I am not sure the title of this article is accurate. It implies the U.S. Military is discriminating against religion when in fact the U.S. Military is discriminating against servicemen who do not have a religion. But, it is a minor point, so, I’ll let it pass.
Wayne Adkins is a former Christian turned Atheist who was in the military and stationed in Iraq. He claims to have experienced religious discrimination during his tour of duty because he was an Atheist. I think he is right, this kind of discrimination is common in the military. And more telling, some of what he describes can actually be interpreted as coercion. If offered the choice between attending Church and extra duties, one tends to go to church. I encountered this type of coercion in the early days of my military service. During basic training, we were offered the choice between attending religious services and cleaning our barracks. I declined to attend the first week along with a dozen others, I declined to attend the second week along with four others, and on the third week, well… I was by myself. The military did the same thing with regard to smoking (although I hear it has stopped now). Soldiers were allowed to break formation to smoke. At first only a few took the 10 minute smoke break. By the end of basic training, everybody took the smoke break. I think the training instructors got a piece of the action on tobacco products at the commissary.
Adkins goes on to describe how soldiers must either choose a religion, or put “no preference” on their ID tags. Declaring a religion is meant to assist those who will be recovering your remains in determining how to follow the appropriate religious death rituals. For an atheist, this is a moot point. However, is not being allowed to put Atheist on your ID tag overt discrimination or the manifestation of bureaucratic inefficiency. I am sure the military has a list of approved religions for use on ID tags and that Atheism, which is not a religion, is not included on the list. My personal experience with this is funny. I was an atheist and Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast at the time of my enlistment. When faced with choosing a religion (I was not allowed Atheist), I choose “Lawful Good Cleric” after a successful D&D character I like to play. The military dropped the “Lawful Good” and left the “Cleric”.
Adkins makes a few good points. Military Chaplains are notorious for their anti-Atheist viewpoints. Spirituality tends to be tribal in the military, especially when facing death. An Atheist will always be the outsider.
Atheism, Military, Religion