Atheists make requests of president-elect
The Secular Coalition for America and Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers unveiled a new proposal on religious accomodation at a pre-Veterans Day briefing today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The new policy recommendations regarding religious discrimination and accomodation in the U.S. Armed Forces were presented in a memo for President-elect Barack Obama as he considers staffing and policies regarding the military.
According to the coalition and association, atheists and others with no religious affiliation make up 21 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, and yet they suffer harassment, discrimination and proselytizing in a military increasingly dominated by a powerful minority of evangelical Christians.
Other military personnel who do not hold a born-again Christian belief are similarly marginalized, the groups said.
While some existing regulations support the free exercise of religion, they are silent on accommodating the hundreds of thousands of atheists, agnostics, humanists and other nontheists currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces who have no religion to exercise, the groups said in a news release.
“Commanders, chaplains, and other officials simply interpret nontheists out of the protected religious categories,” said Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.
“What we are asking is that nontheistic service personnel be extended the same institutional protections and support that traditional faith groups enjoy. That is why we ask for a new directive that explicitly identifies nontheistic personnel as protected.”
The policy recommendations released today focus special attention on the chaplain corps in the U.S. military.
“Not only do chaplains often fail to intervene when subordinates are harassed, denied promotions, proselytized or threatened, they often are the worst offenders,” Lori Lipman Brown, the secular coalition’s director, said.
Brownsaid one of the groups’ goals with the new proposals is to make chaplains accountable for the religious climate on military bases, on ships and anywhere members of the U.S. Armed Forces are serving.
The policy recommendations memo addressed to President-elect Obama is entitled “Secular Coalition Urges Changes To Religious Accommodation Practices In The Military,” and is signed by Lori Lipman Brown. It contains an “Action Plan to Protect Religious Liberty and Freedom of Conscience” consisting of four detailed sections which are summarized below:
1. Vetting New Appointments and Promotions to ensure that appointees are committed “to fostering a secular military that protects the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of our soldiers.”
2. A Directive from your New Secretary of Defense that would “demonstrate your administration’s commitment to implement the change we need” and require all branches to update their regulations with regard to promoting religion over non-religion, proselytizing, discrimination and the role and training of chaplains.
3. Conduct a Survey of Military Personnel “in order to determine the pervasiveness of the problems of religious discrimination and proselytizing.”
4. Establish a Commission for Religious Accommodation charged with, among other things: creating effective channels for reporting failures to accommodate religious and nonreligious service members’ beliefs; investigating such failures and ensuring corrective actions are taken; reporting annually to Congress on complaints; recommending improvements in training and regulations; and ensuring diversity among the chaplain corps that represents the diversity of the military.
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