“All thinking men are Atheists”
Ernest Hemingway, decorated and wounded soldier WWI
As an Army Transportation Officer during the height of the Iraq War, I led many combat resupply convoys to forward units throughout the country. There were many nights and early mornings, just before I and the 40 souls in my charge were to leave the security of our base and enter into the chaos and violence of Iraq, that a group of my soldiers would quietly break off from our group, join hands in the dark and pray — and I often prayed with them.
For those of us who believed in a higher power, in a God, this routine comforted and calmed us during our final preparations. But even among my small element, I had a few non-believers, Atheists, or Freethinkers, and to think that requiring these soldiers to do something that went so against their lack of belief, and violated their rights as Americans, would calm them, or help them in any way is just ridiculous.
I never required my soldiers to pray, never encouraged my soldiers to pray, and never led them in prayer, nor did I ever witness my fellow officers do this. I would never think of doing such a thing; it violates one of the principal reasons I wore that uniform.
The saying: “There are no Atheists in foxholes” is a myth…it might sound good in a speech, but it’s absolutely not true. While I never actually found myself in a “foxhole” in Iraq, I did experience some pretty scary moments, in some pretty bad places, with many non-believers. In fact, there are about 40,000 self-described Atheists and Freethinkers currently serving in the U.S. military. Decorated war hero and Army Ranger Pat Tillman was one of them.
Unbelievably, last month, the Air Force denied one of these 40,000 Atheists his reenlistment because of his refusal to swear to God while reciting the active-duty oath. All service members from all branches of service are required to take the active-duty Constitutional Oath before service and each time they recommit to serve their nation. However, the Air Force, as of just a few days ago, was the only branch whose oath concluded with “so help me God.” Interestingly, the Air Force, has allowed its Airmen and women to opt out of the phrase “so help me God for decades.” It was just last year, that the Air Force quietly changed its policy.
The Air Force has been afflicted with controversy over religious intolerance and the promotion of evangelical Christian ideas and beliefs for over a decade. There have been multiple accusations of improper and sometimes illegal proselytizing on the Colorado Springs campus. In fact so many complaints have been made, that 66 Congressional House Republicans sent a letter to the former Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, urging him to investigate the “USAF’s growing hostility toward religious freedom.”
This environment of hyper Christian evangelicalism has especially taken root in the Air Force Academy, where most of the Air Force’s senior officers are produced. These are the same officers who suddenly, after over 50 years of upholding the separation of church and state, have decided that the word “God” must again be part of their military oath.
The location of the Air Force Academy is perhaps one reason for this rapid increase in evangelical proselytizing; Colorado Springs hosts many mega style Christian evangelical churches, such as James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, as well as New Life Church, an evangelical church founded by Pastor Ted Haggard. These churches all have very active youth movements and have shockingly, been given access by leaders at the Air Force Academy to cadet dorms and common areas.
A 2010 survey found 41 percent of non-Christian cadets faced unwanted proselytizing. David Mullin, a former economics professor at the Air Force Academy, and the founder of Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a legal watchdog, reports that he represents 362 clients at the AFA, triple those at the Army and Navy academies. Mullin also claims that 35 families from the incoming class have already contacted him, concerning the disregard for religious freedom on the campus.
This Atheist Airman who refused to say the word “God” thankfully sought legal representation with The American Humanist Association, and his case was strong. According to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, federal officers “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” In addition, there are many Supreme Court and lower court cases that support this Airman’s constitutional right to opt out of summoning God, as he takes his reenlistment oath.
Five days ago, the Air Force finally caved. Through pressure from this Airman’s strong legal case, Congress, military members, and the American people, the Air Force removed their mandate that all Airmen/women swear to “God”…and they did so, just as quietly as they placed the word “God” in the Oath to begin with. Nonetheless, the damage was done, the Air Force through their stubbornness and dogma, showed its hand on this issue.
The question remains: does the Air Force sincerely wish to reflect the diverse American civilian society whom they serve, or do they wish to be wholly different, an insulated, intolerant, and cult-like organization, which through subversive tactics pushes its preference towards possessing only Airmen/women who hold Christian beliefs?
Our military must always try to reflect the democratic world in which our civilian masters live, it is not up to the military to determine how to interpret our Constitution, or if they will uphold its laws at all. The only role our military plays in this democratic exchange is to say: “Roger that”, and give counsel if asked to give counsel. This is the democracy we live in…Atheists are indeed present in foxholes. In fact, there are more than a few unassuming white gravestones in Arlington National Cemetery, which reside over more than a few non-believing souls, who perished for the freedom to not believe in anything, which substantiate this very fact.
© 2014 The Havok Journal