On behalf of its currently active and former members in the Army, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) called today on the Secretary of the Army to halt its invasive and unconstitutional “spiritual fitness” survey and rehabilitation program.
Foundation Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote John McHugh, Secretary of the Army, asking him to stop the “spiritual fitness” assessment:
“It is ironic that while nonbelievers are fighting to protect freedoms for all Americans, their freedoms are being trampled upon by this Army practice.”
FFRF, a state/church watchdog with 16,000 members which also serves as the nation’s largest association of nontheists, noted that 15% of the U.S. population is not religious, but that surveys have shown that nearly 24% of all military personnel identify as atheist, agnostic or have no religious preference.
Nonbelieving soldiers who took the survey told FFRF that when they answered the spiritual questions on the survey negatively, they received a low spiritual fitness score and were referred to a “spiritual fitness training program.”
The Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program includes a mandatory “spiritual fitness” evaluation as one category of the Global Assessment Test. In the spiritual fitness category, soldiers are evaluated by how they rank statements on a spectrum from “not like me at all” to “very much like me.” The spiritual statements include:
“I am a spiritual person.”
“My life has lasting meaning.”
“I believe there is a purpose for my life.”
In their letter, Barker and Gaylor called the negative assessment for nonspiritual soldiers “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. As nontheists, we reject the idea that there is a purpose for life; we believe individuals make their own purpose in life.”
Those who receive low “spiritual fitness” ratings are referred to a training program in which they are told, absurdly, that “Prayer is for all individuals.” They are encouraged to use “spiritual support as your armor or battle gear” and seek out chaplain guidance, and to consider “church” and “higher power.”
“We are shocked that the training module resurrects a bogus Christian revisionist explanation for ceremonial flag folding, one which has been explicitly repudiated by the Department of Veteran Affairs,” noted Barker.
FFRF cited Supreme Court case law mandating government neutrality and protecting freedom of conscience. The spiritual fitness evaluation, FFRF noted, is also in violation of Army equal opportunity provisions.
“Service members have the constitutional right to decide whether to observe religious practices and what beliefs or non-beliefs to profess, accept or reject about life, meaning, spirits, etc. Neither CSF nor the Army may dictate what is orthodox in matters of conscience,” the letter concluded.