There are plenty of foxhole atheists, but religionists on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee made sure this week that none will be allowed to serve as secular representatives in the chaplain corps.
A stream of invective against atheists followed the introduction of an amendment by U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J., to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act at the committee meeting June 5. It would have permitted persons certified by nontheist groups to join the chaplain corps to provide guidance to "members of the armed forces who are atheist, agnostic, or belong to no organized faith group."
The amendment, which was killed, brought a flood of abuse of the nonreligious:
- "They don't believe anything. I can't imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family's home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, 'You know, that's it — your son's just worms, I mean, worm food.'" — Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas
- "This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy. The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they're at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, 'If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.' " — Rep. John Fleming, R-La.
Kudos to Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who defended atheists and humanists and referenced atheist in a foxhole Pat Tillman, the NFL star killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.
"To say that an atheist or a humanist doesn't believe anything is just ignorant. They have very, very developed beliefs and value systems, and there are many, many of them serving in the military, including Pat Tillman. The response to the gentleman's amendment makes me feel all the more the necessity of it. Basically, if you are an atheist or agnostic in the military, the military's response is, 'We've got nothing for you.. There's no hope for you.' They believe in a system of values, and that system of values is worth as much to them as Christianity is to us."
Almost a quarter of military personnel identify as atheist, agnostic or having no religious preference (2010 MAFF study based on Department of Defense data). As a captive audience, many are increasingly subjected to proselytizing not only by Christian chaplains with a sense of entitlement, but by superiors who confuse patriotism with piety and abuse rank to promote religion.