual Fitness training optional. This is not the solution we were hoping for (we demanded the Army quit using the assessment), but it is a start. You can read the order here (PDF).
Shipboard Prayer by the US Navy
On September 9, 2010, American Atheists, along with several other organizations, co-sponsored a letter drafted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation to protest the Navy’s policy of forcing all sailors to endure a broadcasted Christian prayer on the USS Abraham Lincoln and other ships. These prayers are broadcast throughout the ships, including in private staterooms, and all sailors are required to be silent and to suspend activities during the prayers.
It is American Atheists' position that such prayers are illegal and inappropriate and must cease. The letter can be read here (PDF).
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Huffington Post broke the story that last May, an entire training unit was compelled to attend a Christian concert by a band that self-labeled as "Christian Warriors."
Approximately 80 soldiers elected to not attend the concert and were allegedly punished by losing pass privileged and being assigned work details.
Some of these soldiers then attempted to file Equal Opportunity complaints but were allegedly rebuffed.
American Atheists has corresponded directly with the personnel involved in overseeing the Department of Defense’s Equal Opportunity Program and has requested an investigation.
We have received a response that an investigation is ongoing. More information will follow as it is received.
For more information:
Troops Punished After Refusing to Attend Evangelical Concert
Fort Lee Commanding General Reaches Out to Soldiers
Trijicon Weapons Sights
UPDATE: In response to action taken by American Atheists, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Department of Defense ordered Trijicon to provide kits to remove the bible verses. American Atheists has received confirmation that the kits are being distributed to units and that the verses are being removed. This situation will continue to be closely monitored.
On January 18, 2010, ABC news released an alarming report stating that thousands of rifle sights used by the military in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are inscribed with bible verses. The maker of the sights, Trijicon, has a multi-million dollar contract to manufacture the sights and provide them to Army and Marine Corps units.
Rules of conduct, drawn up specifically for the mostly-Muslim combat zones, were put in place in order to prevent the appearance that US Forces are not engaged in a war on terror but are instead operating a crusade against Muslims. The inscriptions on these sights, which are components of weapons of war in a Muslim combat zone, bear references such as "2COR4:6," which appears to refer to Second Corinthians 4:6 which reads "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
A spokesman for the manufacturer confirmed the markings are bible verses, states there is nothing wrong with them being there, and dismisses any criticism as comments made by people who are "not Christian."